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The Suffolk County Water Authority has notified the U.S. Navy that it stands “ready, willing and able” to provide water to 128 homes in the Calverton and Manorville communities whose private wells are threatened by PFAS contamination.

SCWA chief executive officer Jeffrey Szabo wrote to the secretary of the Navy today to say the water authority is prepared to run a water main to serve the homes in question.

“The Suffolk County Water Authority is in the best position to do that quickly and efficiently,” Szabo said in an interview this afternoon.

“It’s an issue we’ve been discussing with residents and elected officials for the past year,” Szabo said.

After those discussions became public, the Riverhead Town Board last February authorized the preparation of a map and plan for a Riverhead Water District extension to serve the Manrovlle-Calverton area. The water district’s consulting engineer provided the map and plan to the town in October, but it has not been acted on. Without funding from the federal or state government, the town water district extension remains cost-prohibitive.

“We were working with the state, hoping to secure a grant to pay for it. There hasn’t been a new round of funding,” he said. The COVID crisis had severe impacts on state finances and Szabo said he’s not sure there will be funding available through the state in the near future.

“We’re hoping that Sen. Schumer, as the new Senate majority leader, will be able to to expedite funding,” he said. Schumer has demanded the Navy fund public water to the area.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said last month the town is considering suing the Navy to pay for the water district extension.

Meanwhile, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services has been testing private residential wells in the area and has found some contaminated with PFAS at levels above the recently adopted New York State drinking water standard.

Navy representatives, in community meetings, have said the Navy is subject only to more lenient EPA or Department of Defense standards for the contaminant in drinking water.

In November, the Navy released data showing, for the first time, it was aware of significant detections of PFAS at the southern border of the former Grumman aerospace manufacturing site.

Detection of the chemicals at the southern boundary of the site is significant, because it supports the position of elected officials, environmental advocates and community members that the chemicals could migrate offsite and pose a risk to private drinking water wells in the area and the Peconic River. The Navy has not publicly acknowledged responsibility for any off-site contamination.

The Navy leased the site to Northrop Grumman beginning in 1954. Grumman installed electronic systems, tested engines, fueled and prepared jets, and trained personnel to respond to crashes. Grumman used spent fuel and waste solvents to feed simulated air crashes fires at the fire training area on the site. It is one of several areas that were subject to environmental remediation after Northrop Grumman vacated the site in 1996.

Federal court documents in a lawsuit between Northrop Grumman and its liability insurance carriers indicate that the company was aware of contamination of groundwater and a threat to the Peconic River and private wells in the area as early as the mid-1980s.

The Navy in 2008 asked the Department of Justice to bring a lawsuit against Northrop Grumman to recover damages to cover the cost of environmental cleanup, according to an October 2013 decision by the federal district court judge in the insurance litigation. The Navy at that time put the price tag for cleanup at more than $21 million. That figure did not include the cost of bringing public water to any affected homes.

There is no record of any action having ever been brought by the Navy against Northrop Grumman for damages due to contamination of soil and water in Calverton. In response to an inquiry into the current status of the matter, a Navy spokesperson said today “the Navy cannot comment on pending or contemplated litigation.”

Szabo said today about half the homes in the area of concern are located in the town of Brookhaven and half are in Riverhead.

The water authority estimates the cost of the water main extension and private line hookups to be slightly over $12 million.

Manorville resident Kelly McClinchy, who has been an outspoken advocate for public water in the area, said she is glad the water authority’s plan includes all 128 homes in the sample area as well as the private service hookups.

“The costs associated with an extension due to contamination should not be at the residents’ expense,” McClinchy said. “We didn’t create this situation. No one should have to forego having clean water because they cannot afford to pay hook-ups or fees,” she said.

“The residents have waited so long for this already, and we are anxiously awaiting the day we can turn on our water faucets and not worry anymore.”

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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.