Residents lobbying for more than 60 homes in Manorville to be hooked up to public water pleaded with the Riverhead Town Board Tuesday to sign an inter-municipal agreement with Suffolk County Water Authority to strengthen its grant application and finally bring water to their neighborhood.
The patience of the residents appeared to be wearing thin last night, as they expressed the urgency of hooking up the homes currently serviced by contaminated private water wells, some contaminated by harmful chemicals like perfluorinated alkylated substances, also known as PFAS, thought to cause cancers and other adverse health effects, according to health officials.
During last night’s meeting, the Town Board authorized the town’s community development department to apply for grants for a variety of water district projects, including around $12.9 million for the Manorville, River Road and Calverton extensions — known as extensions 94, 95 and 96, respectively — which are estimated to cost approximately $16.4 million.
Kelly McClinchy, a Manorville resident who has been a neighborhood leader in lobbying for public water, said the town needs the agreement with Suffolk County Water Authority to demonstrate in its grant application that it has the capacity to serve the Manorville area.
Councilman Ken Rothwell, the Town Board member tasked with the project and who has led the town’s quarterly water forums, disputed McClinchy’s comments and said Suffolk County Water Authority has committed a letter of support to the project saying they would do the construction, which will support the town’s grant request.
The water authority could instead submit the application to the state for the project on behalf of the town, he said. The water authority and the town will meet to discuss how to proceed during an executive session discussion Thursday, he said. The deadline to apply for the state grant, a part of the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, is Sept. 8.
“We are not delaying by any means,” Rothwell said. “But it’s not a requirement of just signing an agreement with them… it doesn’t answer any of the financial questions or the aspect of how we’re going to get it installed.”
According to a grant summary document posted on the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation’s website, intermunicipal grant projects must have “a valid and binding project Intermunicipal Agreement between at least two cooperating municipalities related to financing of the IMG project that describes the proposed project, the role of each municipality, and the costs attributable to each municipality.” A “lead municipality” must also be designated on behalf of all participating municipalities, among other application requirements. The maximum amount of money an intermunicipal grant project can receive is $10 million per year.
Rothwell confirmed in a phone call Wednesday that the town would be applying for the grant “with other agencies.” He said the Suffolk County Water Authority’s legal team is researching whether Riverhead and the water authority need to enter an intermunicipal agreement and “no one has a definitive answer,” he said.
He said during Tuesday’s meeting that “if an intermunicipal agreement is what they want to see in the application, then we’ll sign that and will forge forward.”
An individual municipality or public authority could also apply for the grant on its own. The maximum amount of money those grant projects can receive is $5 million per year.
Riverhead Town has been negotiating the inter-municipal agreement with Suffolk County Water Authority since May after both public water suppliers were each awarded $3.5 million in federal grant funds for projects in Manorville. The Suffolk County Water Authority, which also received $2.7 million from the last round of state grant funding, is separately working to extend public water to 64 other Manorville homes located in the Town of Brookhaven. Under preliminary terms of the agreement discussed in public, the water authority would supply water to homes in the area, which would be billed as Riverhead Water District customers.
[See prior coverage: Riverhead and Suffolk County Water Authority are negotiating agreement for Manorville public water extension, as cost estimate for work soars]
The Manorville extension in Riverhead is estimated to cost around $9.5 million, making the town around $6 million short of funding to complete the project.
“There’s a stipulation of monetary funds to be paid. And if we sign that agreement [with the water authority], then I’m essentially bonding nine and a half million dollars towards the Riverhead taxpayers,” Rothwell said during Tuesday’s meeting. Rothwell said in a phone call Wednesday that both parties have agreed to the terms of the intermunicipal contract and the funding is what is holding up the signing.
Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment, interrupted Rothwell to mention that the town just bonded for $20 million to purchase a building for a new Town Hall.
“That serves all the residents,” Rothwell said in response.
“You are saying the residents of Manorville are not important? That’s what you’re saying, they’re not as important,” McClinchy said.
