Kelly McClinchy at her kitchen sink in February 2020. Her family uses only bottled water. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Tests on drinking water from 95 residential wells in Manorville just south of the former Grumman manufacturing plant have detected PFOS, PFOA and a host of other contaminants — with some levels exceeding state and federal drinking water standards.

The contaminants included various volatile organic compounds — several types of solvents, the gasoline additive MTBE, and the chemical commonly known as DEET.

The water tests were conducted by the Suffolk County health department at the behest of residents in the area, who have long been seeking connection to a public water supply, largely due to the neighborhood’s proximity to the former Grumman facility in Calverton, where PFOS/PFOA and other contaminants have been detected in soil and groundwater.

The U.S. Navy owned the property where Grumman manufactured and tested fighter jets and military equipment from the 1950s until 1996.

The Navy transferred most of the 2,900-acre site to the Town of Riverhead in 1998, but retained several tracts for the purpose of conducting environmental cleanup and remediation — a process that has been ongoing for nearly three decades since Grumman moved out in 1996.

“There is no mistaking that contamination exists in our wells,” said area resident Kelly McClinchy, who has been an outspoken advocate for obtaining public water. “While we knew this all along, we now have definitive proof,” she said.

McClinchy and Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, have been meeting with town, county, state and federal officials with the aim of securing federal funding to pay the cost of bringing public water to the sparsely populated area south of the former Grumman facility. As a result of the meetings, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services agreed to test water samples taken from private wells in the area.

Also as a result of those meetings, the Suffolk County Water Authority in early February said it could feasibly connect the area to one of its mains currently serving a Manorville neighborhood in Brookhaven Town.

On Feb. 20, the Riverhead Town Board authorized Riverhead Water District engineering consultants H2M to prepare a map and plan for an extension of the Riverhead Water District to serve homes in the area.

The H2M plan, dated October 2020, has not yet been presented to the town board at a public meeting. Supervisor Yvette Aguiar provided RiverheadLOCAL with a copy of the document today.

H2M concluded that the Riverhead Water District has available capacity to serve the proposed extension.

The estimated cost for the extension, which would require about 19,200 feet of 12-inch water main and 4,700 feet of new 8-inch water main, is nearly $4.8 million, according to the H2M report.

The cost of a water district extension is typically borne by the property owners served by the extension, paid off in annual taxes for a 20-year period. H2M calculated the average annual tax bill would be about $3,767.

In addition, properties within the extension would, under Riverhead Town Code, also be subject to “key money” fees, which cover the costs of increasing system capacity, of more than $6,000 per dwelling.

The expense of the extension and the relatively small number of properties to be served essentially make the project cost-prohibitive.

Jospeh Pokorny, Suffolk County Water Authority deputy CEO for operations said today the water authority would likely be able to extend a main to the area at a lesser cost, since its existing main is closer than the Riverhead Water District’s nearest main.

“The Suffolk County Water Authority is absolutely willing to serve that area, but someone has to pay the bill,” Pokorny said. “We don’t do it for free.”

“We’d work with the federal government and the residents,” he said.

“We’re not here to move into the town’s area,” Pokorny said. “We’re here to cooperate, to supply water to people that need it.”

The Riverhead supervisor has in the past accused the water authority of seeking to take over the Riverhead Water District, which water authority officials have denied.

“We have to pick the best plan for the public,” Esposito said. “We’re not going to get into a political battle. We need a plan and a cost,” she said.

“We feel it’s very important that the Navy is held accountable,” Esposito said, calling for more extensive off-site testing by the Navy,

Aguiar agreed. She said the town has even considered bringing a lawsuit agains the Navy to force it to pick up the tab for public water.

“Now that there’s hard evidence (of contamination), we will have more leverage,” Aguiar said.

In addition to attending meetings coordinated by Esposito, Aguiar has held meetings of her own with representatives of Congressman Lee Zeldin and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. She said both federal lawmakers are very supportive of plans to get public water to the area.

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Denise Civiletti
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.