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Dering Harbor board commits to water contract

The Village of Dering Harbor has finalized a long-term agreement with the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA).

The 40-year agreement, which is posted on the Village website, was approved and signed at the Saturday, Nov. 2 Village Board meeting. The village first contracted with SCWA for a short term in the summer of 2018, while taking several steps to address long-standing issues of water quality and usage. A new water tank was installed; test wells have been drilled; and SCWA has now installed water meters throughout the Village and is managing the system. SCWA has applied to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for permits to install two new wells to replace those that have been problematic. They will likely be drilled by next summer.

SCWA agreed to make capital improvements to the water supply system within the village at an expected cost of $1.14 million within five years. Management of the water supply will require SCWA to handle all metering, testing, billing and maintenance.

SCWA will charge village residents $2.83 per thousand gallons, plus $160.20 per hydrant per year. The Village will pay a $51,000 per year surcharge for the capital improvements that SCWA agreed to make, for the first 25 years. The village agreed to lease a barn structure to SCWA in exchange for a $230,000 credit toward the cost of the capital improvements.

Some questions were raised at Saturday’s meeting by resident Bridg Hunt, who was concerned about a clause in an earlier draft of the contract that suggested that, at a future date, water from Dering Harbor could be sold outside the village. Mayor Betsy Morgan said that Trustee Patrick Parcells, who handled “extensive financial negotiations with SCWA,” had persuaded the water authority to remove that clause.

Asked whether that possibility could come up in the future, village counsel Wayne D. Bruyn said there was no way legally to bind future boards.

“That’s why,” said Mayor Morgan, “it’s really important in future elections for candidates to be vetted on important issues like water.”

Mr. Hunt also asked for clarification on the cost of the capital improvements, expressing concern about the village’s liability if it should pull out of the agreement in the future. Once he was assured that those improvements would depreciate over the 25-year term of payment, he indicated the agreement was good in general.

“We’re so grateful to Patrick Parcells for all the work he has done,” said the mayor. “He bargained so hard and left no stone unturned.”

Prior to June 2018, the village had limited technical resources and a single part-time employee managing the water system, which experienced failures due to leakage and salt intrusion that ruined wells and caused costly damage in homes.

“At every turn I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the professionalism, responsibility and operational expertise of the SCWA staff,” Mr. Parcells said. “They have all the resources for testing and remediating any problems.”

He estimated the average homeowner will pay $450 per year for water. “After this, the village will never again pay for repairs or capital improvements,” he said. “This should have been done years ago. We’re getting out of businesses we shouldn’t be in.”

He added that SCWA is the largest provider of ground source drinking water in the nation and their rates are among the lowest. Mr. Parcells also pointed out that SCWA has a AAA bond rating, “higher than New York State’s, and well above Suffolk County, whose bonds are just a notch above junk.”

“This is a huge relief for the board,” Mayor Morgan said. “This is one of the main reasons why I ran for mayor. It’s hugely beneficial for Dering Harbor. It’s one of the few times in life where you end up paying less and getting more. It’s a win-win.”