The Suffolk County Water Authority suffered a blow on Aug. 18 to its plan to bring public water to Orient.
In a surprise 4-1 vote, the Southold Town Trustees denied the water authority a wetlands permit to place a water main in the roadbed along Route 25.
Board members cited a section of the town code that allowed them to deny the permit on the basis of the Town Board’s decision against including Orient in the town’s water map, which delineates areas where the town considers public water service appropriate.
Trustee Bob Ghosio made the motion to deny the application. He was joined in the “no” vote by trustee president Jill Doherty and members John Bredemeyer and David Bergen. Trustee vice president Jim King cast the lone dissenting vote.
“I believe there comes a time where as an elected official, I am compelled to vote the way my constituency asks me to,” said Mr. Ghosio. “I think the trustees have been put into a very difficult position by the Suffolk County Water Authority. This is a very hard decision for us to make.”
The water authority has met with intense community resistance since it first proposed the water main last year. The pipeline project had been an attempt to replace an aging, stand-alone water system that serves 24 homes in the Browns Hills community, where a community well shows high levels of nitrates. Pipeline opponents have repeatedly voiced the concern that public water service will bring more development to rustic Orient.
“I’ve been impressed with how much the community has learned about their water supply,” said Mr. Bredemeyer, an Orient resident who works as a water tester for the county health department. He added that while he understands the public health and safety benefits of public water, he believes the water main should not be considered before the town’s comprehensive plan is completed.
Jim King disagreed. “I know this is a very emotional thing for people,” he said. “I can find nothing in the wetland code that would allow denial of this application.”
Mr. Bergen said that he was concerned that no other public utility had come before the trustees for a permit before, but added that he was swayed by advice he’d received from the trustees’ attorney about a town code chapter that gives the trustees the authority to deny applications that lack the approvals of other agencies.
Orient residents, who showed up in force for the meeting and gave the trustees a hearty round of applause after the vote, said they’d been pushing for the board to deny the application on those grounds.
“We’ve been reading section 275 for weeks now,” said Venetia Hands, adding that “the trustees must function with the general welfare of the people in mind.”
“We’re pleased with the trustees’ decision. However, we know from long experience that this is just one of many roads we have to walk,” said Orient Association president MaryAnn Liberatore.
She said that she now expects the community to meet resistance from the Suffolk County Department of Health, which she said had prevented Browns Hills from drilling deeper wells into uncontaminated aquifers.
The water authority has proposed tripling its rate to manage the Browns Hills system if it cannot bring a public water main to Orient.
“We could really use some time to focus on Orient’s water and its future,” said Ms. Hands. “I really believe, in the 21st century, there are better technologies and solutions than pipelines.”