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After Riverhead, SCWA miss out on state grant funding, residents rally once more for clean water

Residents of Calverton and Manorville say their calls for help in getting clean drinking water are falling on deaf ears.

“Calverton needs clean drinking water,” said Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment at a press conference Wednesday. 

Residents said they are calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to help them after a failed attempt to secure state grant funding.

A number of civic leaders from organizations throughout the town joined the residents as a show of solidarity. A total of 64 homes in the area rely on private wells for water and would be connected to public water under the proposed project that officials are seeking funding for.

Residents say those wells have a high probability of being contaminated with toxic chemicals from the Navy/Grumman toxic plume.

Community members have been advocating for the past three years for funding. The latest state grants were announced Nov. 4, totaling about $50 million, and money sought by Riverhead Town and the Suffolk County Water Authority for the water connection was not included.

Residents say the connection is needed.

Of the 62 homes tested in this year, 22 of them had carcinogens, residents said. 

“We know that PFAS chemicals are associated with kidney, testicular cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer, immune system damage,” and other forms of cancer, Ms. Esposito said. 

She said two local representatives at the federal level have been helpful in the residents’ quest for public water: U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-Brooklyn) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). Mr. Zeldin’s term will end this year after he lost his run for governor.

“I don’t want to have to visit anymore of my neighbors in a hospital or nursing home, or worse, in a funeral home,” said Ron Martz, who has lived in Manorville for more than 20 years. “We can’t wait any longer. We have to get this done now.” 

Cort Ruddy, a spokesman for the State Department of Health, issued the following response: “While this project’s application was deemed incomplete because it did not meet strict requirements for funding applications, the state is committed to helping the town and authority find a solution that will provide safe drinking water for these impacted households in Calverton. We fully recognize the complexities of this situation and are resolved to work with these applicants to help them successfully secure funding for this critical project.”

The DOH says it is now working with both the town and SCWA to seek financing for the project.

Officials say the financing requested by the Town, and the grant requested by the SCWA, required them to do a full coordinated review under the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) Act, but neither was completed. Without the completed SEQR, neither application could be processed.

Manorville resident Toni Pawson said her family uses bottled water for everything. 

“Cooking, my dogs, ice cubes … everything, except showering, the dishwasher and the washing machine,” she said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation provided her with 11 cases of bottled water once, “and that was it,” she said. 

She said they have to make bottled water ice cubes.

“Who does that?” she said. 

“We didn’t put the chemicals in the ground, we shouldn’t have to live with it,” she added. 

Riverhead Town in September reached an agreement to formally collaborate with the SCWA, just a few days before the deadline to apply for the state grants. Last year Riverhead received $3.5 million in federal funding that would go toward the nearly $9.5 million project to hook up the affected Manorville properties.