Water authority yields on Orient

They got their wish. The Orient pipeline opponents’ voices were heard loud and clear in Town Hall in July on the night the Town Trustees rejected the water authority expansion project. In a 3 to 2 vote Tuesday, the authority’s board of directors decided against challenging the Trustees’ decision in court.

The Suffolk County Water Authority board of directors voted Monday night to ask the federal government and New York State to reallocate $1.9 million in federal stimulus money originally intended for a controversial water main to Orient to instead provide public water in Calverton and western portions of East Marion.

SCWA chairman Jim Gaughran said Tuesday that the scope of the projects will depend on how the state’s Environmental Facilities Corporation dictates the money can be spent.

“Any effort to bring a pipeline to Orient is D-E-A-D dead, under any scenario,” said Congressman Tim Bishop’s spokesman, Jon Schneider, on Tuesday. “The only questions on the table are whether we can use the money in Calverton and do they need to do a small project to bring water to a few homes in East Marion already on the water map.”

Mr. Bishop, who has been attempting to intercede with the water authority on behalf of residents who opposed the Orient project, last week urged the Environmental Facilities Corporation to direct the money to another project.

As for a pipeline extension in East Marion, Mr. Gaughran said, “We don’t know at this point how long it would be. If they tell us we could transfer all the money for the Calverton project, that’s probably what we’d do. If they tell us we’d have to use part of the money in East Marion, we could build two feet of it there, from a technical perspective.”

If the water authority does work in East Marion, he said it will be in an area already slated for public water in the town’s water map and in an area where residents have requested public water. He added that he believed the water main there already extends as far east as Trumans Path, east of much of East Marion, but short of the causeway across Dam Pond to Orient.

“It’s not clear whether that means they’ll come up to Dam Pond and stop. We have to kind of pin that down a bit,” said Venetia Hands, an Orient resident who attended Monday’s water authority board meeting.

The board voted 3-2 in favor of the resolution to ask that funding be redirected. That vote came after a resolution to sue the Southold Town Trustees over that board’s denial of a wetlands permit for the Orient project failed in a 2-3 vote.

The trustees denied a wetlands permit for the project on Aug. 18, citing the Town Board’s decision not to include Orient in a map of areas where the town wants public water.

Water authority representatives have said publicly since July that if the trustees did not grant a permit they would not start the Orient project. The water authority’s attorney, however, had argued in letters to the trustees that the board had never required utility companies to obtain permits to dig under roadbeds near wetlands, and that the water authority was subjecting itself to the process in the spirit of cooperation with the community.

“They were in executive session for almost two hours, which we took as a good sign because they were not all in agreement with each other,” said Ms. Hands of the water authority board meeting. “We very much want to thank Mr. Gaughran for honoring his earlier statements that the Suffolk County Water Authority would not sue Southold Town.”

The authority said the Orient project was designed to bring the 24-home community of Browns Hills into the public water system because of poor water quality there, but the plan met with ever increasing opposition since it was first proposed more than a year ago. Residents, fearing that wider availability of public water could lead to greater development in rustic Orient, argued that Browns Hills residents could use their own private wells to solve their water problems because the water was cleaner than what the authority provided them from nearby community wells and filtered before its use in individual houses. They claimed that the water authority was planning to use their community as a stepping stone to bringing public water to the rest of Orient.

Water authority board member Patrick Halpin offered the motion to sue the trustees over the permit denial.

Mr. Halpin “told us that the Suffolk County Water Authority has the power to condemn land, the power to condemn wells, that they were given the mission in 1939 to provide public water to everyone in Suffolk County,” said Ms. Hands. Of the water in Orient, she said Mr. Halpin claimed “he would not drink the water nor even shower in it in case he inhaled the fumes.”

“He also said he was angry with people who are spreading lies about the quality of water in Orient, that we’re saying it’s not as bad as it is,” she said. “We have the data, too. When we look at it we see the only item over the allowable standard is nitrates and we have been told by independent people that all the other stuff can be filtered out with very inexpensive carbon filters.”

Mr. Gaughran voted against suing the town and suggested the alternative Calverton project, at Peconic Lake Estates, where residents have complained about water quality issues for years.

“The reason I was opposed was that we would win the lawsuit because we were the only utility ever told we had to get the permit, but by the time we won the lawsuit the stimulus money would be gone,” he said Tuesday.

Ms. Hands said that she supports the Calverton project.

“People have bad water and have been pleading with the Suffolk County Water Authority to bring them piped-in water. We very much hope the powers that be would allow that,” she said.

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