Manorville residents held a press conference on May 22, 2021 to renew their call for public water to serve the area. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Town officials and the Suffolk County Water Authority are discussing a potential agreement that would have the water authority supply public water to 64 Manorville homes within the Town of Riverhead where private wells have been contaminated by toxic chemicals.

Under a preliminary agreement discussed “in broad strokes” yesterday, the water authority would install about 3,000 feet of water main and serve those 64 homes from its system. The Town of Riverhead would pay SCWA for the work and SCWA would supply and meter the water to the neighborhood, but the area residents would be customers of the Town of Riverhead Water District, according to a joint press release issued today by the SCWA and the Town of Riverhead.

The water authority is in the planning stages of a public water extension to serve another 64 Manorville homes within Brookhaven Town.

Both the Town of Riverhead and the SCWA were each recently awarded $3.5 million in federal grant funds for the Manorville projects. The water authority also received $2.7 million in a water infrastructure grant from the State Environmental Facilities Corp. The state grant for the SCWA’s Manorville extension was one of dozens of water infrastructure grants announced by the governor last month. The Town of Riverhead had also applied for money from the same state water infrastructure grant, but its request was not funded.

SCWA and Riverhead officials are exploring ways to pursue the projects under a single bid to potentially save money, the press release states.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said in a phone interview this morning Riverhead is “cautiously optimistic” that the town and the water authority will be able to work together to bring public water to the area of concern.

Aguiar said the town will spend its grant-covered funds of $3.5 million to begin the project and will seek other grant or loan funds for the rest of the cost, which the superintendent of the Riverhead Water District estimates could be as high as $7 million. The price tag originally worked up by Riverhead Water District engineers H2M was estimated at $5.8 million. But Water District Superintendent Frank Mancini said in an interview last month the cost will likely be more because there is a high-pressure gas line in the road.

Aguiar said today if additional grant funding is not available “then we may consider alternate means of identifying funding… possibly including bonding.”

The goal, the supervisor said, is to provide clean drinking water to the area as quickly as possible.

SCWA Chairman Patrick Halpin echoed those sentiments. “The primary concern is to do everything within our power to make sure any residents who lack a safe and reliable drinking water supply are able to gain access to one,” he said in the press release. “We are pleased to begin work on a cooperative arrangement with Supervisor Aguiar and the Town of Riverhead to make this happen.”

Area residents have been seeking a public water extension to serve their homes for years, but the project was always considered cost-prohibitive due to the length of the new water main required to connect to the Riverhead Water District’s system and the small number of new hookups. Traditionally, new water district extensions — as well as hookups to individual homes and businesses — are paid for by end-users.

“For too long the Manorville community has lived with uncertainly and fear of the contaminants in the wells in the area. News of collaboration between Riverhead and SCWA in obtaining the required additional funding and proceeding with the water main extension in a timely manner is great news for the Manorville community,” Manorville resident Kelly McClinchy, who has led the charge for public water in her community, said today. “It’s news of reassurance and promise that we will have clean, safe water. The residents are more than ready to hear about the plan and we look forward to hearing from the Town and SCWA about what is next,” McClinchy said.

Private wells in the area have been found to be contaminated with a variety of chemicals, including MTBE, prompting residents to ask the town for public water. Recent testing of private wells in the area detected PFOA/PFOS, some in excess of newly established state maximum contaminant levels. PFOA/PFOS are long-lasting toxins that are harmful to human health, according to state health officials.

Residents as well as local and federal elected officials have sought to hold the U.S. Navy accountable for the contamination and responsible for the cost of extending public water to residents south of the former Grumman aerospace manufacturing site in Calverton.

The Navy has denied responsibility for any off-site contamination..

In November 2020, the U.S. Navy released data showing, for the first time, it was aware of significant detections of PFAS at the southern border of the former 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 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 over water pollution near Northrop Grumman’s Bethpage facility indicate that the company was aware of groundwater contamination in Calverton and a threat to the Peconic River and private wells in the area as early as the mid-1980s. 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.

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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.