Hampton Bays property owners will vote to decide if the Suffolk County Water Authority should take over operations of the local water district, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said during a public forum Tuesday.
A majority of the Hampton Bays residents who spoke during the meeting, attended by about 100 people at Hampton Bays High School, said they supported keeping the local authority, the Hampton Bays Water District, in control, but urged a referendum on the matter.
The takeover had been floated after residents complained of discolored water this summer from iron and manganese, and other contamination issues.
“It looks like we are headed for a vote on this issue,” Schneiderman said, adding the special election would be limited to hamlet property owners. No date has been set.
The Suffolk County Water Authority has presented a proposal that includes $14.6 million in upgrades for Hampton Bays, a cost that would be spread out among the water authority’s 1.2 million customers. Water authority chief executive Jeff Szabo also has touted the utility’s ability to test water in its in-house laboratory and its ability to quickly respond to water contamination.
Hampton Bays Water District employees, all of whom would be offered positions with the SCWA under the proposal, repeatedly have said they can supply reliable service while keeping rates lower than the water authority's.
“We’re the ones you see in the supermarket that you can come up and complain to,” water district Superintendent Robert King said. “We’re here for the people of Hampton Bays.”
More than half of the 500 people who answered an online town poll said they were dissatisfied with their water service, Schneiderman said. That statistic clashed with the sentiments expressed Tuesday when most said they preferred to keep control in Southampton Town, where the town board serves as water district commissioners.
"You [the SCWA] are not beholden to the electorate, while the board is," said Alex Bills of Hampton Bays.
The local water district installed a $1 million carbon filtration system in June to remove perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS — chemicals the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has linked to cancer and other health problems. Both were detected in three of the district’s 11 wells in 2016 and 2017.
The discolored water due to iron and manganese also has been addressed, water district officials and residents have said.
SCWA officials noted in the case of the PFOS contamination the water authority could use its mobile granular activated carbon filter to bring a well back online almost immediately. It also would have anticipated a temporary change in hydrologic dynamics that loosened sediment this summer, causing the discolored water.
"We would have aggressively gone out there to flush the system," said Joseph Pokorny, deputy chief executive of operations.