Browns Hills blasts water hike

Residents of Browns Hills in Orient are hopping mad at the Suffolk County Water Authority, which has proposed tripling what it charge tro manage their small public water system since its plan to bring a pipeline to Orient was shot down.

The water authority held a public hearing on the proposed increase, from $495 to $1,500 per month, at its Southold headquarters on Boisseau Avenue Friday night. About 50 residents attended and about a dozen spoke, angrily denouncing the rate proposal.

Browns Hills resident Venetia Hands chastised the water authority for wanting to charge residents “allocated costs” that included administration and infrastructure costs for the entire SCWA water system.

Ms. Hands prepared a financial breakdown of the costs of the system, which she calculated on large sheets of paper that she taped to the wall of the water authority’s headquarters. Business experts had told her, “Venetia, you’d be paying this if Browns Hills blew up tomorrow,” she said of the costs, which she said should be shared among all of the water authority’s 395,000 ratepayers countywide. She said that if the costs were reallocated over the entire ratepayer base, it would cost each SCWA customer an additional 16 cents per year.

Breaking down the costs of the Browns Hills system, water authority chief financial officer Larry Kulick said that water filters at each of the 24 houses in Browns Hills cost $370 a year to maintain, and that the water authority spends another $21,000, on average, running 380 different tests on the water every quarter. He said that testing alone costs $875 per household per year.

Mr. Kulick added that the SCWA has long subsidized the Browns Hills system and the proposed higher rates reflected the real costs. The increased fee, he said, included a hike in the levy for maintaining the system’s infrastructure, from $295 to $1,245 for each household, and an increase in the cost to deliver the water, from $200 to $255 per year for each.

Another speaker was William Ryall, who built a house in Browns Hills in 2000. At that time, he dug a well for a geothermal heating system, but connected to the local system for his drinking water. He took two glass bottles of water out of a backpack and placed them in front of the water authority board’s chairman, Jim Gaughran.

One bottle, Mr. Ryall said, contained water from his tap, and the other water from his geothermal well. He said he’d had the water samples tested last fall, and said the water from the tap connected to the SCWA well, which is under a farm field, contained 12.6 parts per million of nitrates, while the water from the geothermal well had 4 parts per million of nitrates. Ten parts per million is the accepted standard.

“I’m told that’s the equivalent of eating one hot dog per month. My water is pure enough. It doesn’t need to be filtered,” he said.

For the next two weeks, the SCWA will accept written comments addressed to its headquarters at 4060 Sunrise Highway, Oakdale, NY 11769 or [email protected]. Members of the water authority’s board said that the earliest a decision on the rates would be made would be at their October meeting.

Mr. Gaughran said the board is waiting to hear from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation on a plan to re-route the rejected water main once slated for Orient to another community in Calverton. The Environmental Facilities Corporation was responsible for directing $1.9 million in federal stimulus money to the Orient water main project. He said the scope of the Calverton project would not be determined until the water authority receives feedback on whether some of the money must be used in Orient.

[email protected]