County to spend $850K on rotting Northville culverts

12/19/2013 2:30 PM |
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A drainage pipe from the preserve? in the front lawn of a home on Sound Shore Road in Northville.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | A drainage pipe from the preserve in the front lawn of a home on Sound Shore Road in Northville.

After years of poking and prodding public officials to do something about periodic flooding on Sound Shore Road in Northville — flooding that includes contaminated water, tests have shown — residents in the area will get their wish for an overhaul of an outdated culvert system, courtesy of Suffolk County.

A series of underground pipes directs groundwater from the North Fork Preserve to Northville Beach and, for years, debate has raged over who — if anyone — would be responsible for updating the damaged system, which is believed to have been installed in the 1930s under the Works Progress Administration. The damaged pipes run underneath Sound Shore Road and through properties on its north side before reaching the beach.

The 307-acre preserve, previously two separate lots, was purchased in 2011 for $18 million. Suffolk County chipped in the lion’s share of the cost to construct a park, with Riverhead Town using $500,000 in Community Preservation Fund money. Now, with the responsibility of owning the land, Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said that updating the sub-par culverts falls to Suffolk, even if the cash-strapped county has to borrow $850,000 to do the work. County legislators approved a measure Tuesday to do just that.

“We’ve inherited quite a problem over there,” said Mr. Krupski. “But now it’s the county’s liability to fix.”

Mr. Krupski said that work to fix the problem, which started to emerge over a decade ago, could begin as soon as this winter, .

According to a 2009 Riverhead News-Review article, a November 2007 report from the Suffolk County Health Department found that during the summer months, fecal contamination was evident in the culvert system, which could be attributable to shallow groundwater, surface water runoff, animal waste “and, potentially, leaching from on-site disposal systems.”

That same county report recommended that people not swim near areas where culverts from the property discharge.

Independent testing completed a year later by the Northville Beach Civic Association, led by former civic president Kerry Moran, found extremely high counts of fecal matter in samples leaching from the culverts, some of which drain directly onto Long Island Sound beaches. One test revealed a fecal coliform number five times the level that would have closed a public beach. Mr. Moran died in 2011 of injuries sustained after being struck by an automobile the year before.

Mr. Krupski said the cost to construct a sump on the preserve originally came in at nearly $1.5 million. However, further discussion led to the current plan, which will still discharge groundwater into Long Island Sound, a plan for which, he said, the county had permission from the Department of Environmental Conservation. Mr. Krupski added that the only contaminants in the groundwater after the pipes are repaired should be animal waste.

John Cullen, president of the civic group for the past three years, said that Northville homeowners affected by the substandard pipe system “were hoping, and still are hoping, that things will be fixed with the water coming off the preserve.”

In recent months, Mr. Cullen said, several meetings with the county Department of Public Works have led to a sense of optimism in that regard.

“The DPW has been very helpful,” he said. “We’re just hoping this can be over and done with.”

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