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Jul 24, 2018 10:02 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Board Having Informal Talks With Suffolk County Water Authority Regarding Possible Takeover In Hampton Bays

Jul 25, 2018 11:08 AM

Preliminary discussions have begun between the Southampton Town Board and the Suffolk County Water Authority to consider allowing the authority to take over day-to-day operations of the Hampton Bays Water District.

The discussions follow an onslaught of issues within the district, which is overseen by the Town Board, whose members act as commissioners of the district.

Robert King, the Hampton Bays Water District’s superintendent, was forced to shut off three of the district’s 11 wells last year after traces of two unregulated chemicals—perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA—were found in the drinking water.

In response, the district installed a $1 million carbon filtration system to remove the contaminants from the water. However, a strain on the system, caused by the three out-of-service wells, has recently resulted in discoloration and water pressure issues, particularly in the hamlet’s downtown areas.

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said this week that while the water district is “not for sale,” the Town Board is considering its options.

On Thursday, July 19, Jeff Szabo, the authority’s CEO, laid out three potential routes that the municipality could take.

One such option is what’s called a “management agreement,” which would allow the SCWA to take over the district’s operations, including customer service, billing, repairs, and capital improvements. Under such an agreement, the district’s customers would be charged according to the SCWA’s water consumption rate of $1.91 per 1,000 gallons, in addition to its $28 quarterly surcharge.

According to the SCWA's website, customers with a 3/4-inch meter are charged an initial fee of $24.27 per 300 cubic feet as opposed to the HBWD, which currently charges its customers $11.80 per 500 cubic feet—equivalent to approximately 3,740 gallons—for the same size meter. HBWD Customers who exceed 500 cubic feet are then charged $1.10 per 100 cubic feet, up to 3,000 cubic feet. Additionally, Hampton Bays homeowners are charged, on average, an annual fee of $155 per household on their tax bill, according to Mr. Schneiderman.

“They would get treated the same way any of our regular customers would be treated,” Tim Hopkins, general counsel for SCWA, said of the hamlet’s customers, should the Town Board enter into such an agreement.

“It almost takes the municipality out of the day-to-day operations and allows the water experts to manage the water system,” Mr. Szabo added.

Another option that the Town Board could consider would be an operational agreement, which is essentially identical to the aforementioned proposal, with one exception: The town would continue to set the district’s water rate in exchange for an agreed-upon fee to the SCWA.

Mr. Schneiderman pointed to a similar agreement between the town and the water authority in relation to the Riverside Water District. In 1997, the municipality entered into a 40-year lease with the county, allowing it to operate, construct, maintain, and repair, at its own expense, the entire operations plant. The Riverside district was previously overseen by the town, similar to the Hampton Bays district.

Lastly, the town could opt to dissolve the hamlet’s water district entirely, Mr. Szabo said.

However, the Town Board is less likely to go that route, as one of Mr. Schneiderman’s main concerns this week was the fate of the water district’s employees. The town district currently employs 13 full-time workers, not including office staff, according to Mr. King.

Mr. Schneiderman added that along with addressing that concern, he would like to focus on whether the merger would offer an improvement to the health and safety of the hamlet’s residents, and, lastly, what it would cost.

“With those three things in mind, I’m willing to have that conversation,” he said.

He stressed that no formal requests have been filed, however, adding, “I can’t say there’s been no informal conversations.”

Mr. Szabo said this week that job loss can be negotiated, adding that he was “very confident” that the water authority’s board of directors would be in favor of having the district’s dozen or so employees join the SCWA staff.

He pointed to a recent agreement between the SCWA and the Brentwood Water District, where the water authority did just that. “We assumed the employees of that district, and they became water authority employees,” he said.

In addition to saving the district employee jobs, Mr. Szabo said that there are a number of benefits to having the water authority take over management of the HBWD. “I think they realize that there are some benefits and expertise that the SCWA can provide,” he said, citing the authority’s in-house engineering and laboratory staff, as well as its 600 operational wells.

“We do everything ourselves,” Mr. Hopkins said. “This is all we do—we do it all day, all day long, and we’re very good at it.”

When asked how the water authority’s involvement would help benefit what many Hampton Bays residents are calling “the Hampton Bays water crisis,” he pointed to the district’s three out-of-service wells: “If you have a problem at a particular well, and you have 600 of them, it’s easy to take a well out of service to put treatment on it.”

The Hampton Bays Water District’s three wells were expected to be up and running by Wednesday, July 18. However, according to Mr. King, the district is still waiting for the results of water testing, certifying that the water meets Suffolk County Department of Health Services standards. Currently, two out of three are operational.

Mr. King added on Friday that he was unaware of any talks between the town and the SCWA and said he wasn’t in favor of a potential merger. “I think it would be kind of foolish for us to go to the SCWA—they’re having the same problems we are,” he said.

He noted that last Saturday, his on-call staff received 18 phone calls from SCWA officials regarding water quality issues in Shinnecock Hills. “It’s not just us,” he said.

Mr. Schneiderman said that some residents of Hampton Bays are pushing the town toward the merger. A vocal proponent, Anthony DePalma of Hampton Bays, wrote in a recent letter to the editor published by The Press on Thursday, July 19, that the “positives far outweigh the negatives.”

