The Water Advisory Committee (WAC) Monday afternoon agreed if the Town Board is serious about water quality being the single most important issue for Islanders, it must move to hire a professional who can function as a “water czar.”
The newest WAC member, Lisa Shaw, a long-time member of the West Neck Water District Board, said it’s time for the Town to “step up” and hire a qualified person to lead the effort and stop relying solely on volunteers.
Committee members agreed that Town Engineer Joe Finora has enough on his plate and can’t be expected to bear the brunt of the work needed to improve water quality and protect quantity.
Member Doug Sherrod called on his colleagues to decide exactly what to recommend to the Town Board in terms of the work a water czar would be expected to do. Member Andrew Chapman agreed, saying there’s a need to determine whether this might be a consultant to the Town or an employee hired by the Town, although the committee appeared to be leaning toward a direct hire.
“We need more boots on the ground,” Mr. Finora said.
Interim WAC Chairman Peter Grand agreed, and said attention to the specifics of what is needed will be a focus for the group.
The related issue of dealing with wastewater raised two questions for Mr. Grand: The status of breaking a logjam of getting applications processed by Suffolk County for permits to have nitrogen reducing I/A septic systems installed, and the status of an Internal Revenue System inquiry to remove taxation of grant funding to help offset the cost of those installations.
The IRS has not rendered a decision yet, so grants provided by the State, County or local governments are still being taxed, Mr. Finora said.
As for what has been long delays in gaining permits from the County for installation, the news was more positive. Mr. Finora said the COVID pandemic and retirements at the County level resulted in slow-downs. With the easing of pandemic restrictions, a large number of applications are being fielded by the County. The backlog has been handled, and now the County is indicating a two- to five-week wait for permits.
As for grant funding, the State money ran out and there was a delay since the County stopped issuing its grants until the State money began flowing again. That has now happened, Mr. Finora said.
West Neck Water District
Part of the discussion Monday dealt with the West Neck Water District’s efforts to review a proposal of management from the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA), with recognition that among the steps to be taken are examining the experience of Dering Harbor, which has SCWA managing its water system. Among the issues for the Water District are: whether it should use SCWA on a short-term basis to guide development of a delivery system; or on a long-term basis where SCWA would manage the system as it does for Dering Harbor; or find alternative ways to address the district’s needs.
Ms. Shaw noted that the contract SCWA has with Dering Harbor will form the basis of any negotiations the Water District might have with the company.
Mr. Chapman, who has experience negotiating contracts, offered assistance as the process moves forward.
Member Ken Pysher noted that Nantucket in Massachusetts has its own water operating system and Ms. Shaw said the West Neck Water Board is also looking at that arrangement.
Preservation sites for well installation
Mr. Grand raised the question whether future land purchases made with Community Preservation Fund money could provide provisions for well placements on some sites.
Mr. Finora said he’s not familiar with any blanket agreement, but suggested speaking with Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) about the idea’s feasibility. Mr. Thiele led the effort to create the Community Preservation Fund back in 1998.
Mr. Pysher offered to speak with CPF Chairman Gordon Gooding about placing wells on some future CPF land acquisitions.