Construction of public water mains to serve the southwest corner of Riverhead Town could start by the end of the year, Suffolk County Water Authority officials told residents at a meeting in Manorville last night.
But a funding gap still remains for connecting the remote area of town — where 64 homes currently rely on private wells, some contaminated by toxic chemicals — located far from existing public water infrastructure.
More than 60 people, including Manorville residents and town officials from both Riverhead and Brookhaven towns, attended the meeting at the Manorville Fire Department to get an update from the water authority on the status of the extension project.
The Manorville hamlet straddles the town line between Riverhead and Brookhaven. The Suffolk County Water Authority serves all of Suffolk County outside of existing existing independent water districts, such as the one operated by the Town of Riverhead. The Riverhead Water District was pursuing extending its boundaries to include the portion of Manorville within the Town of Riverhead, but entered an agreement with the water authority last fall to have the authority construct the extension.
Suffolk County Water Authority is also extending its mains to connect 116 homes in the portion of Manorville on the Brookhaven side of the hamlet. More than half of those homes are located in an area health authorities are surveying for toxic chemicals. Residents said some of the private wells are contaminated by perfluorinated alkylated substances, known as PFAS, which environmental and health agencies say cause cancers and other adverse health effects.
The Riverhead portion of the extension will cost an estimated $10.85 million to complete, water authority officials said. Riverhead Town has obtained roughly $7.4 million in state and federal grants toward the total cost of the, leaving a shortfall of roughly $2.8 million.
The price tag does not include the homeowner’s cost of installing a private service line to connect the home to the main. The private service line can cost between $6,000-$10,000, depending on the distance of the house from the road.
The water authority board at its meeting today approved a revision to its new-customer policy related to contamination and grant funding that will allow the authority to provide each Riverhead customer 75 feet of water main at no cost to the property owner.
SCWA Chairperson Patrick Halpin discussed the revision at last night’s meeting. Assuming all 64 homes in the Riverhead portion of Manorville become new customers, the funding shortfall would be reduced from $2.8 million to $648,400, according to the water authority’s estimates. If homeowners were to cover that, each homeowner would need to pay roughly $10,100 to cover the main and tap fee. That cost does not include the private service line.
Homeowners can finance the cost of water main installation and the tap fee through the authority for up to 25 years, officials said.
Residents, who have long maintained they should not bear the cost of the water main extension, were not happy at the prospect of paying any portion of it.
“We shouldn’t have to pay. We didn’t put it there,” Manorville resident Toni Pawson said. “We shouldn’t have to pay.”
Manorville resident Kelly McClinchy, who has been a neighborhood leader in lobbying for the water extensions, raised the possibility of Riverhead Town using community preservation funds, generated by a 2% real estate transfer tax, to cover the rest of the infrastructure costs. She noted that Riverhead had exceeded expectations for CPF revenues in 2022. A portion of community preservation fund revenues can be put towards clean water projects.
But Riverhead Town officials are confident they will make up the difference in grants. Deputy Town Attorney Annemarie Prudenti said the town has applied for the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act funding for the project. The town applied for funding under the state program last year, but was denied. Town officials said that Rep. Nick LaLota, who took office in January, was supportive of the town’s efforts to obtain funding on the federal level.
The pollution of the private water supply, in the absence of a responsible party, has town officials scrambling to come up with ways to fund the extension projects without charging the rest of the Riverhead Water District’s ratepayers.
Residents and some government officials have pointed to Northrop Grumman’s activities at the former U.S. Navy property in Calverton as the cause of groundwater pollution south and southeast of the former Navy site. However, a direct link between Grumman’s activities and the pollution in Manorville has not been established and the Navy, despite public pressure from politicians, including Senator Chuck Schumer and former Rep. Lee Zeldin, has denied responsibility for the water pollution problems.
In terms of a timeline for the installation of the project’s infrastructure, the Brookhaven Town side of the project would need to be built first. Officials said construction would start in July. The Riverhead side of the project does not yet have an estimated start date. Officials expect construction on the Riverhead side of the project would begin late this year or early next year. Water authority officials said the installation of the water main for each project will take roughly one-and-a-half to two months.
The project must be approved by state and federal entities, including regulators like the Department of Environmental Conservation. Riverhead Town will also need to submit additional documentation to the Environmental Protection Agency so its grants can be used to fund construction by the water authority.
The $10.85 million price tag for the extension project in Riverhead is up from the $9.5 million price tag town officials had recently received for the project. Riverhead Water District Superintendent Frank Mancini said he was told the price change reflects an increase in the cost of bid contracts.
Last night’s meeting marked a sign of significant progress, and the introduction of a measurable timeline, in solving a problem that has been a hot-button issue in Riverhead Town for the last few years.
“Just over four years ago, we walked into Town Hall, and honestly we had a hope and a prayer — and there’s been a lot of hopes and a lot of prayers since then,” McClinchy said. “And we’ve gotten to this point and we’re happy to hear what we heard tonight.”
Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, who passed up a scheduled Town Board meeting to attend the Manorville water meeting last night, took credit for the progress made on the project. “It sat there idle,” she said. “It was three years ago when we decided, and I convinced my board members, to pay for the map and plan so we can start this process.”
But while the water contamination problem in Manorville may soon be resolved, the struggles of other residents, who have the same problems, will persist. A target area for a new Riverhead Water District extension is south Calverton on the Riverhead Town line, where dangerous levels of PFAS contamination have been detected.
Conversations about water-related issues in Riverhead Town will continue next week at the town’s water forum, scheduled for Wednesday at 6 p.m..
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