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Riverhead Town to hold quarterly water forums to address multiple issues

The Riverhead Town Board agreed Thursday to hold quarterly water forums where issues like contaminated water in parts of Manorville and Calverton would be discussed, along with the availability of water for new development projects.

Councilman Ken Rothwell raised the idea of holding a quarterly water forum at Thursday’s work session. He said the Town Board, the Community Development Agency and the Water District Supervisor Frank Mancini should attend the forums.

Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who is the Democratic candidate for supervisor against Supervisor Yvette Aguiar in November, had sent out a press release on Aug. 3 calling for “an immediate work session with our water district managers, town attorneys and financial administrator,” for an update on the state of the water district and availability of water.

She said the Planning Board at its July 15 meeting “sounded the alarm that the capacity of the Riverhead Water District is “seriously challenged.”

She also called for a joint meeting between the Planning Board and the Town Board, and she called for a townwide comprehensive water conservation plan to be added to the Master Plan update.

Mr. Mancini told the Planning Board at that meeting: “Quality-wise, we’re perfectly fine. But volume-wise, we’ve been pushed to the maximum.”

At the Aug. 3 Town Board meeting, Mr. Mancini elaborated. 

“It’s not about the quantity of water in the aquifer,” he said. “There’s plenty of water in the aquifer.”

He said the town is not even close to the limit of what can be withdrawn from the aquifer.

“The problem is delivery of water and paying for the infrastructure to develop that,” he said.

Ms. Aguiar said at the Aug. 3 meeting that the town would be forming a water advisory committee. But later in that same meeting, Kelly McClinchy of Manorville, who has been a spokesperson for residents in Manorville and Calverton, said a committee was not the best way forward and the Town Board should remain involved.

“I had asked that all five Town Board members be present at a public session,” she said.

She said it would be unfair to include some residents and not others on a committee and to instead keep the discussion at public meetings.

The forums will now be done in place of that committee.

Residents of Manorville and Calverton have been trying to convince the town to connect their neighborhoods to public water, since many of the homes in those areas have been tested for various contaminants. 

To date, the U.S. Navy, which owned the Enterprise Park at Calverton for more than 50 years and leased it to the Grumman Corporation for aircraft manufacturing and testing, has not taken any responsibility for causing the contamination outside its property, and the Navy also won’t provide any funding to connect those homes to public water.

There are about 64 homes in Riverhead Town and 64 homes in Brookhaven Town that are seeking to get public water. The homes in Brookhaven Town would be served by the Suffolk County Water Authority while the homes in Riverhead would be served by the Riverhead Town Water District. 

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and SCWA maintain that SCWA, not the town, should provide public water to the 64 Riverhead Town residents. They say that any land not in a water district is officially in SCWA’s territory.

Town Board members say they oppose allowing SCWA to take over the town water district.