The Oyster Bay Water District appeared before the Oyster Bay Town Board to explain why they want to extend their waterlines into Cove Neck. The initial request was made by Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. Dr. John Gable, executive director of the Theodore Roosevelt Association explained the need.
Dr. Gable said the interest in having better fire protection began in the 1980s when there was a fire in Franklin Roosevelt's Hyde Park home in Dutchess County. The home lost its third floor. "It was a terrible tragedy," said Dr. Gable. Luckily, the third floor was not furnished, but the water damage to the house was terrible, he said. People worked all during the night of the fire, to save the historic contents of the house.
Dr. Gable said in the 1940s, shortly before Mrs. Roosevelt died, the barn and tenant complex at Sagamore Hill burned down. "The fire was fought with vigor - lines went to the harbor, but nothing would do, the house was lost." He said Superintendent Vidal Martinez made it a personal cause, from day one, to bring water to Sagamore Hill.
"How many taxpayers and villages have their water hookups paid for by the federal government," asked Dr. Gable. "People all over the country are putting up their tax money for Sagamore Hill." The federal government is providing $500,000 toward the project. (The total amount is $945,440, which will be raised through a bond and which the home owners of Cove Neck will pay over 20 years.)
"While they have a legal obligation, Oyster Bay has a moral obligation for their trusteeship for future generations," Dr. Gable said. The site he said, has 100,000 visitors a year.
Sagamore Hill Supervisor Vidal Martinez said when the house opened in 1953, there was a 100,000 gallon reservoir installed, that was then state-of-the-art: now it is antiquated and inefficient, he said. Additionally, there has been corrosion of the pipes.
Mr. Martinez said, "In event of fire, the existing reservoir would be drained in 30 minutes. The volunteer fire company response time is 15 minutes." There is not enough water and enough time, to save the 200-year old house. "It is the mission of the National Park Service to save and protect this irreplaceable landmark," he said. Congressman Peter King asked for and got federal funding for the project in 1996.
The National Park Service is also providing money for upgrading the Sagamore Hill system. It will pay for piping and underground piping as well as for replacing several hydrants.
Bill Ferris, 1st Assistant Chief of the Atlantic Steamer Fire Company said the company fully supports the project. He said they currently have to draft water from swimming pools to help fight fires in areas without hydrants. "Large fires need lots of water. Sagamore Hill is a large structure." He said the fire company would like to see the project happen.
Attorney Elizabeth Faughnan spoke, representing Cove Neck resident Barry Yampol, and asked that his property be removed from the proposal. It was listed under his company, Island Holdings, and he didn't know he was included in the plans. She said she spoke to attorney LaMarca and while he was "not overjoyed at exempting the lot, since it was doable, he consented." It means the financial estimates to residents will have to be re-calculated.
Mr. LaMarca quoted Mark Twain, on water problems: "Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over." He will recalculate the figures.
The average annual cost for homeowners in Swan Cove, who are hooking up to the new pipeline, will be about $1,577 for the next 20 years. It will vary, as the bond matures: it will be less as the years go on.
There will be an additional charge of $710 for a connection to the OBWD water line and the cost of going from there to the homeowner's house at about $10 to $12 per foot. Mr. Yampol's removal from the district extension changed the annual figure. It will increase by about 3 percent.
Still that could change if more people opt to join the system. If others join, they will pay a pro-rated cost to pay their share of the cost of the bond.
Mr. LaMarca said they had several meetings with the Mayor of Cove Neck, Tom Zoller, but that no one else, past Tennis Court Road, is interested in hooking up to the OBWD at this time.
In response to questioning by Supervisor John Venditto, Water District Attorney Anthony LaMarca said most of the Village of Oyster Bay Cove is in the district. A petition is being circulated to those not involved at the present time, but who have decided at this time, that they would like to join the district.
Dennis Kelleher, of H2O, engineering company for the OBWD, said the new people interested in joining the new extension live south of the service area and are now in the early planning stages to enter the district. They need to raise funds for a study, for which the people of the existing district would not have to pay - just as they are not paying one penny for the extension to the Cove Neck area, he said. The new people will be added as a separate extension, later on, when their study is completed.
Any new homes hooking into the district will pay a special amount to join, which will reflect the cost of the bond for the work presently being proposed.
The town board closed the hearing and reserved their decision.