SCWA’s Orient legacy: pure water and sour grapes

At long last, the Suffolk County Water Authority has, as Congressman Tim Bishop put it, “embraced reality.”

The reality, long obvious to anyone outside the authority’s Oakdale headquarters, is that there was scant support in Orient — and no backing in Town Hall — for the $3.8 million, three-mile water main extension eastward from East Marion. Finally admitting that this week, and admitting also that it had no intention of engaging in a David vs. Goliath battle with Southold Town, the authority has dropped the project.

But no one in Orient or in Town Hall is spraying champagne in celebration, for the SCWA is neither gone nor forgotten.

While the authority’s upper management declared the project dead, the agency is still moving forward with an application to the Town Trustees for a wetlands permit. That approval isn’t needed if the authority isn’t pursuing its plans to dig near wetlands and install 12-inch transmission mains. But the SCWA is not withdrawing its application, so the Trustees will proceed with a previously scheduled public hearing next Wednesday, July 21.

The authority also still owns the 24-home water distribution system in Browns Hills in Orient. With its designs on piping water out there said to be dead, the SCWA hopes the town or the residents will assume responsibility for keeping the tap water flowing. Jim Gaughran, the authority’s new board president, said this week that other water customers have long subsidized the folks in Browns Hill, and should the authority pass on its actual costs, the bill for a year’s water service would jump from just under $500 to close to $5,000 per customer.

This sounds suspiciously like a parting slap in the face from the authority’s leadership.

Why else force an obviously unnecessary public hearing but to rile up the locals one more time?

Why else threaten a ten-fold increase in water charges?

This was undoubtedly a painful lesson for the authority, which is used to always getting its way. It learned the hard way that the people of Southold pay attention, get involved and don’t roll over for anyone. It’s done, and time for the SCWA to get past its pique and get on with business.