Water main vote coming

The wait won’t be long for a town Trustees decision on the Orient water main; in fact, it’ll come in less than a week.

When the Trustees meet next week they will vote on the Suffolk County Water Authority’s request for a wetlands permit, said Trustee president Jill Doherty.

“Everybody wants an answer,” she said this week. “We felt we had plenty of time to review it and the questions we’ve had.”

The water authority has said a Trustees’ permit is all that’s needed before work can commence on installing three miles of new transmission mains to link the Browns Hills community to water lines that terminate in East Marion. During the Trustees’ July 21 hearing on the permit application, the water authority’s attorney said the project could start right after Labor Day and be completed by Halloween.

Orient residents vociferously objected, saying that only days earlier the authority’s CEO had pronounced the project dead. Supervisor Scott Russell accuses the authority of using the Trustees as a way to overcome the Town Board’s refusal to amend the town water map to include the new mains.

The Trustees will take no additional public comment during Wednesday’s meeting, said Ms. Doherty.

“We gave people every opportunity to talk,” she said. But that’s not how foes of the water main expansion see it. The Trustees have been accused of unfairly and incorrectly limiting comment during their last meeting.

“There were a lot of valid issues raised, but most of them are not Trustee issues,” Ms. Doherty said. “Future development and planning issues are not before the Trustees. People may have felt we were shutting them up, but we weren’t.”

She described the application as “unique.”

“For the most part, I don’t think it belongs in front of us,” Ms. Doherty said. “The reason it’s before us is the Town Board made them” submit an application to the panel. “We’re going to do the best review we can, but what people don’t understand is we can’t just reject it because they want us to. We have to go by the code.”

The water authority has said that should the Trustees say no, it would not file a court challenge and the project would be dead. Water main foes have made no such promise regarding a yes vote.

Ms. Doherty said the Trustees have never before assumed authority over a public utility. In fact, a contractor who recently moved a natural gas line crossing the Dam Pond bridge to make room for the new water main needed no local approvals, she said.

Supervisor Russell said that by attempting to skirt the water map question, the water authority had put the Trustees “in a tough position.”

Last summer the Trustees did not require a public hearing when granting an administrative permit for the SCWA to drill laterally beneath Dam Pond. Not long after the Town Board voted unanimously against expanding the water map, the board declared the wetlands permit invalid in that it covered only a small portion of the water main route, which in spots passes close to wetlands.

The authority did not challenge that assertion. The Town Board’s position is that by filing a new application, the SCWA conceded the Trustees’ authority and its need to seek a new permit.

The supervisor said he is not dictating terms to the Trustees.

“I am merely asserting the Town Board’s position on this issue,” he said. “The SCWA’s effort to maneuver around the town code has, unfortunately put the Trustees in a tough position. I respect their authority and certainly recognize that board’s responsibilities. However, the town code specifically addresses the issue before them regarding amendments to the water map.”

Ms. Doherty said that should the Trustees approve the permit, but the water authority fails to seek a water map amendment, her board could yank its permission. “Our code says they must have all proper permits,” she said. “We’ll see what happens, but either way we’re going to be the bad guys, I’m sure.”

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