Southold plans to focus state funds on replacing lead service lines on Fishers Island

Southold plans to focus state funds on replacing lead service lines in water distribution systems on Fishers Island, cutting Greenport from the equation.

The state Department of Health granted $611,363 under the Lead Service Line Replacement Program to the town, which did not apply for the funds, a few years ago, according to town engineer Michael Collins at a Town Board work session on Tuesday. 

“Why this was a bit problematic for the town is that we don’t control any of these systems,” he said. 

The funding was part of a $20 million statewide grant from the New York Department of Health to improve the quality of residential drinking water. Southold was one of four Long Island towns to receive funds from the grant. 

Fishers Island is “probably the location that has the most number of these potential connections,” but they use a private utility company not controlled by the town, according to Mr. Collins. Greenport Village “reportedly had some connections” but is run by a separate government. 

To get around this, the town entered an agreement with the Department of Health — Southold would control the budget and sign contracts with the other two entities to distribute the funds. 

“We’ve tried to achieve some progress on this with very little success, which apparently is not uncommon. Other towns have similar problems,” Mr. Collins said. 

Greenport has spent “zero dollars,” he said. A project was started on Fishers Island, but it ran into a few problems. 

“They were talking about putting in new service mains in the same area that we were going to replace lines, so we were trying to try and dovetail those two projects together. We as a town were also preparing to repair sidewalks in the same area, which would have then been destroyed again and then rebuilt, and then COVID hit. So we haven’t really progressed that far on Fishers,” Mr. Collins explained.

The DOH agreement expires in February, but the department indicated it would be willing to extend it for at least another year. Agreements with both Greenport and Fishers Island have expired.  

Mr. Collins asked the Town Board if the project should continue. “If we want to not continue this arrangement, we can give the remainder of the money back to the Department of Health and be done with this in February,” he said. 

Otherwise, he suggested rearranging the contracts to send all the money to Fishers Island. 

“The simple reason being that Greenport can do this work in-house, has not identified any connections over three years and has spent zero dollars,” he said. “I don’t think that there’s any opportunity to continue spending the money in the village and if we continue this empty arrangement with them, it’s likely that we’re going to leave $160,000 on the table at the end of this.” 

Supervisor Scott Russell said he would give Greenport a call. Mr. Collins said he’d start conversations with the DOH about the contract extension.