File photo: Denise Civiletti

Future Riverhead Planning Board subdivision approvals will be explicitly contingent on water supply availability, planning board members agreed at their meeting on Thursday.

Riverhead Water District Superintendent Frank Mancini and Deputy Town Attorney Ann Marie Prudenti met with the planning board on Thursday to discuss the district’s capacity issues, possible ways to address them — which are measures that would have to be adopted by the town board — and how the planning board can move subdivision and site plan applications forward in light of those capacity issues.

During peak summer months, when irrigation systems spike water consumption, the demand for water in the Riverhead Water District can reach 20 million gallons per day, seriously taxing the water district’s ability to supply its customers with its existing infrastructure.

Upgrading its existing infrastructure with new wells, pump stations and mains comes with a price tag in the tens of millions. In addition to the costs associated with undertaking the necessary upgrades, there are legal issues that the town must resolve with the State DEC that date back to at least 2005 before the town can get permission to drill new wells or expand its district. Those legal issues have now landed in court.

Planning Board Chairman Stan Carey, who runs a water district in Nassau County and has long experience in the field, called for the meeting to discuss how the planning board should handle land subdivisions and commercial site plan applications until the water district’s capacity issues are resolved.

“We’re kind of in limbo here,” Carey said at Thursday’s meeting. “We know that there’s an issue. So how do we as planners approve it, knowing that you can’t service it?” he asked.

“What we’d like to know is, should we be approving some of these projects with a clear condition in the resolution saying that the town board [which is the governing body of the water district] needs to either extend the boundaries or work out the arrangement so that they can meet the capacity, the demand for a project?” Carey asked.

“We have no control or no say over whether or not the town board or water district can or wants to supply this project. But we can’t in good conscience hold it up because it’s outside of our control,” he said.

Prudenti said she saw no impediment to inserting language in a planning board resolution. Planning board counsel Dick Ehlers agreed. He said the applicant could ask the health department to approve a private water supply system, but thought that would be very unlikely.

All agreed that it’s better to put applicants on notice early in the process, rather than wait till final approvals.

Then the water district commissioners — the town board members — can work with the developers to have them contribute to infrastructure improvements that will allow the district to supply their development.

Carey asked Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree and Planning Aide Greg Bergman to work with legal counsel on the language to be used and beginning including that language in resolutions approving new projects.

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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.