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May 21, 2018 10:33 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Town Approves Wainscott Water District

Suffolk County Water Authority CEO Jeffrey Szabo talking with Wainscott residents at the Town Hall on Monday.  Michael Wright
May 22, 2018 4:27 PM

The East Hampton Town Board on Monday unanimously approved the creation of a special taxing district known as the Wainscott Water Supply District, and set the ball rolling on a $24 million extension of Suffolk County water mains to address widespread well contamination in the area.

The creation of the new district will allow the town to borrow the money for the installation of the mains and the connections to the 520 homes within the district’s boundaries, and then tax residents over the next 20 years to recoup about half of the cost.

Jeffrey Szabo, the CEO of the Suffolk County Water Authority, told the board and residents at a specially scheduled meeting Monday evening that the SCWA would be ready to start installing new mains by August, and it will take four to five months to complete the installations.

Homes will be able to connect as the mains go down each new street, and the majority of homes in the district will be able to begin using county water this fall. Mr. Szabo said the authority will try to prioritize getting mains to homes that have been found to have traces of the chemicals in the water, but said that would be difficult because the contaminated wells were scattered widely around the district.

The district covers most of Wainscott south of the East Hampton Airport, from which groundwater contamination by chemicals used in the making of fire-suppressant foams is believed to be emanating.

According to the proposal laid out last week by the Town Board, the town would issue bonds to cover the full cost of extending the mains and connecting homes in the district—which the water authority has estimated will cost $24.3 million.

The town would absorb the cost of extending the mains, about $12 million, through a 20-year bond that would be paid back with taxpayer funding. The town will apply for state grants that it hopes could recoup as much as $10 million of the cost.

The approximately $12 million that it will cost to connect each home in the district to the mains will be recouped from the homeowners through an additional tax assessment. The taxes for each homeowner will be pro-rated according to the cost of their individual connections, which vary greatly according to how close a house is to the nearest road.

The town has also created a $400,000 grant pool for homeowners who wish to install filtration systems at their homes before they can connect to county mains. The town is offering up to $3,000 to any homeowner with a well that has shown contamination.

Testing over the last eight months has revealed traces of chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA in some 140 private wells in Wainscott. The state is currently investigating the source of the contamination, but the chemicals are widely believed to have come from fire-suppressant foams stored on land adjacent to East Hampton Airport—which is owned by the town—and used in fire training drills.

One Wainscott resident has already begun a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all residents in the region against the town and six chemical companies that manufactured the fire suppressant foams and other products containing the chemicals found in the wells. The attorney who filed the lawsuit, Dan Osborn, has also suggested that the town itself may have grounds to sue the chemical companies, to recoup whatever costs it incurs in combating the contamination.

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