A suggestion to hook up the Suffolk County administrative complex and county jail to a proposed new sewer district in the Flanders and Riverside area does not sit well with Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter.
Last week, district that could breathe new life and revitalization into economically depressed areas of Flanders and Riverside, a suggestion was made that should the sewer district be created, the Suffolk County Correctional Facility and county center could be included within its paramenters.
Currently, the county center and jail sends its flow to the Riverhead Town sewer treatment facility.
Walter said Riverhead Town "would fight tooth and nail" from keeping that notion from coming to pass. Currently, Walter said, 25 percent of the town's sewage treatment facility's capacity comes from the Suffolk County operations. And, while the county only pays 18 percent of the cost in its sewer rates - Walter said in the next contract go-around, he'd like to see the county "pay its fair share" -- should the county pull the jail out of the district, the result would have a "devatating effect" on taxpayers.
Fears that Riverhead is at maximum capacity are currently unfounded, Walter said.
The supervisor said while the sewer as it stands could not handle maximum capacity buildout along Route 58 and downtown. "But that maximum buildout is never going to happen," he said. And even if it did, the system could be expanded, Walter said.
Should the county consider pulling the jail and administrative center from the Riverhead sewer district, Walter said, "That would set up a showdown." The town sewage treatment facilily has been built to encompass the jail, Walter said, and its loss "would be a very, very bad thing. If you took 18 percent of the rate payments out of the sewer distict there would be a crippling tax increase. We would fight vigorously any attempt to take that facility out of our sewer district."
Some, however, feel the idea is a good one. Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said including the correctional facility and county complex in the new district would "free up capacity" in Riverhead. "We wouldn't have to use Riverhead's sewage treatment facilty anymore," Schneiderman said. "It might save the county money, but more important, you'd have the potential for growth and expansion -- right now they're at capacity."
The drawbacks, Schneiderman said, are that a larger plant with more acreage would have to be constructed at a higher cost. "But if the county is a part of the sewer district and paying into the sewer district, then the numbers might work better."
Brad Bender, president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association said the area's economy is tied into downtown Riverhead's. But, he added, "The Town of Riverhead doesn't acknowledge us and the Town of Southampton has left us to fend for ourselves."
Bender said, what he'd like to see, "instead of us drawing a line in the sand," is for the towns to work together "hand in hand," with a more regional approach.
Including the county jail and administrative complex in the new sewer district would leave additonal capacity free for the continued revitalization of downtown Riverhead, Bender said; he would also like to see the feeling of a walkable downtown Riverhead, with flourishing retail, extend to Flanders.
Walter countered that the reason why Bender and some others want the jail included in a possible new sewer district is because the "huge flow" the county facilities generate would help pay for a new sewage treatment plant in the Flanders area.
"You could never do that to the Riverhead taxpayers. I don't foresee it ever happening," he said.
Walter added that the county offices and jail are Riverhead Town's sewer district's largest user. While a "bad deal was negotiated in the 90s," with the county paying only 18 percent, while its encompasses 25 percent of the district's flow, during the next go round, the hope is to work out a more favorable agreement, Walter said.
The supervisor said he would consider working with Southampton Town to sewer Flanders Road; a benefit would be environmental protections to the Peconic River.
But, since the current sewage treatment facility in Riverhead is not sized to handle the flow, what would have to happen is that Riverhead Town's sewer district's taxing authority would have to be extended into Southampton Town. "I think they would balk, but it would have to happen," Walter said.
The Riverhead sewage plant could also be resized to handle the additional capacity at a lower cost than what it would take to build a new treatment plant in Flanders, Walter said.
The supervisor commended the founding fathers of Riverhead for having had the foresight to create sewer and public water systems back in the 1930s; only Greenport did the same, Walter said.
Vince Taldone, FRNCA vice-president, said if the the sewage flow from the Suffolk County Center administrative complex and jail were re-routed to the Riverside facility, Riverhead would benefit from reduced demand on its plant and increased capacity for its planned growth downtown.
"And, the redirection of the waste flow provides a revenue source for Riverside by having the county contribute to the construction and operation of its new plant," he added.
Taldone added the commercial revitalization of Riverside offers the potential to benefit the downtown Riverhead area, too, as patrons of local restaurants and other businesses "flow both ways on Peconic Avenue between a reinvigorated Main Street in Riverhead and new commercial destinations in Riverside."