If opponents of the Suffolk County Water Authority’s plan to build a three-mile-long water main from East Marion to Orient’s Brown’s Hills community had any lingering doubts about Supervisor Scott Russell’s commitment to defeating the intensely controversial project, he surely dispelled them on Sunday.
Speaking during a 1 1/2-hour conversation about the project with local residents in Orient’s Poquatuck Hall, Mr. Russell said it was his “sincere hope” that the Board of Trustees will turn down an application for a construction permit sought by the SCWA. The public comment period on the application was set to end Wednesday, Aug. 4.
Mr. Russell added that if the Trustees did approve the permit, only the Town Board could approve changing the town’s water map, which has long governed which areas are served by public water. The water authority has said it can proceed without a water map change.
“The Town Board is very determined to uphold its right to say no,” the supervisor said.
The Trustees’ president, Jill Doherty, declined comment on his remarks Monday, noting that her board was still reviewing the SCWA’s application. She said she didn’t know when her panel would rule on it.
Opponents of the $3.8-million water main project, half of which would be financed with federal stimulus money, fear it could hasten development of the Orient peninsula. At the same time, many Brown’s Hills residents contend that public water would be inferior to the well water they now use, which is purified by reverse osmosis filters installed by the SCWA in each of the community’s 24 homes.
Many Orient residents who attended the Trustees’ stormy July 21 public hearing on the SCWA’s permit application were still smarting over the way the board conducted the meeting. At Sunday’s meeting, Melanie Norden, a Greenport resident whose brother lives in Orient, complained that some Trustees at the hearing seemed “utterly uninformed” both about the state Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA, and a portion of the Town Code dealing with wetlands and shorelines.
The Trustees have jurisdiction over wetland and waterfront projects. The pipeline, which would run under Dam Pond in East Marion, also would lie close to wetlands there and in Orient.
When Trustee John Bredemeyer III, an Orient resident, asked Mr. Russell on Sunday if he would speak to the Trustees, the supervisor said he would be glad to. Mr. Bredemeyer drew applause when said he would relay Mr. Russell’s offer to Ms. Doherty.
Interviewed afterward, Mr Bredemeyer called Mr. Russell’s presentation at Poquatuck Hall “awesome” and said, “It’s great he’s willing to come before the Trustees.”
When asked about Mr. Russell’s offer, Ms. Doherty said, “We’re always receptive to talking to the Town Board.” She added, “It’s definitely pertinent to keep the lines of communication open with them.”
Mr. Russell said the Town Board was “not unfavorable” to the creation of an independent water district for Brown’s Hills that would relieve the SCWA of its responsibility for serving the community. But he said a county health department official had told him at a meeting last week that such a district would be unprecedented and that “you’ll never get permission” to do it.
Martin Trent of Orient, chief of the health department’s Office of Ecology who attended the meeting, confirmed that establishing an independent district would be unprecedented but said he didn’t recall anyone saying it would be impossible.
Asked what he thought the SCWA’s motives were in pursuing such an unpopular project, Mr. Russell said he didn’t know. Then, to laughter, he added that although he didn’t usually subscribe to conspiracy theories, now “they’re getting my attention.”
Mr. Russell was treated like a comrade-in-arms by many in the audience, and several people thanked him publicly for coming. Among his admirers was the president-elect of the Orient Association civic group, MaryAnn Liberatore, who said in an interview that Mr. Russell had requested the meeting.
Orient resident Tim Frost was impressed enough with Mr. Russell to venture after the meeting, “He may be a better supervisor than we deserve.”