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Town mulls whether to allow developer to connect to water district


Some Riverhead Town officials are wondering if the town should allow new developments to connect to public water at a time when the water district needs $10 million in improvements to meet existing demand. That’s the crux of a debate involving the developer of a proposed 29-lot residential development in Baiting Hollow, who wants to connect to the town water district.

The $490,500 water hookup fee would be paid by the developer of the Old Orchard subdivision, a 52-acre property just west of the town landfill on Youngs Avenue, according to the public hearing notice.

John Collins, an H2M Engineering consultant to the water district, said during a public hearing Sept. 7 that an average of 10,000 gallons per day would be pumped by the 27 proposed homes (The proposal includes two lots dedicated to open space.)

“You were before us a month ago saying we have to spend $10 million to improve our water district to provide water to the residents who are currently connected,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said to Mr. Collins. “Now you are saying we should extend the district to 27 lots.”

Mr. Collins said demand is only a problem in the summer, and that they have asked the developer to implement water conservation measures. He said the town had made a commitment to provide water to this site.

Supervisor Sean Walter agreed, saying he’d had a similar conversation with town attorneys.

“We’re stuck in a Catch-22 here,” Mr. Walter said. “The entire subdivision was approved, litigated and then litigated some more, but they always had a water availability letter from us as a precursor to allowing it to go forward. If this application had come to us now, early on in the process, we probably would say we have no water.”

Old Orchard was first proposed in 1989, by a prior owner, as a 45-lot subdivision. Years later, the town Planning Board refused to exempt the project from the 2003 town master plan update, which reduced the number of lots permitted and led to litigation.

A settlement of that lawsuit allowed for 27 residential units, six of which are already in the water district.

“We’re telling industrial developers there is no water available throughout the town, and yet we’re saying we’ll provide water to 21 houses,” Ms. Giglio said.

Mr. Walter said the water district is telling developers of new projects that water will not be available until the $10 million upgrades are complete. He suggested the town could be sued again if it denied Old Orchard a water hookup.

“Your concerns are my concerns, but we are not in a good position to say they can’t hook up after 15 years of saying they can,” Mr. Walter said.

The water district did $5.5 million in improvements in 2010 but lost some of that capacity when one well had salt water intrusion and another had a chemical called perchloric show up in well tests.

The district pumped one billion gallons during July and August, which is the most it has ever done, Mr. Walter said.

At a meeting in August, Mr. Collins and water district superintendent Mark Conklin outlined the $10 million in proposed improvements, which include two new storage tanks, a new supply well and an interconnect with Suffolk County Water Authority in the western part of the town.

The Town Board closed last week’s public hearing without taking action, but left it open for written comment until Sept. 23.

Photo caption: The site of the proposed subdivision in Baiting Hollow in 2014. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

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