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Town wants to improve water delivery at Oak Beach, but some residents oppose plan

A new $2.4 million water system that will

A new $2.4 million water system that will serve 57 homes on the barrier beach community, will be based at the Oak Beach Community Center, shown above. Credit: David L. Pokress

A $2.4 million public water system planned for 57 homes in the Babylon Town barrier beach community of Oak Beach will ensure that drinking water is safe and clean for decades to come, Suffolk County and town authorities say -- but some residents want no part of it.

"Horse hockey," resident Thomas Newman said last week of the official position, summing up a belief that appears to be shared by many of his neighbors who will be obliged to join the system at a cost of $1,500 a year.

Besides, they say, their well water is just fine.

Almost all of the approximately 200 homes on Oak Beach depend on groundwater wells dug hundreds of feet into the ground for their water. Most of these wells and their accompanying distribution systems are private and unregulated by the county.

But the private wells used by Newman and his neighbors serve enough homes to come under health department regulation. County health authorities say numerous code violations in those wells contributed to three incidents involving E. coli bacteria in recent years. Service line breaks and inadequate pressure contributed to two; a faulty sanitary seal that allowed bird feces to enter groundwater was blamed for another.

The current patchwork of water distribution is "cockamamy," said Ron Kluesener, chief of staff for town Supervisor Richard Schaffer. "Nobody took this very seriously for years."

Because of the unusual ownership structure for Oak Beach real estate -- the town owns the land, while residents own their homes but have long-term land leases -- it is the town, not the residents, that will update the water system.

The new system will be located at the Oak Beach Community Center, Kluesener said. It will still use well water but will have centralized pressurization, treatment and a 3,000-gallon storage tank to replace the house-by-house scheme in place now. Water will still be unmetered.

The town began what could be a lengthy approval and design process last month, and construction should be finished by 2019, officials say.

The project is to be financed by a $600,000 grant and a no-interest loan for the balance of approximately $1.8 million, both from New York State. Homeowners in the assessment area will continue to make maintenance payments after the 30-year term of the loan is over.

The feedback from residents used to paying less than $300 a year for their well service "was not good," Kluesener said.

Three homeowners hired a lawyer who threatened to sue the county if they were forced to join the town system. One person threatened to cut the pipes if that system gets built.

Some residents said in interviews that higher water costs will upset their household budgets. "At the end of the day, it's the expense," said John Williams, a retired teacher.

Newman said the planned system is not a necessity but rather the result of "some bureaucrats trying to flex their political muscle."

He and his neighbors are doing just fine without their help, he said. "Everybody has filtration systems and the water's fine."

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