KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO
Browns Hills resident Venetia Hands was one of dozens of speakers at Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting on public water mains proposed for the 24-home Orient neighborhood.
Though opinions varied on a proposal to bring public water to Orient, “not yet” was a phrase heard often among the dozens of speakers at a public hearing Tuesday night on amending the town’s water map.
“I want to make this clear: We are not against clean water in Orient,” said Venetia Hands, a resident of Browns Hills. “All we are saying is not yet … We must insist that the [Suffolk County Water Authority] ask for an amendment to our water map before we go any further. All you’re asking them is to do the right things in the right sequence.”
The lively hearing came months after representatives of the Suffolk County Water Authority proposed a controversial plan to run a three-mile stretch of new 12-inch water mains from East Marion to the Browns Hill neighborhood in Orient without canvassing anyone in the area.
Opponents of the project said they fear the new mains will lead to new development by making more water available. Those in favor of public water said that their water quality has long been compromised by agricultural chemicals and other contaminants.
Either way, town officials say the water map must be amended to include that area before the water authority can proceed. But Stephen Jones, the water company’s CEO, has maintained since first proposing the extension last year that the mains would serve only the 24 homes in Browns Hills that are currently using contaminated water from private wells, and that he has to push the project forward in order to use federal stimulus funds while they are available.
Mr. Jones reiterated to board members and the crowd Tuesday night that as a public benefit corporation, the water company does not need permission from municipalities to serve its clients — and Browns Hills is a community within the SCWA service area.
Mr. Jones and other SCWA representatives listened for about two hours to Orient and East Marion residents from all walks of life, as they expressed their views on what public water might bring to their quiet community, for good or ill.
Longtime Orient resident Freddie Wachsberger gave the crowd a history lesson, describing how a lack of public water prevented two applications — one for a convention center at Orient Point and another for a 55-house colonial village on an Orient farm — 30 years ago.
“We realized back then that Orient would be changed forever,” she said. “The only thing that stopped those applications was the lack of an adequate water supply, and until the zoning is tightened, there will still be public pressure to build if public water is brought in.
“Public water doesn’t cause development, but it facilitates it,” Ms. Wachsberger continued. “I ask you to table this until you have time to consolidate the zoning that would protect Orient’s open spaces.”
A survey on the project distributed by the SCWA only to residents within the area of the proposed pipeline was also criticized Tuesday night. Caroline Silverstone of Orient called it “pure sales promotion.”
“The first order of conducting a survey is to make sure it is fair and objective,” she said.
Others in audience supported the SCWA proposal. Environmental engineer Susan Melamud, an Orient resident since 1998, said she would be “happy to pay” the $2,000 the SCWA would charge residents to connect to the pipeline. Ms. Melamud said she has her water tested every year and that it has been “deteriorating in quality for quite some time.” Gasoline byproducts and high levels of iron are only a few of the contaminants she said she has found in the water at her residence on Route 25 near the East Marion-Orient causeway.
“I plan on being here quite a long time — I love the privacy and peace,” she said. “But we have a fragile, thin lens of water that we draw from, and the more we draw, the more [contaminants] we draw from the surrounding area.”
With extensive zoning regulations already in place, Ms. Melamud added that she didn’t see an extension of SCWA water mains as a “carte blanche” for development. But Bob DeLuca, president of local environmental advocacy organization the Group for the East End and former Suffolk County Health Department employee, said that development does indeed usually follow public water.
Mr. DeLuca recommended that the Town Board move forward with the State Environmental Quality Review Act process on the water main proposal in order to “look at every potential impact before you take action.”
“What do you do? You’ve got to be concerned about getting public water to people who need it, but you’re also looking at an avenue for growth inducement,” he advised the board. “You should move forward with the pipeline only when you know what the consequences will be … and your comprehensive plan should have sufficient ammo if you’re going to say no.”
Sandra Sinclair of Orient said that she had “great sympathy” for anyone living with contaminated water but recommended they invest in reverse osmosis systems for their homes.
“I have had a system in my house for 12 years, and I spent $1,100,” she said. “Why hook up to the SCWA for $2,000? They’ve already admitted that the quality won’t be as good as reverse osmosis.”
After Narrow River Road resident and public pipeline supporter Maureen Dacimo displayed a rust-colored bowl and orange towel — items that were pure white before being washed repeatedly at her Orient home — Orient Point resident Billy Gibbons also expressed his support for bringing the proposed pipeline across the causeway.
“I’m not a scientist, I’m not an expert on anything, but I know I have really, really lousy water,” he said. “Nobody should be drinking that water.”
QUOTES, PRO AND CON:
More opposing views on the proposed SCWA water main to Browns Hills in Orient
“I’m very much in favor of this water system coming to Orient so that people who need a reliable source of fresh water can have it. All the other stuff is secondary.” — David Russell, Orient
“I don’t want this pipeline. I have a well and I don’t have a problem with it. There is nothing wrong with my water. I wouldn’t mind spending stimulus money on getting the roads fixed but not on a pipeline.” — Tom Costa, Orient
“The quality of water has gotten worse. Not only the quality of drinking water but the water you use for everything. While we are not for overdevelopment in Orient, we do want the right to have clean drinking water and for all of our uses.” — Maureen Dacimo, Orient
“All the people of Southold are partners with Suffolk County Water Authority. They want to get in as quick as they can … and if you don’t ask any questions, they’ll just go down there and do it.” — David Mudd, Southold
“You, Orient, are the envy of Brookhaven Town, where I live. I am enamored with this area and I want to move here, but the level of dialogue I’m hearing on what is an issue of choice I believe is unfounded. The area where development could occur in your region is already extremely limited. There is no need to have fear.” — Jerry DeFieri, Brookhaven
“With the SCWA proposal, one would think that Browns Hills has a water crisis of biblical proportions. We don’t.” — Amil Chaudhuri, Orient