$9.7 Million for Water Main Project

State grant eases burden of installation after wells are found to be tainted
A former film studio and special effects lab on Industrial Road in Wainscott, now used for training by several South Fork fire departments, is among the possible sources of chemical groundwater contamination in the area. David E. Rattray

In a hoped-for development in the ongoing effort to install approximately 45,000 feet of water main in Wainscott, a project with an estimated price tag of $24 million that will allow property owners access to public water, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has announced a $9.7 million water infrastructure grant for the Town of East Hampton and the Suffolk County Water Authority.

The grant is allocated to the water main installation in the Wainscott water supply district, lying south of East Hampton Airport and stretching to the Atlantic Ocean. The district was created this year following the 2017 discovery of perfluorinated chemicals in many residential wells in the hamlet. 

To date, almost 500 private wells have been tested, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday, with more than 200 testing positive for perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, both used in products including firefighting foam, carpets, furniture fabrics, and clothing, and both of which have been linked to cancers, thyroid problems, and serious complications to pregnancy. 

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has established a health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion. Sixteen wells in Wainscott tested above the health advisory level, Mr. Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday, and another 214 were found to have levels between 20 and 60 parts per trillion. 

The town board declared a state of emergency following detection of the perfluorinated chemicals, and then established a water supply district. In July, the board voted to enter into an intermunicipal agreement with the water authority, paving the way for a grant application. The town is funding the project through the issuance of bonds, and the grant money is to be used for reimbursement. 

  As of Tuesday, 21,380 feet of water main had been installed, Mr. Van Scoyoc said, or 48 percent of the approximately 45,000-foot total. “It has proceeded quite rapidly,” he said. 

The grant is part of $200 million in state funding announced on Tuesday for various efforts to address contaminants in drinking water supplies. It includes $185 million for water treatment system upgrades to combat emerging chemical contaminants such as perfluorinated chemicals. 

The grant to the town and the water authority represents the largest award out of $15 million earmarked for ongoing community projects. All of the funding flows from the governor’s $2.5 billion Clean Water Infrastructure Act. 

Wainscott residents who connect to the water mains must bear the costs of hookup to their houses by hiring private plumbers or using the water authority’s contractor, Asplundh Construction. Homeowners will have to pay upfront for the former option; the latter choice costs significantly more, because of the higher costs of publicly bid labor contracts, but allows amortization over a minimum of 20 years through an assessment on tax bills. 

“That’s a decision each resident will have to make on their own,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. The board issued a statement last month encouraging Wainscott residents who plan to connect to public water to solicit estimates from both Asplundh Construction and a private plumber. 

While residents are not required to connect to public water, the town board has strongly recommended it. “Certainly with the concerns over the contaminants within that area, you are at risk if you continue to use your private well without any filtration,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said on Tuesday. The financing option, using the water authority’s contractor, will expire in July 2020. Under the emergency declaration, the town instituted a rebate program for the installation of point-of-entry treatment systems. That program will expire once public water installation is completed. 

To date, 91 residential property owners still have not responded to a request for testing, “which is still a very high number given the amount of publicity and the number of attempts made to contact homeowners,” the supervisor said. “If you live within Wainscott, south of the airport, you really should have your water tested.”