Ken Rothwell took a nice walk recently. The Riverhead town councilman hopes they were early steps toward delivering clean, safe public water to Manorville residents.
Mr. Rothwell said he walked door-to-door to distribute surveys to Manorville homes and businesses, inquiring if they are interested in being included in an extension that would connect them to a Riverhead Water District water supply.
Some blame the Navy for contamination in the area. The Navy owned Enterprise Park in Calverton for more than 50 years, leasing it to Grumman Corporation, which used it for aircraft manufacturing and testing.
Thus the push for public water.
Last year Riverhead received $3.5 million in federal funding that would go toward the estimated $9.5 million needed to hook up the affected Manorville properties. The town continues its search for additional grant monies for the project.
Meanwhile, Riverhead has the Suffolk County Water Authority in its corner. The town and the SCWA are said to be close to reaching an inter-municipal agreement to collaborate in providing water for the impacted residents.
“I think the key takeaway is we’re here to help, right,” SCWA chief executive officer Jeff Szabo said. “We’re working, there’s money available, everyone’s cooperating and there’s a sense of optimism that there’s a bright future ahead for the residents.”
Mr. Szabo was one of four SCWA officials seated at a Riverhead Town Hall table Wednesday evening for the third in a series of water forums hosted by the town. It was at the forum where the SCWA displayed a map of a proposed main extension.
Joe Pokorny, the SCWA deputy chief executive officer for operations, outlined a scenario in which the SCWA would expand to install the water main in the areas not currently served by the Riverhead Water District. Once the town paid the SCWA for that work and piping, that system would become part of an expanded Riverhead Water District.
Mr. Rothwell said the SCWA has “more equipment, more manpower and the ability to get this job done in a faster, more economical way.”
After the forum, he elaborated: “They have the means to provide the water, but they can do it in a shorter time span. And so financially, you know, if we’re laying less pipe in the ground, we’re saving money, so why not do it this way? I have said all along that the residents of Manorville, no one has ever came to me and said, ‘I specifically want the water to come from Riverhead.’ They want clean drinking water and whichever agency is able to provide it and hook up to it in the most cost-effective way, that’s the right way to go.”
The pivotal question: money.
Where will the money come from?
Riverhead community development director Dawn Thomas said the town has “been working hard to make sure that we’re ready to apply for and get any funding that you can possibly get.”
Riverhead deputy attorney Anne Marie Prudenti said, “I promise you that the town is going to make every effort to seek contributions from every source possible.”
The town is also seeking financial assistance from the Navy, which it believes bears responsibility. Some headway has apparently been made there through Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).
Mark Woolley, district director for Mr. Zeldin, said an inquiry to the Navy is under review. “We’re going to continue to push the Navy to bear some of these costs because they have responsibility over the years for what’s occurred,” said Mr. Woolley.
Affected residents have expressed concern about uncovered costs potentially falling on their shoulders.
Mr. Szabo said the current $9.5 million project estimate is for water mains and tapping fees. Other associated costs would make that figure higher, he said.
“We will continue to be as aggressive as possible, do whatever we can to reduce the cost to the residents,” Mr. Szabo said. “The goal would be to have it zero, right? I don’t know if we can get there.”
And what about Mr. Rothwell’s door-to-door survey?
“I’m going to tell you that as of today, every single response that we’ve gotten has chosen a yes, OK, to be a part of it,” he said.
Of the 69 Manorville dwellings in question, he said, 49 homes responded in the affirmative, as did three commercial properties. He said he is awaiting the other responses.
“This is important and we’re going to continue to move forward to get this done,” Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said. “It’s been a problem for 22 years and it wasn’t until the summer of 2020 that we started to map a plan and we started the ball rolling and we’ve gotten somewhere. We still have quite a bit to go, but we’re in a good direction.”