Tapping into $3.8 million in federal stimulus funding, the Suffolk County Water Authority will install over three miles of new water mains along the Main Road to provide service to the Browns Hills community in Orient, where the groundwater is heavily tainted with agricultural chemicals, according to the Suffolk Times. Although the Authority is “ready to go tomorrow,” the various approvals required will push the project back to late fall or early spring, said Stephen Jones, SCWA’s chief executive officer. The price could be a concern, said Marshall Johnson, a member of the board of the Browns Hills homeowners’ group. “If it doesn’t cost a whole lot of money, I’d be in favor of it,” he said. He added that he’s been told that with the high nitrate levels, “if you drink the water out here, it’s equal to eating two hot dogs a day.”
When the project is complete, the Water Authority’s service area will cover virtually all the Town of Southold, from Laurel to Orient.
The 24 Browns Hills homes have long been served by a private water system which the Water Authority obtained in 1996. The water drawn from two shallow wells carries nitrate levels exceeding state safe drinking-water standards. The Water Authority currently provides and contracts for the maintenance of small under-the-sink filtration systems capable of producing just five gallons of clean water daily. Those filters will no longer be necessary when the new mains are connected to the North Fork water supply system now terminating in East Marion, just west of the causeway.
The Browns Hills connection is the only drinking-water project on Long Island funded by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and one of 14 in the state receiving a share of the $87 million allotted for drinking-water projects in New York.
The federal funds will cover half the construction costs and the Water Authority will float bonds for the rest, said Mr. Jones. The cost of that debt service will be shared by the more than 350,000 customers within its service area. Browns Hills residents will be responsible for the Authority’s North Fork surcharge, a fee set to recoup some of the additional costs involved in bringing water to an area where tainted wells are commonplace. Given the low number of potential hookups along the route of the 17,763 feet of new mains — the 24 homes in Browns Hills and another 100 between there and East Marion — under normal circumstances the surcharge might reach $9,000 per customer, Mr. Jones said. He added that the Authority is exploring options to trim that figure.
Nitrates in small quantities are not believed to be harmful to most people, but can be a cause for concern for pregnant women and small children.
Jessee Gordon, a weekend resident of Browns Hills, said that while he’s glad his daughters, age 6 and 3, will have access to better water without the need for a filter, “I think there are much more worthwhile places where that money could be allocated.”
The Orient project is designed to limit the number of new hookups, Mr. Jones added. “We don’t want to put in mains past farms and then have them come in for housing subdivisions,” he said. While most of the installation will rely on traditional side-of-the-road trenching, the Water Authority will employ “directional drilling” by the Dam Pond bridge. Drilling horizontally and installing the mains 15 feet down will avoid any disruption of wetlands areas, said Mr. Jones.