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Health Department approves church water remedy

Town Engineer John Cronin received word Wednesday from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services that his proposed remedy to end nitrate contamination of drinking water at Shelter Island Presbyterian Church has been accepted.

High levels of nitrates were discovered in the church water in late November 2018. Town and church officials have been working since then to find a solution and get the Health Department’s approval to proceed.

The town became involved because its nutrition program, which serves lunch to seniors on Mondays and Fridays, and cooks and delivers meals to homebound residents, use the church kitchen. It is also the site of many community events where food is served.

In addition, the Early Childhood Learning Center program operates in  building.

The  estimated cost of the fix is about $60,000, Mr. Cronin told the  Capital Programs/Grants Committee earlier in the week. He said there were other possible sites that the town was looking at for its nutrition program. One was the Senior Center, where the town has spent somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000 in recent years on improvements. But that space was determined to be too small to accommodate the nutrition program, he said.

The Center Firehouse has a working kitchen and plenty of space on the second floor. But the elevator is “not the best,” according to Police Chief Jim Read. Steps leading up to the second floor are too steep for some seniors to use, he said.

Now that the Health Department has cleared the way, town officials have to find the money to purchase materials to get the job done. And that’s a challenge because the deadline now is Jan. 31, 2020.

One possible source of at least some of the money could be the Community Preservation Fund that allows up to 20% of its annual income to be used for water quality improvement projects, but that’s a question for the Town Board to decide.

“It’s not out of the question we could make the Jan. 31 deadline,” Mr. Cronin said. If the Jan. 31 deadline is missed, Mr. Cronin said, as long as work is underway, it shouldn’t be a problem to gain a brief extension.

The allowable nitrate level is 10 mg. per liter and even at that level, it’s advised that babies under 6 months of age and pregnant women should not drink the water. In the first quarter of 2018, the town was informed the nitrate level was at 10.2 mg. By the third quarter of 2018, the numbers had escalated to 14.9 mg. and by November 2018, the nitrate level was at 16.3 mg.

Boiling, freezing or filtering the water couldn’t provide any solution and various short-term fixes weren’t going to be sufficient, Mr. Cronin said last year.

Going forward, the town is looking at a plan for a septic system that would improve water quality for several Center buildings including the Town Hall complex, the library and  the Fire Department. Shelter Island School was a part of that plan initially, but the Board of Education opted out, deciding to address its septic issues alone.


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