Town: Landowners responsible for manholes

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A Riverhead High School student fell into this septic well Friday morning.
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | A Riverhead student fell into this septic well on Sept. 9.

So whose job is it to man the town’s manholes?

While it appears Riverhead Town and Suffolk County might be sued after a 19-year-old Riverhead student was tricked into falling into a septic well behind a Route 58 store, town officials hold that neither entity may be responsible.

The town’s sewer district head, Michael Reichel, says the responsibility for maintaining a manhole located on private property rests with the property owner.

“If it is on private property, it’s the responsibility of the property owner,” Mr. Reichel said. “If it’s on town property, it would be the responsibility of the sewer district.”

A parking lot in a privately owned shopping center is private property, he said.

“The manholes that are connected to the sewer system, we approve their plans and we inspect when they are being installed, but not after,” Mr. Reichel said.

According to the portion of the Riverhead Town code dealing with sewers, a “manhole shall be installed by the owner at his expense and shall be maintained by him so as to be safe and accessible at all times.”

Town attorney Bob Kozakiewicz confirmed this week the manhole in question is not on town property.

He also suspects the attorneys filing the notice of claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — were just including everyone to cover their bases later on.

Mr. Kozakiewicz said it is not necessary to name private property owners in a notice of claim, only municipalities.

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