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EDITORIAL: Water politics in Riverhead

The name of the supervisor in Riverhead has changed, but the town's attitude on water has not: The citizens and the government want to keep relying on their own water district, rather than let the Suffolk County Water Authority do the job. That stance may not work in the long run.

The authority's statutory mandate is to provide drinking water throughout the county. Only a handful of independent districts remain. In general, it makes sense for the authority to spread its service area, because of the economies of scale and the expertise that it has gained over the years.

So the authority is proposing to run the system for Riverhead, while the town would continue to control rates, employees and other issues. The authority would also make overdue improvements to the system, and spread the cost of that debt over its broad rate base. If Riverhead makes those improvements, the costs will fall heavily on the town's much smaller rate base.

But Supervisor Sean Walter - like his predecessor, Phil Cardinale - wants nothing to do with the proposed 40-year deal, even though it includes $12 million in cash to Riverhead upfront, and the town has a budget crisis right now. Walter says the district's rates are lower than the authority's. But the deal would let the town set the rates. Walter says it can afford to do its own repairs. Maybe. But the town's reluctance seems to be as much about fear of the big agency to the west as it is about dollars and cents. It should keep an open mind. hN


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