Written by Alan Krawitz Friday, 12 February 2010 00:00
Citing possible future environmental risks to existing wells and associated costs to ratepayers, the Town of Babylon has notified residents of East Farmingdale that it is moving forward with a plan to contract with the Suffolk County Water Authority to take over the management of the East Farmingdale Water District. Town of Babylon employees were previously managing the district.
Town of Babylon Supervisor Steven Bellone informed residents of the proposed change in a letter sent to East Farmingdale residents in December. In the letter, Bellone explained that most of the district’s wells are highly vulnerable to industrial contaminants, such as solvents and nitrates, and that as a result, “half of the wells have been taken out of service.”
Further, Bellone stressed that while East Farmingdale’s current water quality is “fine,” he characterized the main goal of the town’s discussions with the SCWA as a way to protect ratepayers from potentially costly, future environmental remediation costs. He also emphasized that the Town of Babylon would still be responsible for setting district water rates even after the change in management is completed.
However, some East Farmingdale residents remain skeptical.
“We are concerned not only with service but the potential for a rate increase,” said Thomas Joseph Jr., president of the Residents of East Farmingdale Civic Association. “We have always had a local company handling our water district needs. We feel our service may be drastically impacted.”
Joseph Jr. added that neighbors in Suffolk County, served by the SCWA, have said that their water rates are significantly higher than rates in East Farmingdale.
Nevertheless, town officials have reiterated their commitment to secure reasonable water rates for the district and contend that this move will do more to “prevent ratepayers from being unexpectedly hit with huge new costs.”
“If any mechanical or water quality issues arise in East Farmingdale, such as infrastructure having to be upgraded, then the SCWA will be able to spread those costs out over its entire rate base,” said Paddy South, spokesperson for the SCWA. South noted that the Suffolk authority serves a population of about 1.2 million people. By contrast, the East Farmingdale district serves 7,500.
“This agreement is sort of like a backup for East Farmingdale. [SCWA] will provide an interconnection for the district with other sources of water,” South added.
Tim Ruggeri, a spokesman for Bellone, said the management change was a “matter of expertise.”
“We just don’t have the expertise to deal with major projects, such as dealing with contamination issues and the SCWA does,” said Ruggeri, director of communications for the town. “The reasons behind this change are to protect public health, ensure an adequate water supply and protect the ratepayers.”
Asked about the status of the discussions with the SCWA, Ruggeri said that things are still in the “information gathering stage.” “The SCWA is digesting the info we provided them. They’re doing their due diligence,” he said.
South said the authority is awaiting financial info from the town. He also said that the formal proposal from his agency would take the form of a 40-year lease whereby the SCWA will manage the East Farmingdale district but the town will retain ultimate control.
“We’re hoping for a formal agreement by the end of the month,” South said.