A sewer line under Lake Avenue in the Smithtown hamlet of St. James – once dubbed a “sewer line to nowhere” because it was laid without a connection to a sewage treatment plant – may soon have a destination, Suffolk city and county officials said.
A treatment plant at the Fairfield condominium community in St. James, officially designated as Suffolk County Sewer District 28, is nearing the end of its useful life and could be rebuilt to handle the flow wastewater from properties along the avenue, said Deputy County Manager Peter Scully, sometimes known as the county’s sewer czar. “The county is in the process of designing a new facility and as part of that process, we asked the design consultant to assess the feasibility of expanding capacity there,” he told Newsday.
Hayduk Engineering won the design contract at the end of the summer. Scully said the company could complete its feasibility study by the end of this year, although the full design could take 12 to 18 months. Scully did not provide the cost of the contract and said estimates for construction and user fees were not yet available.
The condominium complex is close – about a mile and a half east of Lake Avenue – and the elevation of the treatment plant is lower than that of the avenue, so sewage could flow by gravity rather than pumps, which can be expensive to install. Lake Avenue is the main commercial stretch of downtown Hamlet.
Local officials and business leaders have said for years that functioning sewers in downtown St. James would provide environmental and economic benefits, reducing nitrogen discharges and enabling wetter uses, such as more large restaurants or apartments on the second floor above commercial buildings. Most properties now use septic tanks or cesspools and must adhere to strict limits on the amount of sewage they can generate.
“We are doing what should have been done many years ago, but we have stopped with the Southwest Sewer District,” said Smithtown City Councilman Thomas Lohmann. “We owe it to future generations to protect our aquifer, and this is the best way to do it.”
Cost overruns, mismanagement and corruption associated with the construction of the Southwest Sewer District in the 1970s are widely believed to have delayed sewer construction in Suffolk County by decades, and approximately three-quarters of homes in the county are still unconnected.
In Smithtown, civic and business leaders, as well as elected officials, have secured $40 million in New York State funding in recent years to expand coverage in downtown Smithtown and Kings Park, where sewers are expected to come online in late 2025. In 2020, the city spent $8 million to install a dry sewer line under Lake Avenue and rebuild the streetscape, its biggest highway project in decades.
Scully said the existing Fairfield plant processes less than 70,000 gallons per day, but is licensed for 140,000. Lake Avenue generates 69,000 gallons per day. A rebuilt plant could process up to 170,000 gallons per day, including spare capacity, he said.
Scully and Lohmann said they believed state and federal money could pay for the plant’s construction.