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Supervisor offers new initiatives, floats idea for a public water system for the Center

Supervisor Gerry Siller made news at Tuesday’s State of the Town address, announcing Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) representatives would be at the June 6 Town Board work session to discuss the idea of putting a supply well in Sachems Woods.

This, the supervisor said, would provide public buildings in the Center with potable water. The meeting next week will outline costs to the town and Center homeowners to hook up to a public water supply.

The SCWA currently manages systems for the West Neck Water District and the Village of Dering Harbor.

Mr. Siller took credit for an outreach to Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) for a $500,000 grant to offset work of SCWA in installing new water lines throughout West Neck Water, working on metering customers to facilitate usage and billing and other infrastructure work that is being done before SCWA takes full responsibility for maintenance.

Town officials are also exploring costs of expanding wastewater treatment connectivity to private properties along Route 114 and promoting increased installation of Innovative/Alternative (I/A) septic systems on Center residential properties.

The Town Board is considering possible added incentives to homeowners in the area.

Local grants have been available through the town’s Water Quality Improvement Advisory Board and grants administered by Suffolk County using its own and state money to help offset costs for residential property owners.

However, Center residents face another hurdle to meet Suffolk County Department of Health Services requirements for separation between their wells and a septic system. For many, there could be a need to develop a shared septic system to meet the requirement.

The supervisor defended the Town Board initiative for the public buildings to link to a Nitrex treatment system that’s proposed to be placed on Manwaring Road across from the Sylvester Manor farmstand.

He asked residents to look at those fighting that plan, including Friends of Coecles Harbor and Sylvester Manor — maintaining they are seeking to protect their personal property interests, not a sense of community.

He credited many studies conducted to answer criticisms of the Center system and said three different engineering consulting firms provided reports supporting the system developed by the town’s consultant, Lombardo Associates.

Some opponents have threatened lawsuits if the Town Board goes ahead with the Nitrex system, and that was among the considerations for the Board of Education. Legal actions could slow the shared system for a long time, the School board decided.

Mr. Siller linked that with critics of affordable housing initiatives, maintaining the opponents of the Nitrex system see it as a means of creating affordable housing they don’t support.

Some opponents of the Nitrex system have sharply questioned that reasoning, arguing individual I/A systems serving each of the Center public buildings would be less expensive and cause less pollution to area creeks.

Town Engineer Joe Finora, in exploring other sites for a central treatment system, said placing it in the Center would result in groundwater flowing into Menantic Creek, which is already facing pollution problems, according to residents in the area.

Ultimately, an affordable housing initiative to use Community Housing Fund income from a tax paid by people purchasing land on the Island, passed by a whisker. Environmental tests of a site where the former Highway Department barn stood near the Shelter Island Historical Society have now been completed and the site has been declared safe for the development of affordable housing, Mr. Siller said.

He hailed the organization of the Menantic Creek Keepers and the Fresh Pond Neighbors Association for putting money on the line to help deal with problems, and called the Fresh Pond group a perfect example of a public-private partnership getting underway to deal with contaminants in that body of water.

He reopened a wound over the acquisition of the more than 20-acre White property acquisition, maintaining that the site overlooking West Neck Creek was “dead in the water” with the Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board turning it over to the town.

Instead he credited Town Attorney Stephen Kiely and Councilman Jim Colligan with reopening negotiations with the White family and finally doing a deal in partnership with Suffolk County.

CPF Chairman Gordon Gooding said Tuesday the deal was not dead and said he and his CPF team were very much involved in securing the deal right up through closing.

It’s an argument that has flared on and off for months between the two men, who are set to face off in a June 27 primary for the Democratic nomination for supervisor.

The supervisor touched on several issues — the Comprehensive Plan; the moratorium on houses exceeding 5,999 square feet of living space; changes in responsibility for wetlands application decisions; and use of the Volunteer Park dock for emergency boats, in his less than half-hour speech.

He also noted the town is in negotiations to purchase a piece of land for a new FIT Center that is currently located at the rear of the school.

He credited a beefed-up administrative team at Town Hall, naming Judy Meringer, Barbara Bloom, Shelby Mundy, Coco Lee Thuman and Kristina Martin, who “have always stepped up their game whenever needed, and bring a real sense of professionalism to Town Hall.”

“In my four terms as Town Supervisor, it has been my distinct honor to work with both my current office staff as well as the current Town Board. The administrative work involved in running the Town has grown exponentially since my first time in office,” the supervisor said.

He acknowledged disagreements at times, but said his Town Board colleagues have always treated one another with respect.

Mr. Colligan thanked Mr. Siller for “empowering” members.

The sole question came from resident Marc Wein, who has served on town committees and wanted to know when a referendum might be held on a wider proposal to include a move toward a public water system and improved septics for Center residents.

Mr. Siller said he’s aiming for an initiative to appear on the November general election ballot.