East Hampton Town declared a state of emergency in the hamlet of Wainscott on Tuesday because of chemical contamination of drinking water wells, and allotted $400,000 in funding to provide grants to homeowners with tainted wells to help pay for in-home water filters.
The town also has put in motion a plan to pay to connect all homes in the portion of the hamlet where contamination is believed to be a threat to Suffolk County Water Authority mains by the end of this year.
The extension of the water mains could cost town taxpayers more than $24 million, about half of which could be borne by all town residents and the rest by homeowners in the area who connect to the mains.
The Town Board will convene a special public meeting on Monday, May 21, to host a public hearing on a proposal to create the Wainscott Water Supply District, a special taxing district that would allow the town to direct funding to the main installation project, and to tax homeowners in the region for their share of the cost. The water district will comprise most of the hamlet south of East Hampton Airport—totaling more than 400 homes.
“We believe this is the best way to ensure the public in Wainscott has safe drinking water,” Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said this week. “It will alleviate any long-term health concerns from this contamination, and it needs to be addressed as quickly as possible.”
The extension of the mains is in response to the discovery of contamination of more than 100 wells in the region by chemicals known as PFOS and PFOA that are believed to have seeped into groundwater from fire-suppressant foams stored and used in firefighter training on properties adjacent to East Hampton Airport.
Although not all wells in the region have shown contamination, the town has said it will connect all homes in the district to county mains, because the chemicals can be expected to continue migrating throughout the region’s groundwater for many years to come.
East Hampton and the Suffolk County Water Authority have estimated the cost of the Wainscott mains extension project to be $24.3 million, according to a fact sheet released by the town this week. To fund the work at the outset, the town will issue bonds to borrow the total projected cost.
The town and the water authority will apply for up to $10 million in grants from New York State to offset some of the cost to taxpayers, but those grants likely would take many months to come through.
The town also has asked State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. to determine whether Community Preservation Fund money earmarked for water quality improvement projects—which would likely total more than $5 million this year—could be used on the project.
The town also may receive $1 million from Deepwater Wind if officials agree to an easement for the offshore wind farm development company allowing Deepwater to install a power cable beneath roads in the hamlet.
Were the town to have to carry the entire burden of the cost of extending the mains, about $12 million, it has estimated that the tax impact on homeowners would be an increase to tax bills of less than 2 percent. For a house assessed at $7,000, with an approximate market value of $1.2 million, the town says the annual increase to the tax bill would be between $35 and $38 per year.
The town will also cover the initial costs of hooking up each individual residence to the county mains, which can range widely, beginning at about $5,000, depending on how far from the nearest road a house is. The town says it will seek to recoup those costs from the homeowners themselves in tax bills amortized over the 20-year term of the bonds it will use to pay for the work.
Town officials have said that the water authority estimates that it could begin extending the mains by August, and that it would take four to five months to complete the installations, with houses able to connect to the mains as the work progresses.
Thanks to the state of emergency declaration, the grants for installing water filtration at houses with contaminated wells will be available almost immediately. Any homeowner with a well that has shown traces of PFOS/PFOA will be eligible to receive up to $3,000 to cover 90 percent of the cost of installing a point-of-entry filter in the house. Experts have said that charcoal filtration systems can effectively remove PFOS/PFOA from a home’s water supply.
A Wainscott homeowner, Kim Shipman, has filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all hamlet residents against East Hampton Town and six chemical companies that manufactured the fire-suppressant foams that are being blamed for dozens of PFOS/PFOA contamination plumes around the country. Many of them are near airports where the firefighting foams were stored or used for decades before they were discovered to contain potentially harmful chemicals.
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