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Zeldin joins local officials, Manorville residents to urge Navy to fund public water connection

A coalition of federal and local officials, environmentalists and Manorville residents held a press conference Monday to call for federal funds to clean up groundwater contamination caused by the Navy and to extend clean public water to that area.

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) sponsored the meeting at the Manorville home of Kelly McClinchy, in part, he said, to drew attention to the issue. 

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Councilman Tim Hubbard, Adrienne Esposito of the Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, and Tim Hopkins of the Suffolk County Water Authority also spoke at the press conference.

“This is a really important topic for so many families who live in this local community,” Mr. Zeldin said. “When it comes to Long Island’s drinking water, there is no room for error. And there are many individuals in this area who have been suffering as a result of decades-long activity at the Naval weapons industrial Reserve Plant,” referring to the former Navy property in Calverton, which for years was leased to the Grumman Corporation, where fighter pilots were made and tested. 

Mr. Zeldin said that in 2018, the Navy agreed to test groundwater up to a mile radius off its property. He wants the Navy to expand its testing and also to cover the cost of remediation and of connecting these properties to public water. 

“Despite knowing that contamination was spreading further, they continued to refuse the testing of private wells outside of the one-mile radius,” Mr. Zeldin said.

“The public deserves and needs clean, safe drinking water and it shouldn’t be this hard to get it,” Ms. Esposito said.

It was the Suffolk County Health Department that tested 95 private wells at no cost in this area in November and found that 14 of those wells had detections of the contaminants in them, Mr. Zeldin said.

Ms. McClinchy said some of the tests showed readings that were 10 times over the limits deemed safe for drinking.

“Sadly with the sampling, our worst fears have been confirmed,” Ms. McClinchy said. “We now know for sure that the poisons that were dumped on the lands have made it to our wells, and these wells are the only source of drinking water for our homes.”

“People in this community get up every morning and they make a pot of coffee or cup of tea and they take a shower and they worry…is it safe?” Ms. Esposito said. 

Ms. McClinchy urged the Navy to act quickly. 

Mr. Zeldin said part of the problem in terms of securing funding is that the Navy is facing remediation costs all across the country.

“We’re not the only area experiencing this issue,” he said. “You have a lot of large military installations across the country where the remediation costs are massive. So if this was just our one area…when you add up all the costs of those major military installations in other parts of the country, the total amount, if you tried to fix everything next year, is enormous.”

Tim Hopkins, the chief legal officer for the Suffolk County Water Authority, said SCWA has already drawn up plans to provide safe drinking water to the community. 

He said SCWA has conveyed those plans to the Navy. SCWA estimates the cost to hook up 128 homes that rely on private wells would be $12.15 million to connect homes in both Brookhaven and Riverhead Towns.

For just Brookhaven, it would be $6.3 million and for just Riverhead, it would be $5.8 million.

Riverhead Town also devised a map and plan that shows it would cost $4.8 million to connect the homes in Manorville and Calverton that rely on private wells to connect to the Riverhead Water District. Ms. Aguiar said the town is now considering expanding its Water District farther east where additional contamination has been detected.

“It’s substantial contamination,” Ms. Aguiar said Friday. 

Asked if having two plans to connect these areas to public water could stall the process, Ms. Esposito said, “It better not.”

Ms. Aguiar said funding should be divided between the Riverhead Water District, on the Riverhead Town side, and Suffolk County Water Authority, on the Brookhaven side.

“There’s no fight here. We have a water district and we want to maintain our water district.”

But SCWA believes otherwise.

“By law, that section is part of SCWA’s service territory and we can connect the residents to safe drinking water faster and at less cost than Riverhead Town,” said SCWA CEO Jeffrey Szabo in an email. “We look forward to providing safe and constantly tested drinking water to the residents in need.” 

Mr. Hopkins said likewise in an interview Monday. He said any land not covered by a water district is covered by SCWA.

“It’s our assigned territory, so they would have to make the case that they would be better with a different entity,” he said, added that the state Department of Environmental Conservation would make that decision. 

Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine was not present Monday, but said in an interview Friday that he would be getting more involved in getting SCWA to bring water to the homes on the Brookhaven side. 

“Half the homes in the area affected by the Navy contamination are in the Town of Brookhaven,” he said. “So I am right back in the midst of this issue.” 

He said he was previously involved as a county legislator, where his coverage area included Riverhead Town.

“The Navy has sat on this problem for more than 15 years,” he said. 

He feels the Navy should pay the full cost of hooking the homes up to public water, expanding the area where groundwater testing would occur and beginning remediation on surface waters in the area, including Peconic River.

Mr. Romaine also feels the Navy should pay the costs of connecting water to private homes.

David Todd, a public affairs officer for the Navy, said the Navy twice sampled private drinking waters wells within one-mile downgradient and found no exposures above the EPA health advisory limits.

“The Navy is aware that the Suffolk County Health Department has sampled wells to the south of NWIRP Calverton,” he said. “The Navy understands that these sampled wells are not downgradient from known or suspected releases on NWIRP Calverton, either because the sampled wells are south of the Peconic River, which forms a barrier to groundwater flow to the south, or are too far to the south-west, therefore well outside the path of the south-east groundwater flow from NWIRP Calverton releases.”

He added: “The Navy remains committed to its PFAS cleanup responsibilities at NWIRP Calverton and will continue to let the data and science dictate the scope of remediation efforts. The Navy has requested the sampling data from Suffolk County for further analysis. Suffolk County has notified the Navy that it will not make the data available to the Navy for another six months.”