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Jun 27, 2019 3:57 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East Quogue Prepares For Water Main Extensions To Combat Emerging Chemicals

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman at a recent work session. VALERIE GORDON
Jul 1, 2019 3:58 PM

Over the past year, several East End communities have had water supplies contaminated with the chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA—most commonly derived from firefighting foam.

The Town of Southampton is taking steps to prevent the perfluorinated compounds from further contaminating the groundwater and, in turn, private drinking water wells in East Quogue.

At a recent public hearing held at Southampton Town Hall, several community members spoke in support of the town’s plans to enter into an agreement with the Suffolk County Water Authority to construct 10,000 feet of public water main extensions along various public roads within the hamlet.

Last year, routine testing of a monitoring well near the former Southampton Town landfill, located at the end of Damascus Road, detected concentrations of 11,620 parts per trillion, or ppt, of the chemicals, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that concentrations of more than 70 ppt could pose a risk to those who consume drinking water tainted by the chemicals.

Additionally, groundwater monitoring by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services found 17,150 ppt of PFOA and PFOS at a county-owned Brownfields site known as the Canine Kennel, a former police kennel facility located in the eastern part of Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton.

The high concentrations detected in the monitoring wells last year prompted the Health Department to begin testing 131 private drinking water wells surrounding the contaminated properties in East Quogue and Quogue.

According to Gioia Knutson of the County Health Department, 70 wells tested were found to have contamination levels, but only one was above the EPA health advisory level. Another 61 wells did not show any signs of the chemicals.

Ms. Knutson added that the property found to be affected with levels above the EPA standards was supplied with an alternative water filtration system through the State Department of Environmental Conservation, free of charge.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman called the proposal to install water main extensions throughout the hamlet “preventative,” noting that the county has recently discussed lowering the health advisory limit for PFOS and PFOA to as low as 10 ppt, as there is emerging information about the health effects of the chemicals.

“The whole area should be on public water,” he said.

Additionally, Suffolk County Water Authority CEO Jeff Szabo said that as time progresses, more homes could show signs of the contaminants as the contamination could spread depending on its migration. “The threat is there—the threat is real. This is an opportunity to get people on safe potable drinking water,” he said.

To do so, the town has set aside $4 million in Community Preservation Fund revenue to cover the costs associated with installing water main extensions throughout the hamlet—including portions of William Street, West Side Avenue, Dogwood Street, Lakewood Avenue, Quogue Riverhead Road, Damascus Road, Lewis Road and First Place.

New York State lawmakers passed a bill last year—which was signed by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in January—allowing municipalities to use CPF funds for water quality improvement projects, such as providing access to public water in response to groundwater contamination.

However, at a public hearing last week, Southampton Assistant Town Attorney Kathleen Murray said that the legislation allows only for CPF funds to be used to fund service lines for property owners who can show evidence of contamination—meaning 61 of the 131 homeowners would not be eligible.

“People can still choose to hook up to the water main, but the question will be whose cost will it be,” she said.

Mr. Schneiderman said he was under the impression, however, that the entire surrounding community—which was outlined in a locator map provided by the County Health Department—is eligible.

The private well survey area in East Quogue is located in the area bounded on the north by Lewis Road and Gabreski Airport; on the west by Quogue Riverhead Road, Whippoorwill Lane and Peacock Path; on the south by Bluejay Way, Woodleigh Place, Sachem Lane and Damascus Road; and on the east by Lewis Road.

“There is a map drawn of the East Quogue area and the boundaries impacted,” he said. “I believe they are still eligible.”

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., a co-sponsor of the legislation, confirmed Mr. Schneiderman’s read of eligibility requirements. Pointing to a similar project in Wainscott, which was completed last year, he said that all homeowners within the contaminated area in East Quogue would be eligible to use Community Preservation Fund monies to connect to the public water mains.

“As long as there’s some nexus between the pollution and why they did the project—we wouldn’t want to see someone expand a project beyond that,” he said. “The purpose of that language in the statute is, you can’t do a water main extension because you want to do a water main extension. If you’ve got a region and it needs public water because it’s threatened, that’s enough to be able to justify CPF funds.”

The proposed extensions would allow homeowners to hook up to public water supplied by the Suffolk County Water Authority, which would then charge homeowners as any other water authority customer.

Mr. Szabo said that the water supplier charges homeowners quarterly, which includes a $27.91 service charge and a tiered water consumption rate ranging from $2.02 to $2.34 per 1,000 gallons of water.

He explained that an average homeowner uses approximately 30,000 gallons per billing cycle, adding that the majority of which fall within the lower tier. He estimated that 20 percent of customers jump to the second tier during summer months.

Mr. Szabo estimated that the water main construction would cost roughly $1.8 million. According to Mr. Schneiderman, the remaining $2.2 million in CPF monies is set aside to cover the installation of service lines from the street to individual homes.

Mr. Szabo estimated that 60 to 70 percent of East Quogue homeowners require only a service line in order to connect to a pre-existing water main within reach of their residences. He added that 30 to 35 percent would need an entirely new water main installed.

Mr. Szabo said that if all goes according to plan, the construction work could begin as early as mid-August.

In the meantime, Mr. Schneiderman said that a large majority of homeowners in the area has been using bottled water, which he said is being supplied to them by Arizona-based Discovery Land Company—the developer behind a controversial plan to build a luxury golf course resort off Spinney Road.

Prior to the health department’s testing, the town was supplying homeowners with bottled water. However, it stopped following the department’s results.

Mr. Schneiderman added that the town is still working with the DEC to determine the source of the contaminants.

However, in an email last week, Ms. Knutson wrote that the source does not appear to be from the canine kennel. She noted that the highest concentrations of PFOS and PFOA were detected in a monitoring well upgradient of the kennel site near the Air National Guard. An additional monitoring well was installed and sampled by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services at that site, which she said could be a potential source.

The Southampton Town Board will hold a public hearing to discuss the proposal at 1 p.m. on July 9 at Southampton Town Hall.

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