Featured Story

Suffolk County water contract with West Neck District scrutinized

There’s a little more than a month to go before the Town and the West Neck Water District Board must decide whether to sign a 40-year contract for the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) to manage the district.

Board member Lisa Shaw acknowledged at a Jan. 7 meeting that the relationship developed with SCWA over the past few months is working well. But she expressed concerns about the long-term viability, wanting to ensure that district ratepayers can afford to bear the costs of a $1.7 million bond.

The bond would be necessary to cover costs required to make improvements to the existing system. There are currently 70 customers in the water district who would be taking on the bond payments.

On the positive side, if costs exceed the bond, it would fall to the SCWA to cover the difference, according to Deputy Chief Executive Officer for Operations Joe Pokorny. He and Timothy Hopkins, SCWA’s chief legal counsel, joined the meeting via Zoom, agreeing to work out some requested changes in language in the proposed agreement. A 10-page proposal is posted on the Town website at shelterislandtown.us under the West Neck Water Board page.

Built into the agreement is an arrangement for all SCWA customers system-wide to pay capital improvement costs for all those using the utility. During the first 25 years of the 40-year contract, the West Neck Water District would see much of the money for capital improvements on the Island to be paid system-wide, Mr. Pokorny said.

The agreement as currently written implies the SCWA would have “sole discretion” about expanding its management of Island water services beyond the West Neck Water District, according to Andrew Chapman, a member of the Town Water Advisory Committee. Under the SCWA’s enabling legislation, the utility has the authority to cover all areas within the county not assigned to other public water suppliers, he said.

Councilwoman Meg Larsen agreed with Mr. Chapman’s reading of the authority the SCWA already has.

Mr. Chapman praised the SCWA for procedures and skills it brings to the table, but wants to ensure any possible expansion beyond the West Neck Water District would have to be negotiated with the Town.

Town Attorney Bob DeStefano Jr. said any expansion would have to be subject to a new agreement.

Both SCWA officials agreed to work with the West Neck Water Board to try to iron out several pending questions prior to a Jan. 18 Town Board work session at which the proposed management contract would be the main focus of discussion.

Ultimately, it will fall to the Town Board to make the final decision about whether to sign the contract.