Members of the Riverhead Town Board listen to the recommendations of Financial Administrator William Rothaar, left, Deputy Town Attorney Annemarie Prudenti, and Community Development Administrator Dawn Thomas on how to allocate nearly $3.7 million in American Rescue Plan aid. Photo: Alek Lewis.

Riverhead Town will use more than $3.6 million in federal coronavirus relief aid to bolster infrastructure, make up for lost government revenue and support nonprofits and businesses that struggled during the pandemic, if recommendations from town employees are adopted by the Town Board.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $1.9 billion federal stimulus package signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, included $360 billion of direct relief for state and local governments. Riverhead will receive $3,671,320 distributed to the town by New York State over two years.

The bulk of the money — $2 million — would go toward the Riverhead Water District’s construction of a new water storage facility in Wading River. The increased storage capacity is needed due to increased demand for the water district’s supply, especially during periods of peak demand, officials said.

The addition of the storage tank would allow the town to have enough reserves to stop purchasing water from the Suffolk County Water Authority, said Deputy Town Attorney Annemarie Prudenti, who drafted the plan with Community Development Administrator Dawn Thomas and Financial Administrator William Rothaar. 

“Anything that improves our infrastructure is going to help us into the future, not just this year,” Rothaar said.

Another infrastructure concern for the town covered in the plan is the Riverhead Sewer District’s Cranberry Street subcollection system, which connects wastewater to the treatment plant from three subcollection systems servicing major areas — Route 58, Peconic Bay Medical Center and the three Riverhead schools off Osborn Avenue. The sewer mains are original terracotta pipes and are deteriorating and rotting, according to the recommendations, which call for allocating $210,000 towards the main line inspection, cleaning and corrective action for the piping.

The sum of $750,000 would go towards “replacing” the town government’s lost revenue because of the pandemic. The report states that a projected $1.8 million of revenue was lost due to a reduction of various fees and aid. 

Part of the money would go towards parks and recreation projects, with $50,000 allocated for improvements to the Enterprise Park in Calverton walking trail, $30,000 for the Stotzky Park walking trail and $150,000 to add lights to two Stotzky Park fields.

Another $150,000 would go towards supporting businesses and nonprofits “related to arts, entertainment, leisure and hospitality” that suffered a negative economic impact from COVID-19. The hospitality and arts industry suffered a large hit during the pandemic, with several performing arts centers, including the Suffolk Theater, being closed for over a year.  

Other money allocated under the plan includes $100,000 for economically impacted programs that serve disabled people, $125,000 to reimburse the town for costs incurred throughout the coronavirus crisis for cleaning supplies and equipment for remote operations of the town, and $110,00 for the hiring of a code enforcement officer. 

Prudenti said the guiding principles for the allocation of the funds are extremely strict and that the town must be careful to choose reliable outside organizations to distribute to, or they may need to pay back the money. The process for businesses to receive the funding will be similar to the Community Development Block Grant program, which has been described as an intensive application and decision process involving much paperwork.

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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.