Romaine to introduce bill to fund Suffolk well-drilling jobs

GRANT PARPAN FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine.

A new resolution has been drafted to fund five Suffolk County well-drilling unit jobs that are slated to be cut this July, said county Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches).

If approved in the Legislature, the resolution would fund the unit — responsible for drilling monitoring wells to evaluate groundwater pollution across the county at sites like the former Grumman facility in Calverton — using money from the water quality fund, a fund established by a voter-approved, quarter-penny sales tax.

Mr. Romaine plans to introduce the resolution at Tuesday’s legislative meeting. The resolution would then go up for vote June 5.

“We’d be blind to the threats [to] underground water without well-drilling units and hydrologists working,” Mr. Romaine said. “As long as this [resolution] passes … we’ll be able to ensure those jobs.”

The jobs were axed as part of more than 300 layoffs to help the county balance its budget as it struggles to rein in a looming $500 million deficit.

The proposed cuts on the county’s latest layoff list include two heavy-equipment operators, one laborer, an assistant hydrogeologist and a well driller from what’s now a nine-person well-drilling unit. Grant money was found to retain one heavy-equipment operator job in the unit.

The remaining cuts would save the county $300,000.

All the county’s approved layoffs will take effect July 1, officials said.

Mr. Romaine said the jobs are normally paid for using the general fund, but the deficit makes that impossible.

“Since we have no money in the budget and the county is broke, this is the next best thing,” he said.

The well-drilling unit played a key role in the county’s groundwater investigation that forced the U.S. Navy to step up efforts to clean up a groundwater plume contaminated with high concentrations of “volatile organic compounds” beneath the former Grumman weapons facility in Calverton.

The toxic compounds are believed to be from industrial cleaning compounds and jet fuel that had seeped into the ground.

In 2009, while the U.S. Navy was planning to let the VOC’s in Calverton dissipate on their own, county-drilled wells found the plume was much wider and ran much deeper than the Navy had originally asserted.

Shortly after the News-Review broke the news of the county’s findings in 2009, government officials, including U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, pressured the Navy to take active steps to clean up the contaminated plume.

Recent Navy wells in the area have turned up toxicity levels measured at over 100 times drinking standards. No public drinking water has been affected by the plume.

The VOCs will degrade on their own, given enough time, but the Navy has proposed using a $2.3 million extraction unit to remove the contaminated water. In November, the Navy drilled testing wells south of the plume to see if it had reached the Peconic River.

Groundwater testing results from those wells have not yet been released.

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