No. 2 Story of the Year: Public water never came to Orient

SUFFOLK TIMES FILE PHOTO | SCWA construction crews added new water mains in East Marion late in 2010, but in keeping with residents' requests,no pipes crossed the causeway east into Orient.

2010 began with no public water service in Orient and that’s how the year ended as well.

But, oh what a fight took place in between.

The great Orient water main fight actually began in the fall of 2009, when the Suffolk County Water Authority announced the receipt of $3.8 million in federal stimulus funds to run three miles of new pipe from East Marion to the Browns Hills neighborhood in Orient.

But almost immediately a large number of residents objected, saying they don’t need the service, which would make otherwise unbuildable land ripe for development.

Despite the overwhelming – but not unanimous – community objections, the authority continued to press for the project. SCWA officials argued that with much of the area’s groundwater tainted with agricultural chemicals, it’s the organization’s duty to protect the resident’s health and wellbeing.

Asked to mediate, Congressman Tim Bishop reported a negotiated settlement with the authority agreeing to drop the project, but the water company later said that was not the case.

The authority ignored the Town Board’s claim that it can veto the expansion on the basis of the water map, drawn up 10 years ago with the authority’s approval identifying areas where public water would be appropriate. The Orient peninsula lies outside that area.

The Town Board voted unanimously against expanding the water map territory to include Orient.

The project appeared to hinge on a vote by the Town Trustees on the authority’s request to install the pipe near wetlands under the Trustees’ jurisdiction. In late August that board rejected the permit in a 4 to 1 vote.

During the fall SCWA board of directors narrowly voted against pursuing legal action against the Trustees, apparently putting the matter to rest.

In a move residents called retribution for their opposition, in November the SCWA voted to triple the annual water rates charged to the 24 Browns Hill homes connected to individual water treatment systems monitored by the authority.

The authority has since said it will see buyers for its North Fork operations center in Southold and about 100 acres of open lands near Laurel Lake.