Governor, EPA officials can help desperate Calverton residents

Residents of Peconic Lake Estates got a scare last week when it seemed that all hope of getting almost $2 million in federal stimulus money to the 214-home community had been lost.

That money had originally been slated for a Suffolk County Water Authority project in Orient’s Brown’s Hills neighborhood, which includes only 24 homes. But people there didn’t want public water, fearing increased development, and the water authority backed off.

So the push was on to transfer the money from Orient to Calverton to help build the expensive infrastructure necessary to bring clean water to Peconic Lake Estates, which relies entirely on brown well water. County Legislator Ed Romaine has been fighting for years to help the residents there, who could not afford to fund a water main project themselves, but to no avail. The sudden chance for stimulus money brought their plight to the federal level. And with that, some hope.

But the state Department of Health launched a bombshell last week, saying that redirecting the money to a new water project in Calverton was not allowed under the guidelines of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus act.

The problem with the state’s ruling, according to Congressman Tim Bishop’s office, is that state officials never called the feds on the matter, but read the guidelines and made their own assumptions about the rules. All along, Mr. Bishop had been discussing the issue with the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection, which he believed to be on board with a plan to switch the water authority’s stimulus funding from Orient to Calverton and a small project in East Marion.

Governor David Paterson should do everything in his power to help facilitate the move, which the water authority asked him to do in a recent letter. And the EPA should sign off on the measure.

The money would not only bring jobs to the same region of the state, but help provide health and normalcy for almost a thousand people in eastern Suffolk County. Calverton may be a few dozen miles west of Orient, but this drinking water is provided by the same agency. Amending the project, instead of having to craft and submit an entirely new proposal, makes sense.

Let’s keep this money where it belongs.