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Riverhead moving forward with multimillion dollar capital improvement plan for water district

File photo: Denise Civiletti

The Riverhead Water District is ready to move forward with the next phase of the comprehensive capital plan rolled out two years ago to update and maintain current infrastructure and improve water supply to town residents.

Riverhead Water District Superintendent Mark Conklin and consulting engineer John Collins of H2M laid out plans for the next three capital plan projects in a presentation during Thursday’s town board work session. They also updated the town board on the status of the the first three projects, which they said are all either completed or nearing completion.

The first three projects consist of water main installations on Pulaski Street, Mill Road and Osborn Avenue, a two million gallon ground storage tank and booster station at Plant 15 on Tuthill’s Lane and emergency generators at Plant 1 on Pulaski Street and Plant 16 on Edwards Avenue. They had a combined cost of just over $5.7 million, Collins said.

The town expects to sell bonds to cover the cost of the phase one projects by the end of November, financial administrator William Rothaar said Thursday.

The next phase of the work, which will cost an estimated $2.6 million, consists of: completing a test well program in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey; upgrading plant 2 on Columbus Avenue and Pulaski Street by drilling a deeper well; and rehabbing plant 4 on Osborn Avenue. The water district expects to bond for the phase two work in 2019, according to the plan.

The idea is to make the district “more resilient, more reliable, to identify new sources of fresh water and to improve and update existing infrastructures,” Collins said.

The district will continue to work with the USGS on the test well program. The USGS is identifying areas of salt water intrusion through specialized testing. The water district, for its part, will drill four test wells for the USGS, which will help determine where a new well could be located. The district needs to increase water supply in the eastern part of town, Conklin said. But because of salt water intrusion issues, will have to sink a new well west of County Road 105 and south of Sound Avenue to do so.

The rest of the work, another dozen projects, would be completed in phases over the next 10 years, at an additional cost of approximately $15.3 million.

The grand total of all work, including the three phase one projects already completed district, is $23.6 million.

All capital program costs will be covered by new bonding, officials said. The district’s current water rates and fee structure will cover the cost of new debt service, Rothaar said, since existing water district debt is being retired over the same period of time.

The water district is always looking for grants to help fund the necessary work, Collins said. To that end, it has already applied for grants to help fund the cost of the proposed Plant 2 upgrade and the $3.6 million manganese filtration system for Plant 5, currently on the capital improvement schedule for 2024. If grant money becomes available the Plant 5 work, it may be moved up in the schedule, Conklin said.

Future capital projects also include: the construction of a new high zone well, the installation of a new generator at Plant 9, rehabilitation and maintenance work at several plants, rehab and overcoating of several storage tanks, as well as a water main replacement and distribution upgrades.

Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith told the board it must commit to the whole list of improvements in order for the Riverhead Water District to remain viable.

“If there’s no commitment to go through with all of these projects it doesn’t work,” Jens-Smith said.

“That’s the reason why we’re in the situation we’re in now,” Conklin said. “We’ve never done these projects, painting tanks and things like that, they’ve been kicked around for 10 years, 15 years,” he said.

“Things were put off for years and now all of a sudden it’s catching up to us,” Deputy Supervisor Tim Hubbard said.

The town board — which sits as the governing body of the Riverhead Water District — approved a new fee and rate structure for the water district which took effect in 2017. The new rates enable the district to cover debt service and increased costs.

“One of the other things that’s key in all this is staff,” Jens-Smith said. The supervisor’s tentative budget for 2019 includes two additional maintenance mechanics and a plant operator, as was requested by Conklin. If approved, the additional personnel will bring water district staff up to a total of 20 people. Currently the district has only two licensed plant operators and adding a third is essential, Conklin said.

Board members expressed agreement with the plan.

“Past improvements have helped,” Jens-Smith observed. “But we’re at a point in time that, unless we commit in this manner, it’s going to be difficult for the water district to stay in business.”

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Maria Piedrabuena
María, a multimedia reporter, graduated from Stony Brook University with degrees in journalism and women and gender studies. She has worked for several news outlets including News12 and Fortune Magazine. A native of Spain, she loves to read, write and travel. She lives in Manorville. Email Maria