Manorville resident Clare Bennett sprays discolored tap water from her home in air at the town board meeting July 7. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The frustration of one Manorville resident with the pace of efforts to bring public water to an area south of the former Grumman manufacturing facility, where private wells are polluted with a variety of chemicals, erupted from the nozzle of a spray bottle at the Riverhead Town Board meeting last week.

Clare Bennett of Manorville, whose tap water is contaminated with a host of chemicals, including MTBE, benzene and acetone, went to the meeting determined to let town board members know how fed up she is with the situation. And she came prepared.

Bennett brought with her a spray bottle filled with what she said was water from her household tap — a cloudy discolored liquid. Standing at the podium, she held the bottle aloft.

“Love the color?” she asked the board, her voice rising. “Want some?” Bennett began spraying the water into the air in the town board meeting room.

“Okay. That’s a little dramatic,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar replied.

“Yeah it’s dramatic,” said Bennett. “I’m consuming this stuff for five years,” she said. (See prior story,“Water contamination in Pine Barrens neighborhood prompts county health department, state investigations.“)

“I want bottled water delivered to my home the way you brought it to me in November before being elected,” Bennett demanded. “That was very kind of you and you all got elected. I would like you to continue bringing water to my home,” she said.

“Ma’am we’re in a meeting. Calm yourself down and speak professionally,” Aguiar told the irate resident.

“I am speaking professionally and pissed off at the same time,” Bennett replied. “And I’ve been hearing you a little pissed off here too, Missy, so don’t give me any crap,” she told the supervisor, referring to some tense exchanges earlier in the four-hour-plus meeting the supervisor had with Councilwoman Catherine Kent and former supervisor Laura Jens-Smith.

Aguiar asked her to “please lower your voice” when addressing the board.

“Respond, then. Don’t blabber,” Bennett shot back.

“Alright. We did do a map and plan last year that we paid for,” Aguiar said. “Myself and so did Brookhaven supervisor. We put in and supported Congressman Zeldin. There is money for infrastructure and we have a request in and we’re waiting to hear from that request,” Aguiar said.

“Five years, lady,” Bennett said, repeating it for emphasis. “Five years.”

Aguiar reminded Bennett she’s only been in office since January 2020.

“This is after the full-house filtration system I have in my home… and the full house filtration, two gigantic carbon filters the DEC installed. This is my water,” she said, holding the spray bottle up and spraying it again.

“I understand your frustration,” Aguiar said.

Clare Bennett of Manorville holds a jug of discolored tap water from her home at a May 22 press conference. Environmental advocate Adrienne Esposito of Citizens Campaign for the Environment holds a jug of water purchased at a store to demonstrate the contrast with Bennett’s tap water. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead has had maps and plans prepared by water district consulting engineers H2M Group for two extensions that would serve homes in Riverhead Town south of the former Grumman site. But the issue is money. The extensions are costly due to the distance from the district’s nearest main and the homes to be served would not be able to bear the financial burden of the extensions — the traditional way water district extensions are funded. The Navy which owned the site and leased it to Northrop Grumman, the alleged polluter, has refused to accept responsibility for the cost. See prior story.

Rep. Lee Zeldin in April requested member item funding for the project, but there has been no recent update on the status of that request. The congressman’s office has not responded to a request for comment as of press time.

U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have also requested member item funding to provide public water to the area.

Bennett said in an interview today she has not heard anything new from anyone and her frustration continues to grow. The MTBE levels in her tap water fluctuate, she said, depending on rainfall amounts and the direction of water flow.

“There are pockets of this stuff that keep moving around,” Bennett said. Sometimes it exceeds the state limit, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s always present, she said, as are other noxious chemicals.

“Honestly the thing that really worries me is no one has studied and no one knows what the cumulative effect of all of these contaminants is on our health,” Bennett said. “I have to use this water every day.” Even if residents use bottled water for drinking and cooking, they are still using tap water for showering, washing laundry and dishes and utensils, she noted. “What’s the effect of all that over time?”

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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.