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Study on the quality of Island’s well water on tap


JULIE LANE PHOTO Irene Fisher of the United States Geological Survey explained the proposal the Town Board is considering for testing of water quality on Shelter Island.
Irene Fisher of the United States Geological Survey explained the proposal the Town Board is considering for testing of water quality on Shelter Island.

Supervisor Jim Dougherty is leaning in favor of allocating funds in the 2016 town budget to asses water quality in Island wells.

At Tuesday’s Town Board work session, he called the need for water quality studies “one of Shelter Island’s most important issues.”

But just where he and the Town Board will settle when it comes to determining what’s critical and what’s not will be hashed out at future Town Board meetings.

The United States Geological Survey — which currently monitors water levels in Island test wells — is proposing a three-year study that the federal government would finance at about 20 percent of the cost, with the town picking up the remainder. The USGS’s breakdown of costs for the multiple-year study testing the quantity and quality of well water, plus levels of saltwater intrusion, comes to about $127,560.

But the figures are negotiable, Mr. Dougherty said.

Even after an agreement is negotiated, it can be revisited at any time during the project for adjustments, said USGS official Irene Fisher at the work session.

Ms. Fisher would test for contaminants while Dr. Frederick Stumm would use electromagnetic technology to identify levels of saltwater intrusion. Electromagnetic technology compiles data without drilling.

It’s been about 30 years since any comprehensive study of water quality was done on Shelter Island, Dr. Stumm said.

Ms. Fisher said, if the study is adopted, she would take regular water samples that would be tested for various contaminants. Among them would be nitrates and pesticides, as well as certain pharmaceuticals.

That raised a question from Town Attorney Laury Dowd about what how the data would be used, and Ms. Fisher said that’s up to town officials.

Among the questions that could be answered with testing is whether a major problem is aged cesspools and septic systems. Mr. Dougherty said he’s still pushing for money the town didn’t receive in the last state legislative session for grants of $5,000 for homeowners to upgrade their systems.

That’s a subject Mr. Dougherty will be discussing with the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association, which he chairs. He’s hoping that since water quality issues are a regional concern, a united effort might get more attention when it comes to applying for grants.

But even if upgrade money is forthcoming, a new system could cost between $20,000 and $30,000 — more than some Island residents can afford.

Noting that the process of considering testing the quality of water started in March, Mr. Dougherty said he thought a lot of progress to reach agreement on a proposal has been made in a short time.

The Town Board could “hammer” out an agreement within the next few weeks, he said.

It could be one hand washing the other in a possible deal to allow PSEG cables to run between Shelter Island Heights and Greenport. In talks with Greenport Mayor George Hubbard, Mr. Dougherty said the mayor seems interested in a deal.

Mr. Hubbard was expected to discuss the matter with his Village Board Thursday, August 20. But Mr. Dougherty said the mayor seems predisposed to helping the Island if there’s reciprocity in the future.

At the same time, Mr. Dougherty said he didn’t see the project would getting under way this fall. PSEG spokesman Jeffrey Weir has said the company would look to do the cable work between October and April, causing the least disruption for residents on either side of the water since many are not year-round residents.

Residents of Hay Beach are troubled by weekenders who put their garbage out in pails on Sundays before leaving the Island and it isn’t picked up by Shelter Island Environmental until Wednesdays. Often cans get knocked over, resulting in a smelly mess.

But trying to change the collection days would likely just move the problem to other neighborhoods, Town Board members agreed.

The town could consider setting periods when garbage could be put out prior to collection. Then it would become incumbent on those who leave the Island to pay a few extra dollars a week to the carting company to have their garbage cans emptied from their yards or an enclosure, instead of having the cans sit in the street for several days.