Browns Hills faces rate hike

The Suffolk County Water Authority, which in the face of local resistance last month gave up on its plan to bring public water to Orient, has proposed raising the rates paid by a small community of Orient homeowners whose water system is maintained by the authority. The defunct extension project, according to the authority, would have reduced costs and made the rate increase unnecessary.

A public hearing on an increase in yearly fees from $495 to $1,500 for each of 24 households in Browns Hills will be held at the water authority’s Southold office this Friday, September 24 at 6 p.m. The authority’s Southold headquarters is at 700 Boisseau Ave.

The water authority says it costs $120,000 per year to operate the Browns Hills system and that other customers are subsidizing the community’s service.

Residents in Browns Hills have a collective water system that was built in the early 1950s, when homeowners could not afford the sophisticated technology needed to dig wells in the rocky ground beneath their houses. They drilled collective wells under a nearby farm field. In the 1990s, they spent $150,000 upgrading the system, before the Suffolk County Health Department insisted that they spend another $150,000 on a nitrate filtration system.

The community decided instead to sell the system to the Suffolk County Water Authority for $1. After the system was sold, residents say that the health department did an about-face on the nitrate filtration requirement and allowed the authority to provide reverse osmosis filters on one tap of each house in the system.

Reverse osmosis filters are usually maintained twice a year at a cost of about $500, according to private suppliers.

A year ago the water authority proposed building a nearly $4 million extension to a pipeline that ends in East Marion in order to bring Browns Hills into the public water system. The idea met with fierce resistance from many residents, who argued that their water was safe to drink and that a water main would allow for more intense development in Orient. The Town Board opposed the plan, refusing to include Browns Hills in its official map of areas where public water should be provided. Also, the Town Trustees recently refused to grant a wetlands permit for the main.

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