Next move still a mystery

The Suffolk County Water Authority will not make a decision on whether to go ahead with its controversial plan to install a water main to Orient until after its board of directors meets again on Aug. 31, the agency’s CEO, Jeff Szabo, said on Friday. The water authority suffered a setback this week when the Southold Town Trustees denied a wetland permit for the project.

“At that time I will update them on the actions of the trustees. It’s up to them to decide how to proceed,” said Mr. Szabo of the board members.

Though representatives from the water authority have recently said publicly that the project would be canned if the trustees denied the permit, Mr. Szabo said that he did not know what the water authority’s stance would be until after the board meeting.

“I don’t want to speculate on possible scenarios. After Aug. 31, we will have a much better idea,” he said.

The water authority has proposed a rate increase for a small group of homeowners who are served by a stand-alone water system in Browns Hills in Orient that is run by the water authority. They would have been served by the new water main, which the water authority has said would have made Browns Hills service more efficient and cheaper to maintain.

Residents of Browns Hills currently pay about $500 per year for maintenance of that system, but will pay $1,500 per year if the rate increase is approved. The rate hike would fund an alternative plan for bringing them reliable water service if the Orient main is not built.

The water authority will hold a public hearing on the rate increase at its Southold headquarters on Boisseau Avenue on Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. Mr. Szabo said that his office will mail hearing notices to residents of Browns Hills shortly.

Meanwhile, Congressman Tim Bishop, considering the project dead, sent letters this week to the New York State Department of Health and the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation asking them to identify another public health project in Suffolk County that could be a recipient of $1.9 million in federal stimulus money now allocated for the Orient water main. The Environmental Facilities Corporation is responsible for allocating the federal money within the state.

“The overwhelming majority of Orient residents continue to oppose this project,” said Mr. Bishop in the letters. “Based on my conversations with the leadership of the SCWA, I have been assured that the project would not move forward should the Southold Board of Trustees deny them the wetlands permit necessary for the installation of a water transmission main. SCWA has clearly indicated both to me personally and in public that it will not challenge a denial by the trustees.

“It is my hope that another eligible project can be identified within the SCWA’s service area,” he added.

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