Activists asking New York State to fund a public water extension to homes in Manorville held a press conference on Wednesday urging the state to allocate money for the project, after a grant request was not funded earlier this month.
More than 20 people gathered inside the Manorville Fire House, surrounded by cameras and members of the press, to urge Gov. Kathy Hochul and state representatives to fund connecting 64 homes on the Riverhead Town side of the hamlet served by contaminated private wells to public water. The project carries a price tag of roughly $9.5 million. Riverhead has received $3.5 million in federal funds for the project already, leaving a gap of around $6 million.
“For three years, this community has pleaded for the State of New York to help them access clean, safe drinking water,” said Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the organizer of the press conference. “The community deserves this, the community needs this and the community should be able to obtain this, but it is still out of reach.”
Esposito cast the blame for losing the grant on the “ineffectiveness from politicians,” including State Senator Anthony Palumbo and Assembly Member Jodi Giglio, who Esposito said scarcely engaged with the community on the matter and did not work in Albany to get the grant requests funded.
“Water is not political. We are not playing games here,” said Old River Road resident Kelly McClinchy, a leader in organizing for public water in her neighborhood. “We turn on the faucet and we’re nervous every single day, we’re nervous about what’s coming out of that faucet. Somebody who might have had a clean well one day doesn’t have a clean well the next day because we know that the water is moving underground.”
“We are at the point now where we can’t take anymore. We shouldn’t be asked to wait any longer. The state needs to step in and they need to do what’s right for this community,” McClinchy said.
Neither nor Palumbo nor Giglio, or government officials from Riverhead, were present at the press conference. In an interview today, Palumbo did not directly address comments putting him at blame for the grant being denied, but instead pointed at his record supporting funds for water infrastructure projects in the legislature, including the law that created the grant program and the recently passed $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act.
He said the decisions made about which grant requests are funded are ultimately made by the governor’s office.
“It’s the Hunger Games. We’re statewide, so people don’t get every single grant that they’re requesting, of course,” Palumbo said. “But there is no tolerance at all — and I have no tolerance, I don’t think anyone does — for any sort of contaminants in their water.”
Giglio did not return calls requesting comment.
Riverhead Town and the Suffolk County Water Authority reached an agreement in September for the Suffolk County Water Authority to provide public water to the area in Manorville, which is located in the southwest corner of the Town of Riverhead near the Brookhaven Town line. The area is closer to the nearest Suffolk County Water Authority main than it is to the nearest Riverhead Water District main, and the water authority is doing its own extension project in Manorville that was also partially funded by federal funds.
The homes in question are serviced by contaminated private water wells, including some contaminated by harmful chemicals like perfluorinated alkylated substances, also known as PFAS, thought to cause cancers and other adverse health effects.
Residents and activists have blamed the former Grumman site in Calverton, now the Calverton Enterprise Park, as the source of the pollution, and have called for the U.S. Navy, which owned the site, to pay for the extensions. While activity on the Navy property included the use of chemicals responsible for some contamination in Manorville, evidence has yet to draw a conclusive connection between the site and the Manorville contamination, and the Navy has refused to fund the project, to the ire of residents and public officials.
Ron Martz, a lifelong Manorville resident, said one of his family members who lived in the area had died from cancer. He said others in the area have also had cancer, a pattern that he said was hard to ignore.
“I want the clean water and I want it now. I mean, I don’t want to see any of my good friends and neighbors here that I have to go visit them in a hospital, or worse yet visit them in a nursing home or in a funeral parlor. That’s all I ask,” Martz said. “Let the state get off their ‘you know what’ and get this done now. We can’t wait any longer.”
There has been no study conducted analyzing instances of cancer in the area, Esposito said, but she believes the water contamination has caused a “cancer cluster” in Manorville.
The hope to get funding for the water extension project may rest on federal representatives. Last year, both the Town of Riverhead and the Suffolk County Water Authority received $3.5 million of Community Project Funding from the congressional budget.
This year, requests for more project funding have been made by Rep. Lee Zeldin to the House Appropriations Committee for the 2023 budget process. The congressman requested $6,468,800 for Riverhead Town to “extend clean drinking water” to homes served by private wells. In addition to Manorville, the Riverhead Water District is also pursuing public funds to help cover the cost of more than $16 million in other extension projects in the area.
The state grant program, called the Water Infrastructure Improvement Act, is a yearly grant program distributed through the Environmental Facilities Corporation. $279 million in awards were distributed this year, including to one project in Riverhead Town and four projects in the Suffolk County Water Authority’s service area.
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