Suffolk County officials announce plan to save water quality jobs

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County workers (from left) well driller Luis Velasquez, heavy equipment operator Mario Velasquez and public health sanitarian Brian Pedersen drilling 60 feet deep test wells with a hollow stem auger on River Road in Calverton in 2009.

Eleven county water quality jobs — including those in the county’s well drilling unit that helps monitor a large groundwater plume in Calverton — will be restored to the county payroll under a plan announced by county lawmakers Wednesday.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and a majority of the Suffolk County Legislature are in support of a resolution that will save the jobs.

The resolution will pay for the jobs using money from the water quality fund, which is funded by a quarter-percent county sales tax, and will reduce the county’s deficit by $1 million through the end of 2013, Mr. Bellone said in a statement.

“I am pleased we found a solution to enhance water quality and protect taxpayer dollars by reducing the deficit,” he said.

The water quality fund is separate from the county budget, which faces a looming $500 million deficit; the county has cut more than 300 jobs to make up the deficit.

The well-drilling jobs spared include two heavy-equipment operators, one laborer, an assistant hydrogeologist and a well driller from what’s now a nine-person well-drilling unit. The unit is responsible for drilling monitoring wells to evaluate groundwater pollution across the county at sites like the former Grumman facility in Calverton.

The effort was spearheaded by Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who said the resolution will “preserve one of the core missions of county government.”

“Protecting public health and ensuring our groundwater is safe are part of our fundamental responsibilities,” Mr. Romaine said. “We simply cannot afford to turn our backs on the environment and allow toxic plumes and other contamination to go unchecked.”

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 the Calverton plume.

At a time when the Navy was planning to let the plume run its course on its own, the unit found that it contained concentrations of harmful volatile organic compounds 500 times higher than state drinking water standards.

The toxic compounds, which can harm humans and wildlife, are believed to be from industrial cleaning compounds and jet fuel that had seeped into the ground.

Navy officials have since committed to return the area’s groundwater to safe drinking water standards.

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