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(Updated 9/3/2021 10:20 p.m.):

Riverhead Town will update residents and have conversations on water quality issues and infrastructure during the town’s first water forum at town hall on Sept. 15 at 6 p.m., according to Councilman Ken Rothwell.

On Friday morning, Rothwell said the town had rescheduled the forum from its original date of Sept. 20 due to a scheduling conflict.

The forum was originally proposed by Rothwell as a committee to tackle issues that mostly affected customers of the water district near the pine barrens and Enterprise Park in Calverton whose wells suffer from pollution. However, the plan changed after he received negative feedback from the people the committee intended to serve, Rothwell said during a water district update at a work session on Aug. 12. The town wants to hold the forums once every three months going forward.

Kelly McClinchy, an Old River Rd resident affected by the water pollution, said during the Aug. 3 town board meeting the committee would not be fair to residents who could not participate and would not have the attention of every council member.

“Over the past several months our residents have made it clear that we, as the governing body of our town and our water district, must communicate better to share the information with our residents,” Rothwell said during the Aug. 12 work session.

Rothwell said Water District Superintendent Frank Mancini will present several issues pertinent to the water district, like tests for water pollution and infrastructure projects in progress. Community Development Administrator Dawn Thomas will discuss town grants for water projects and Deputy Town Attorney Anne Marie Prudenti will discuss legal issues and the town’s correspondence to the offices of Rep. Lee Zeldin, Senator Chuck Schumer and the U.S. Navy, Rothwell said.

“I really just want it to be informative of what we know, what we’re doing, where we’re headed [and] give residents a chance to interact with the town board to ask questions,” Rothwell said. “Some answers we may know, some not, and if not we’ll take diligent notes and we’ll work on getting those answers,” he added.

In a call with RiverheadLOCAL last week, McClinchy said she thinks the forum is a better idea than a committee, since the process will be more open to the public. The decision to have the meetings quarterly instead of monthly will be better, she said, since water issues are slower to solve.

The water district also wants to create a long-term project plan to address future needs, improvements and maintenance for current and future infrastructure around the town, Mancini said. Mancini said that in years prior, the water district has sacrificed critical maintenance to keep rates for water low. The plan would outline the district’s priorities for grant, private or excess fund spending.

“I think a long term strategic plan for the water district is not only going to provide our path but also, when developers have questions and stuff, it sort of documents this is our plan. We are not deviating from it. This is how we are going to address the problems that we have,” Mancini said.

Mancini told RiverheadLOCAL that the last time a plan for the water district was approved was 2006. The town paid to have a plan drafted in 2016, but it was never finalized, Mancini said.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.