Clean water initiative in Calverton secures final funding as Suffolk County announces $1.5M towards project

A long-standing safe drinking water controversy in Manorville took another key step towards resolution this week.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and State Sen. Anthony Palumbo held a press conference Thursday to announce that $1.5 million in additional funding has been secured to provide clean drinking water to 64 Riverhead Town residents living in Manorville whose groundwater wells have been impacted by contamination.

The grant brings the total amount of funds allocated to the project to $7.35 million, sufficient to cover the anticipated amount needed for completion.

Patrick Halpin, chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority, said the work to expand the infrastructure and connect the affected homes to public water supplies can begin in roughly two months.

“These homeowners have been waiting for too long for a definitive answer about the cost of connecting their homes to the public water supply,” Mr. Bellone said. “We are here today to eliminate any uncertainty about how this project will be paid for. With today’s announcement, we make it clear that these families will be connected to a safe and reliable source of drinking water at no cost. This day has been a long time coming.”

The $1.5 million, which comes from the county’s Water Infrastructure Fund, will help cover the cost of bringing municipal water to the area, connecting that supply to the impacted homes and installing metering equipment.

“By working together with our partners in federal, state and local government, with this contribution from the County’s Water Infrastructure Fund, we will have succeeded in providing a reliable source of safe drinking water with no out of pocket cost to these 64 homeowners,” Mr. Bellone said.

Mr. Bellone and Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar commended each other on their ongoing efforts to bring public water to the area.

“Even before the pandemic in 2020, I had [Mr. Bellone’s] support and he had mine,” Ms. Aguiar said.

Identifying funding to bring clean water to the area has been an uphill battle over the last several years. Residents and water advocates have long argued that they should not be responsible to foot the bill for hook ups to the public water supply.

“There was a certain cost to hook up all 64 homes,” Mr. Palumbo said, noting that it could be very expensive for individual residents to pay for connecting the public pipes to their homes. “That’s what we’re shooting for, that [the hookups] are not at the individual resident’s expense.”

“I can’t even begin to thank everybody,” said Kelly McClinchy of Manorville, one of the affected residents who has led the effort to get access to public water. She noted the congtributions of elected officials but added that, “there were so many other people, the unsung heroes that we don’t see.”

Ms. McClinchy also acknowledged the role of local media in bringing the issue to light.

“When we started four years ago, we started as a group of about 60 families,” said Ms. McClinchy. “Now, we’ve grown to a support network of over 100 individuals.”

Several speakers commended the amount of time and effort Ms. McClinchy and others have dedicated to advancing the project.

“Kelly led this battle with intelligence, perseverance and a caring heart,” said Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which worked with Ms. McClinchy. “She was always think about it. Always thinking about what the next step would be. And that’s what caused the success.”

Ms. McClinchy, who was honored as the News-Review’s Community Leader of the Year in 2021, has often spoke at Riverhead Town Board meetings or meetings with the Navy about how pressing the need for clean water is to her neighbors.

Testing has shown that many of the homes in these areas have high levels of contaminants in their drinking water. In 2022, 62 residential wells were tested and 22 of them contained carcinogens exceeding the EPA’s acceptable limits, according to officials.

The contaminants include man-made chemicals like perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Well water serving homes in those areas has been found to contain high levels of PFOS and PFOA, which were used extensively in industrial and consumer products, like firefighting foams, since the mid-20th century, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Known as “forever chemicals,” they do not break down in the environment and seep through soil and contaminate drinking water. The toxic chemicals are harmful to fish and wildlife, and are known to cause cancer, immune disorders and other diseases in humans.

“It’s a New York State constitutional right to have clean air, clean water and a healthy environment,” said Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio. “We appreciate our environmental advocates who are pushing for that every day, and for the residents that are longing for somebody to pay attention to them.”

The U.S. Navy, which leased the area to the Grumman Corporation from 1956 to 1996 to build and test fighter planes, has admitted to polluting areas inside the fence in Calverton, and has taken steps to clean up those areas.

However, the Navy has denied causing contamination outside the fence, where testing has shown that many property owners have contaminants in their water.

“The project needs to be done immediately,” Mr. Palumbo said, acknowledging the ongoing efforts of state agencies to ultimately determine the cause of the contamination. “They need to have clean water,” the senator said of the impacted residents. “We can deal with the funding aspects or who is responsible, down the road.”