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West Neck Water District contract with Suffolk Co. Water Authority may need a delay

The West Neck Water District Board has been working diligently on a draft 40-year contract for the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) to manage its system. But as of last week, West Neck Board members were questioning whether they might need a delay from the March 1 deadline to sign the agreement.

At the same time, Supervisor Gerry Siller said he thought the contract could be resolved in line with the March 1 date.

Each meeting the West Neck Board and Town officials have had with SCWA has moved the contract forward to a document both sides can endorse. But the clock is running and as of last week, the West Neck Water Board was questioning if they could delay the signing, perhaps to mid-March.

In several meetings with SCWA officials, many questions were raised and resolved. But a few major issues hadn’t been settled, including the need to ensure the Town Board would be involved in any proposed expansion of SCWA services outside of the West Neck Water District.

Clearly, if any emergency were to arise requiring immediate remediation, West Neck Board members understand there may not be time to communicate with local officials. But the West Neck Board members didn’t want to see non-emergency expansions to occur without residents having a voice in the process. The Town Board should also receive notice of any plans to increase fees to customers.

As for expansions, the infrastructure isn’t in place and there are no current plans to create it.

The nearest separate water system to West Neck Water belongs to the Shelter Island Heights Property Owners Corporation (SIHPOC).

Interconnectivity between the two districts could be useful in “an extreme emergency such as multiple wells going out of service or a system wide issue affecting water,” SIHPOC General Manager Stella Lagudis said. But no such physical connection exists between West Neck Water and SIHPOC systems today, she said.

“An interconnection is typically reciprocal, and it is unclear if West Neck Water has the capacity to support another water district in the event of an emergency based upon its current infrastructure,” Ms. Lagudis said. Officials of the two water systems have a good working relationship, but it is currently limited to the assistance it could provide given the lack of an interconnection.

There is a good track record. The Heights has assisted in covering for the prior operator of West Neck Water when he was ill or on vacation, Ms. Lagudis said. Before the current SCWA relationship was created, the Heights staff offered to function as interim operator while the Town sought a replacement operator, she said.

There’s also work needed to determine a fee structure for ratepayers since most West Neck Water District customers are residential owners, but the few commercial businesses that derive water from the District generally use more water.

Deputy Supervisor Amber Brach-Williams, a liaison to the West Neck Board, said she is working on a formula for charges. It’s been anticipated that residential users would see their bills doubled, but numbers have to be solidified.

SCWA officials said they would add language providing notification to the Town Board of any fee change.

There was concern that SCWA doesn’t follow the dictates of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. But the utility is bound by New York State standards with which the County Health Department must comply.