Proposed Hither Woods Sewage Treatment Plant

Almost all of the 14-acre site would be cleared of trees…it would have a devastating effect …

As the Town’s engineering consultant wrote, centralized sewers will allow Downtown Montauk businesses with the opportunity to expand.

This is a short summary of East Hampton Town’s proposed Montauk sewer system and sewage treatment plant (STP). The STP would go on 14 acres of what is now Suffolk County parkland in the eastern part of Hither Woods, Montauk. The Town is asking the County for land in what is unofficially called Laurel Canyon County Park. The Town would trade Suffolk County 18.8 acres of Town land elsewhere on Montauk.


The East Hampton Town Board proposes to create a sewer district to serve Downtown Montauk, an 80-acre overdeveloped commercial area with many old motels. The Town eventually wants to extend sewer mains up Edgemere Street and Flamingo Avenue to the area near the Montauk Firehouse and railroad station, and then to the Montauk Docks and Star Island. Finally, the Town is considering sewering the Ditch Plains residential area as well. These latter areas are miles from one another, and from Downtown Montauk, but would all have to be connected. The cost just to sewer Downtown Montauk, and to build the sewer plant to partial capacity, is estimated by the Town’s consultant, H2M Engineers, at $75 million, the biggest public works project in East Hampton’s history. Extending the sewers to the Docks area and Ditch Plains, and further upgrading the STP, will cost unknown tens of millions of dollars more. Phase I of this project (Downtown Montauk and the initial treatment plant) would likely not enter service until at least 2030.


H2M has calculated that existing businesses and residences in the above four areas (including Downtown Montauk) today generate an Average Daily Flow (ADF) of sewage equal to about 530,000 gallons of wastewater per day. This is an important number, because the 14-acre tract of County parkland which the Town hopes to acquire in Hither Woods can handle an ADF of 550,000 gallons per day according to H2M. If H2M has underestimated the ADF or if future growth increases sewage flow, it is entirely possible that the 14-acre parcel the Town wants from Suffolk County will prove to be inadequate. Presumably, the Town would then need to destroy even more parkland to handle the wastewater generated by Montauk’s centralized sewer system.

East Hampton Town is trying to portray the sewage district as a “clean water” and pro-environment initiative. It isn’t. The consultant’s report makes it very clear that the main motivation for the sewer district is to escape the burden of County Health Department regulations which inhibit future commercial growth. As the Town’s engineering consultant wrote, centralized sewers “will provide property owners within the Downtown Montauk area with the opportunity to expand their existing businesses.”

Are there alternatives?

Of course there are. East Hampton just doesn’t want them to interfere with its preconceived notions of what it thinks is best. The sewer proposal, along with the sewage treatment plant, should be the subject of an Environmental Impact Statement under New York State’s SEQRA law. But the Town of East Hampton has yet to even begin the SEQRA process.

Impact on Trails and Open Space

What does this mean for trail users in Hither Woods, especially mountain bikers?

First, the land the Town wants to acquire is just east of the closed and capped Montauk landfill - one of the most scenic locations on Eastern Long Island. Sewage would be pumped up to this area, which is about 150 feet above sea level, through a force main from the Downtown Montauk area about 1-1/2 miles to the east.

On what is now County parkland the Town would build a 22,500 square foot (1/2 acre-plus) indoor treatment building to digest sewage. Effluent from the STP would then be piped to 146 separate leaching pools, into which the wastewater effluent would be discharged, eventually to reach the groundwater table. Almost all of the 14-acre site would be cleared of trees, to accommodate the STP building, one or more maintenance buildings, parking and access roads and driveways, and the 146 leaching pools and their own access driveways. Second, the STP will have a devastating effect on part of the Paumanok Path known as the Laurel Canyon Trail. 

The Town’s original plan showed some of the leaching area actually obliterating a section of the Laurel Canyon Trail. The latest plan seems to show that the 14-acre site has been shifted slightly north. In this position, riders coming onto the Laurel Canyon Trail from the west will see the STP and associated clearing only 50 feet off the trail to their right, as they crest the high hills on this section of trail. After dropping down into Laurel Canyon itself, riders will eventually see the clearing for the sewage leaching field ahead of them and to their right as they climb up through the ravine. Riders emerging from Laurel Canyon at its south end will again be within 50 feet of the STP property, which will presumably be surrounded by chain-link security fencing. Swinging around to the west, toward the Panorama viewpoint, riders will continue to see the facility’s cleared, fenced land and buildings close on their right side. In short, this will be more like riding in an industrial park than in an actual park.

To add insult to injury, it appears the gravel road on the east side of

‍ the former landfill site - which offers a shortened bypass of the Laurel Canyon Trail - will be taken over by the access road to the STP and mostly obliterated.

Why doesn’t the Town put the STP in the former Montauk landfill site?

That would be extremely costly. The old landfill was closed and capped in the early 1990s. Most of the landfill site is occupied by the cap itself, which is impervious to water. Drainage structures to handle water flowing down from the cap occupy most of the rest of the property. To reuse the landfill, the cap and all the waste buried beneath it from 1963 to the early 1990s would have to be excavated and trucked away, at great expense and inconvenience. Also, for what it’s worth, the capped landfill today has one of most panoramic views on Long Island, with parkland all around and Block Island Sound in view to the north.

What’s so important about Hither Woods?

First of all, Hither Woods is the largest contiguous area of parkland on the South Fork of Long Island - by far. Including the acreage of the Long Island Railroad which runs through Hither Woods, this is 3,325 acres of magnificent parkland. There are so many miles of trails in Hither Woods that one could ride for a whole day in this area without exhausting all the trail options. Finally, Hither Woods is bounded on its whole north side, not by roads or expressways, but by the wide open waters of Block Island Sound. For those of us who know and love the place, there is nothing on Long Island as remote and enchanting as Hither Woods.

Putting a sewage treatment plant in the eastern heart of this remarkable land would be sacrilege. It is up to us, who ride and enjoy this land today, to make sure that never happens.

And should East Hampton Town ever get the right to put an STP in Hither Woods, don’t think that will be the end of the desecration. In 2019 the Town tried to push PSEG Long Island into putting a power substation on County parkland in Hither Woods, just northwest of where the STP is now proposed. This would have entailed building a major access road more than 1/4 mile long into the park, then clear-cutting two acres of land for the electric substation - right next to the Paumanok Path just before it reaches the Laurel Canyon Trail! This was supposedly because the Town wanted to keep the substation away from rising sea levels.

Fortunately, PSEG thought the whole idea was crazy. They resisted, local user groups objected, and the plan was killed before it could become a major issue. PSEG built its new Montauk substation in a commercial area, on land which it flood-proofed. The point is that there are plenty of people out there who still see parkland as a resource to be exploited, not as a preserve for nature or for human recreation in wild lands.

What do members need to do?

Email, call, or write your State and Suffolk County legislators in opposition to East Hampton’s proposed misuse of parkland. East Hampton needs approval from the Suffolk County Executive and Suffolk County Legislature, followed by passage of what is called a “Parkland Alienation” bill by the State Legislature. If the public did not complain, East Hampton could probably accomplish this. But with powerful and concerted opposition, we can prevent a sewage treatment plant from being built in Hither Woods.

We need to kill East Hampton’s proposed STP so dead that, for decades at least, no one else will propose something so stupid again.

$75 million, is the biggest public works project in East Hampton history.

© 2023 Whalenworks LLC

Design by Whalenworks, all rights reserved

© 2023 R.E. Whalen, photos used by permission

All photos ©copyright R.E. Whalen, used by permission