The Group for the East End has asked the New York State Inspector General to investigate the Suffolk County Water Authority’s plan to use federal stimulus money for a controversial plan to pipe public water into Orient.
The organization’s president, Bob DeLuca, sent a thick sheaf of paperwork to inspector general Joseph Fisch on Aug. 17, asking him to examine whether the project meets the stimulus funding requirements that it had all the necessary approvals and be “shovel-ready” before the funds were allocated.
As inspector general, Mr. Fisch serves as the chairman of the state’s stimulus oversight panel, which upholds the requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The water authority had planned to use $1.9 million in stimulus money for the nearly $4 million project, which the Town Board and many in Orient oppose.
“We decided to go to the top and try to cut the head off of the snake,” said Mr. DeLuca, who provided a copy of his request to The Suffolk Times this week.
Mr. DeLuca said Southold’s Board of Trustees is still the key to the issue because the water authority has asked it for a wetlands permit for the project. The trustees were scheduled to make a decision Wednesday night after this newspaper went to press. Details of that meeting will be available today at suffolktimes.com.
Mr. DeLuca said that, in addition to requiring that permits be in place, stimulus fund rules require that the project create jobs.
“There’s not a job that’s been created. That’s what the stimulus is for,” he said.
In his cover letter to Mr. Fisch, Mr. DeLuca also wrote, “In fact, the project has still not received its necessary approvals, has been formally rejected by resolution of the host municipality, remains mired in significant public controversy, has been challenged once in court by residents of the Browns Hills subdivision (who do not want the water supply system) and may be legally challenged again regarding an underlying permit in the coming months.”
The Town Board earlier this year denied a request by the water authority to include the Orient main in the town’s map designating areas where public water is appropriate. Town officials have said that should have been the end of it but the water authority has said it doesn’t need the town’s blessing.
Mr. DeLuca added in an interview that New York State Governor David Paterson could be held liable for breaking the federal rules, because he signed documents in January certifying that the project had been vetted by permitting agencies.
That’s not true “if you ask the Town of Southold,” he said. “I don’t think the federal government or Paterson want to be party to this.”
Water authority representatives said in late July that the project could be under way by Labor Day if a trustee wetlands permit is granted.
Congressman Tim Bishop said Tuesday that he believed the Environmental Facilities Corporation, the agency that distributes stimulus funds within the state, didn’t consider whether or not all permits were in place when it authorized the funding; it looked at the quality of the water in Orient and decided public water was needed there.
“Clearly, this project was not shovel-ready,” he said. “This project clearly is not one that has the support of the citizens it meant to serve.”
Mr. Bishop added that he believed the water authority when it said it will drop the project if the trustees deny a permit.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell on Tuesday declined comment on Mr. DeLuca’s letter to the inspector general.
The supervisor did say, “I am simply focusing on the issue as a community issue, and the community of Orient spoke loud and clear that there is no interest in public water service to that community.”
Mr. Russell said the permit application before the trustees did not, in and of itself, constitute a proposal to amend the water map. “The town board denied that request and would not consider any work started by the SCWA as permitted,” he added.
The supervisor said that he would not speculate on what the town board would do if the water authority begins work. Mr. DeLuca said his office is focusing on the request to the inspector general and has not yet considered future action.
If the trustee permit is approved, Mr. Bishop said, but the project gets mired in litigation, there will come a time when the funding will no longer be available. He said that his office is working to determine when that could happen.
“I don’t want to speculate on when that will be,” he said.