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Riverhead has hired a California-based law firm specializing in environmental litigation to pursue the manufacturers of chemical contaminants known as PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), and related harmful perfluorinated chemicals (known as PFCs) for damages related to the contamination of the Riverhead Water District’s drinking water supply.

The resolution to hire the firm of Sher Edlin LLP of San Francisco was initially before the town board on Oct. 20, but the board tabled it after a partner in a firm that represented the town in previous groundwater contamination litigation complained that his firm had not been given an opportunity to submit a proposal to the town.

Phil Napoli of Napoli Shkolnik, the Melville law firm that represented the town in litigation over MTBE contamination a decade ago, raised his objections again at Tuesday’s meeting, and offered to reduce his firm’s fee from 25% to 18% of the amount recovered — undercutting the fee agreement proposed by Sher Edlin.

It did not dissuade the board from its decision to hire Sher Edlin, which it did Tuesday by a unanimous vote.

Sher Edlin will earn a fee equal to 23% or 25% of the monetary damage award recovered by the water district, depending on the timing of the award, whether by settlement, arbitration award or court order. The firm will also advance any costs of litigation, which will be deducted from any monetary award.

Town attorney Robert Kozakiewicz told the board Napoli Shkolnik had not offered to reduce its fee until Napoli proposed the reduction during Tuesday’s meeting, which he attended via Zoom.

The town attorney said he along with water district counsel Richard Ehlers and Water District Superintendent Frank Mancini started “a vetting process” of law firms in September 2019. Napoli Shkolnik was considered, based on a proposal then submitted to the town, Kozakiewicz said.

“This is a new development that I was not aware of,” Kozakiewicz said. Based on the vetting process, “we stand by our recommendation (to hire Sher Edlin),” he told the town board before its vote.

There is one well in the Riverhead Water District known to have PFOS/PFOA contamination, Mancini said in an interview last month. The contaminants have been detected in one of the two wells at Plant 5, located on Middle Road east of Northville Turnpike in Riverhead, Mancini said.

The State DEC allows the water district to blend water from the two wells at Plant 5 before the water enters the system, so that the water entering the system from that plant does not exceed the New York State’s newly adopted standard of 10 parts per trillion.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.