“No, Kelly, that’s not what I said at all,” Rothwell said. “No, absolutely not. I’m saying if we don’t have the funding in place, how do we pay for it?”
Rothwell said each resident would have to pay around $6,500 per year for 30 years.
“I’m sure that’s unacceptable to you,” Rothwell said. McClinchy has said in the past that residents do not want to pay the price for an extension. “So we’re working on getting those numbers better.”
“Yeah, you’re the elected officials, you get to make the decision. But you have not spoken to any of these residents about the cost of anything, you have not gotten our opinion,” McClinchy said. “Maybe I do want to spend $6,500 a year for my safety. And that is our decision to make.”
Rothwell said he has knocked on the door of every home in the area to assess which homes wanted public water, but did not give the $6,500 estimation because the town is still working on obtaining grants for the projects.
Water District Superintendent Frank Mancini also disputed McClinchy’s statement about the water district’s capacity issues. He said the grant was denied last year because the town did not put up any money to match the grant and it was incomplete because of it. Resolutions during last night’s meeting said the town was committed to bonding the difference of the cost of construction if grants were received.
McClinchy also criticized the “attitude” of town officials about being rejected for grants.
“[I]t is clear to everybody — it’s in every single article that comes out about any grant application funding — there’s an attitude here that ‘hey, if we don’t get it this time, we’ll get it next time.’ We don’t have ‘next time’ anymore,” McClinchy said. “We don’t need to wait a year. There’s no guarantee we’re gonna get it next year. Now’s the time and the town needs to do everything in its power to make sure that money is awarded this time around,” she said to applause.
Ron Martz of Manorville said “the Town Board has dragged your feet” on the extension project. The prices of the project have increased substantially, from around $6 million to $9.5 million, because of inflation because of waiting for grants, he said.
“Do you have a backup plan if this fails? Because this may fail,” he said.
Rothwell said the town will work with federal representatives to secure another round of grants and has had meetings with the Navy about possibly funding the rest of the money needed for the projects.
“So I guess we’re going through many different facets to locate funding for this,” Rothwell said. “Right now you’re looking at $6 million dollars, it’s $95,000 for each resident. So what I said is that, when I say that that’s not feasible, that means that I’m not going to stop working until we keep bringing that number down so that it’s an acceptable level by the residents of the town…”
Riverhead officials met with representatives of the Navy last month to discuss funding public water extensions in Manorville and Calverton. Residents and elected officials have argued that the water well pollution in the Manorville area was caused by activity at the former Grumman Aerospace manufacturing plant site at the Enterprise Park in Calverton, which was leased to the company by the U.S. Navy and sits north of the homes.
Although town officials last month said they made a strong case for the Navy taking responsibility, a Navy spokesperson was noncommittal about possible funding when reached for comment. No further announcements have been made about the Navy possibly funding the extensions since the meeting.
[See prior coverage: Riverhead officials meet with Navy reps to demand ‘swift action’ on funding for public water extensions to homes near former Grumman plant]
Mancini addressed the argument made by residents against the Navy during the meeting.
“You feel like the Navy has impacted you. If that becomes true, then we’ll get money and pay you back. But at the moment with the existing data I wouldn’t be comfortable making that case, you know. I’ve got a background in this, but you’re welcome to challenge that,” said Mancini, a hydrologist.
Along with authorizing the grant application for extensions 94, 95 and 96, the Town Board also authorized the community development department to apply for Water Infrastructure Improvement Act grants for a new ground storage tank in Wading River, expected to cost $7.4 million and improvements to water district Well 2 and Well 5.1, expected to cost $4.95 million. The grant covers a maximum of 60% of the cost of the projects and the Town Board intends to bond the rest of the cost if any amount of the grant is received, according to the resolutions.
The Town Board also authorized the community development department to apply for water district extension 97, located near Forge Road in Calverton. That project costs $526,000, and the Town Board authorized the expenditure of Riverhead Water District funds to complete the project on the award of the grant, according to the resolution.
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