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Editorial: Officials must keep pressure on Navy to take action

The U.S. Navy’s track record at addressing water contamination hardly inspires confidence when it comes to the latest problems of toxic chemicals detected at Enterprise Park at Calverton, the long-ago eastern home of Grumman.

More than a decade ago, when a large plume of toxic contaminated groundwater was discovered at EPCAL, the Navy opted for a wait-and-see approach. It agreed to a plan to treat the water in 2012 — three years after the plume was reported — following pressure from local and federal officials. And consider the debacle farther west in Bethpage, where Grumman operated its largest aerospace facility. A deeply reported investigation published in February by Newsday revealed that pollution there had long been downplayed and little was done to contain a massive spread of contaminants. The article referred to it as “Long Island’s most intractable environmental crisis.” The reporting noted that the Navy, “which owned a sixth of the Grumman-operated facility, has also often objected to the costliest, most comprehensive cleanup plans.”

That brings us to the latest news on the East End, where a groundwater flow map released by the Navy shows exceedingly high levels of emerging toxic chemicals in groundwater samples from the southern part of the EPCAL property — water that is flowing toward the Peconic River and private drinking water wells.

At greatest risk are the residents of about 60 homes in the Calverton and Manorville sections of Riverhead Town who do not have access to public water. These residents have been fighting to have public water extended to their homes. The Navy has thus far danced around the issue, arguing it can only address contamination issues that could be attributed to the Navy’s operations and refusing to even test wells.

Local officials have listened and acknowledged the urgency of the situation facing those residents. But only so much can be done at the town level. It comes down to state and federal officials stepping up to exert pressure on the Navy to boost testing and help fund the cost of connecting vulnerable residents to public water. That connection would be the surest way to guarantee them access to clean water while efforts to mitigate the groundwater contamination continue.

Residents in Riverhead Town have consistently backed Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who won re-election last month. At a Nov. 12 meeting of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command’s Restoration Advisory Board, a representative for Mr. Zeldin vowed to “leave no stone unturned” in working with the Navy and stakeholders. 

It’s critical that the congressman follows through and makes this issue a priority.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) also recently pledged support and urged the Navy to quickly develop a plan to connect the homes to public water. Our federal officials must maintain the pressure on the Navy.

No residents should have to worry about the safety of their drinking water.