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State allows preservation funds for East End water quality projects

Contractors for the Suffolk County Water Authority install

Contractors for the Suffolk County Water Authority install fire hydrant to a water main on Windsor Lane in Wainscott, Aug. 20, 2018. This is the start of a project that will install 45,000 feet of water main in the area after perfluorinated compounds were detected in private wells. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A state law signed last week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo brings financial relief to East End towns looking to provide public water to areas affected by contaminated drinking wells.

The five East End towns can now use a portion of Community Preservation Fund money to   pay for new water mains and to connect residents to public water systems. The fund, financed by a 2 percent tax on all real estate transfers, raised more than $90 million in the first 10 months of 2018. Twenty percent of the fund, which had traditionally gone to historic and open space preservation, can now be used for water quality initiatives following a 2017 voter-approved change.

Cuomo signed a bill sponsored by Assemb. Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) on Dec. 28 allowing for the money to be used in areas where “drinking water has been contaminated by toxic chemicals, hazardous substances or emerging contaminates.”

“By utilizing CPF revenues to match state grants we can bring public water to contaminated neighborhoods right away,” Thiele said.

He said he sponsored the bill in response to contamination in Wainscott, where perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)  have been detected in more than 200 private wells. Health effects associated with the chemicals include liver damage, decreased fertility, developmental delays in fetuses and children, and possibly cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

On the same day he signed the bill, Cuomo signed another allowing some East End property owners to borrow money from the fund for septic system upgrades and to repay it through their tax bills.

East Hampton Town and the Suffolk County Water Authority are nearing completion on 45,000 feet of new water mains, a project that is expected to cost a total $24 million. Public water, unlike private wells, is regularly monitored and must meet drinking water standards.

A $9.7 million state grant covered the bulk of the construction costs, but homeowners were responsible for financing their individual hookups.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said the new law gives the town "greater flexibility in addressing water quality issues," although it is not clear if the town will reimburse homeowners who have already connected to the new mains. Using the money for that purpose would require town board approval, Van Scoyoc said.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the town would likely soon designate fund money to extend public water in East Quogue, where PFCs have been detected in more than 40 wells. The money can also benefit homeowners who can connect to the existing mains but are deterred by connection costs, which add up to thousands of dollars.

“I think it’s great news,” Schneiderman said. “The resources are desperately needed to act expeditiously to get people safe, clean drinking water.”

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