“This would guarantee our community a safer, more stable water supply … the Town Board should act immediately, before harmful contaminants are detected in another Hampton Bays well.”

Southampton Town Councilwoman Julie Lofstad, who lives in Hampton Bays, said that as commissioners, the Town Board is obligated to look at all scenarios. “If something may be improved upon by instituting a change, then we are obligated to look into it,” she said.

“Whether some relationship with the water authority might make sense, that can be discussed,” Mr. Schneiderman added.

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This is such great news. We should definitely sell the whole district to scwa. Our rates will go down and our water supply will be better protected. The current employees of hbwd will keep their jobs AND have a better opportunity for advancement. Everyone in Hampton Bays wins.
By Bayman (56), Hampton Bays on Jul 24, 18 4:40 PM
Hopefully all the employees except Robert King!
By HamptonDad (236), Hampton Bays on Jul 24, 18 5:14 PM
Good news!!
By Bugal (14), Hampton Bays on Jul 24, 18 5:28 PM
What about that thief Warren Booth?
By Babyboo (293), Hampton Bays on Jul 24, 18 6:58 PM
1 member liked this comment
This is a must. HBWD is over charging the people of the town and the club needs to stop. A clean up is needed and not just the water. I like to see a published list of employees along with pay and beni's. Better command, control and over site is needed now. There is a great lack of trust with HBWD for many reasons. To think of the water quality issue and over charging, it is time for change !
By Hamptonsway (107), Southampton on Jul 24, 18 9:02 PM
Thank God get rid of the clowns
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 24, 18 10:09 PM
1 member liked this comment
My water bill has tripled since moving from HB to east Quogue and we are having same issues in East Quogue that HB is having. This seems all political to me. We all pull the same water from the same aquifers. I recently had a leak at my house in EQ water going into my basement and no one showed up from SCWA for over a 24 hour period. It may have its pro's and con's but this seems to me a political move for Mr. Scheneiderman since he is leaving the town of Southampton and just gave away a 1.1 million ...more
By watchoutnow968 (56), Southampton on Jul 25, 18 11:20 AM
2 members liked this comment
The water rates are not in dispute, they are public information posted on the the SCWA and HBWD websites. People in HB also pay a water tax on their property tax bill. In total the people in HB pay significantly more than EQ. If your water bill tripled, as you claim, you may want to check for more leaks.
By Bayman (56), Hampton Bays on Jul 26, 18 10:08 AM
Are we looking at the same numbers? SCWA charges $1.46 per 100 Cubic feet plus a $25 surcharge , hampton bays water charges $1.10 for the first 3000 cubic then $1.24 there after. The tax is an average of $155 per household as per Jay Schneiderman so that equals to a $12.91 charge a month. Unless you see something different. According to the there fees the fee for the hydrant rental for the fire district looks to be almost triple what hampton bays charges, so that would raise our taxes a lot. ...more
By Hbproud (6), Hampton Bays on Jul 26, 18 9:11 PM
2 members liked this comment
Your post is both wrong and misleading. You are obviously associated with the HB Water District. Please stop trying to mislead the public. As you should know, a complete rate comparison will be done as part of the merger analysis. And the numbers will show everyone in HB how much money they will save based upon how much water they use. Your post is just another example of how we can not trust the HBWD. Two examples: You skipped water tests that allowed toxic PFOA into our water, and then you ...more
By Bayman (56), Hampton Bays on Jul 27, 18 4:15 PM
What a shame. HBWD always had the best water you could imagine. What happened? Seems like something got out of control.
By Doug Penny (64), Hobe Sound, FL on Jul 25, 18 7:08 PM
1 member liked this comment
I am not convinced the problems are with the water district as much as with the greater demand for water.

I deal with SCWA and HBWA...I much prefer HB. They are much more responsive to problems and on the ball. SCWA is a large corporation and I prefer to deal with small businesses.

I have to chuckle when people complain about the locals who work for the HB Water District and how they don't care about the water. The live here - you really think they intentionally would poison ...more
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jul 28, 18 7:47 AM
No way am I associated with the water. I am a hampton bays born and raised resident. When another entity wants to come in and take over I do my homework. You still have proven numbers as they available when you call the office for both entities. Where are you getting skipping tests. As per the last couple articles the wells were shut down voluntarily not mandated. Where do you think the SCWA gets there water from? Same aquifer as HB. Your just a pawn of the democratic scum that wants to ...more
By Hbproud (6), Hampton Bays on Jul 27, 18 5:52 PM
1 member liked this comment
And black water isn’t pfoa
By Hbproud (6), Hampton Bays on Jul 27, 18 5:59 PM
If hampton bays water is run or sold to the SCWA the costs will go up and the service will go down. Whether you like the HBWA employees or not, they do give you service and the costs are lower than SCWA.
By Resident tax (186), Hampton bays ny on Aug 3, 18 8:04 PM
1 member liked this comment
Also, the seniors are having a difficult time financially in Hampton Bays already and a raise in their water bill will make it more difficult for them to stay in their homes. The residents should be able to vote on this.
By Resident tax (186), Hampton bays ny on Aug 8, 18 7:36 PM
Seniors are also declaring bankruptcy at a higher rate than they did 25 years ago.

Times have indeed changed, and so have the hands that hold society. From real persons, to corporate persons.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Aug 8, 18 7:50 PM