BETH YOUNG PHOTO
The Southold Board of Trustees voted Wednesday against the
Suffolk County Water Authority’s plan to bring public water to
The Suffolk County Water Authority suffered a blow Wednesday night in 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 road bed 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 in the town’s water map, which delineates areas where public water service is appropriate.
Trustee Bob Ghosio, who made the motion to deny the application, voted no, as did 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 Autnority. This is a very hard decision for us to make.”
The water authority has met with intense community resistance since it first proposed the 1,700- foot water main last year. The pipeline project had been an attempt to replace an aging water system that serves 24 homes in the Browns Hills community, where private wells show high levels of nitrates. Pipeline opponents have repeatedly voiced the concern that public water service will bring more development to 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 benefit of public water, he believes the water main should not be considered before the town’s comprehensive plan is completed.
Jim King disagrees.
“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 which gives the Trustees the ability to deny applications lacking other agencies’ approvals.
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 the trustees 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 expected the community to meet resistance from the Suffolk County Department of Health, which she said has prevented Browns Hills from drilling deeper wells into uncontaminated aquifers.
The water authority has proposed tripling its rates 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.”