The Village of East Williston held heavily attended informational meeting on Nov. 13, discussing a proposal to construct $7 million water supply wells, breaking away from their longtime water supplier and neighbor, Williston Park. The project started more than two years ago and only recently received the required design approval from the Nassau County and New York Department of Health.
The two wells, 100,000-gallon container and activated-carbon filtration to remove organic contaminants would sit at Devlin Park on the north side of East Williston Avenue, between the Long Island Rail Road to the west and Bengeyfield Drive to the east, according to H2M Architects and Engineers Water Division Vice President Paul Granger.
“We’re looking at the feasibility of the village being self-sufficient,” Granger said.
The project would take 30 months to complete if approved, with actual construction time totaling 18 and 24 months. If East Williston moves forward with the proposal, formal and mandatory public hearings will be held.
A 70-by 50-foot partially below-grade water system building would be constructed, which Village of East Williston Mayor David Tanner said will reduce the building profile along East Williston Avenue. Should the proposal be approved, Granger said that H2M will lay out a detailed design to “make things smaller and more economical.”
Location Of The Wells
The supply wells would sit near the tennis courts, which are centrally located on the property. According to a report by H2M, village officials indicated the tennis courts would be modified and relocated to accommodate new wells.
“All infrastructure will be located in the center and south side of the property, with the well located in the center of the parcel to optimize compliance with regulatory setback requirements,” Granger said.
While two wells are recommended if one breaks down, Granger said a fraction of their capacity is normally needed—especially during the winter.
Access to the site would be off East Williston Avenue, and Granger said a driveway will be put along the side of the railroad, which will minimize interference with residents.
Costs Associated With Project
Analyzing operating costs, which include labor, water quality testing and water treatment chemicals, Granger said with debt service facing a 30-year bond and based on a 3 percent interest rate, the village is looking at an annual debt of almost $395,000.
“Under an average condition, the annual operating costs would be $187,000 (includes treatment chemicals estimated at $15,000) and five-year costs would be $581,000, which is equivalent to a cost per thousand gallons of $4.68,” Granger said.
With a peak usage of water, Granger said operating costs would increase up to $206,000, resulting in first-year costs including operating, and debt service that would total $600,000. Should the village have a cool/wet summer, Granger said minimum usage would see a decrease in annual pumpage and operating costs. However because the village is billing for less water, the cost per thousand gallons bill would increase to $5.13 ($4.07 per thousand if capital after taxes is accounted).
Granger, who operates the Village of Farmingdale’s water district, said that the proposed water system is comparable to that entity.
“They have a slightly larger system, but it’s not as if H2M is coming up with something that hasn’t worked elsewhere,” Tanner said.
What Do Today’s Rates Cost?
Village trustee Robert Vella said that 85 percent of the 2013 expenditures charged to East Williston residents represented the cost of the water from Williston Park; 8.75 percent for water main repairs, meter replacement and testing. Approximately 4.1 percent is attributed to village administration and 2.15 percent represents legal and consultants fees.
“I’ve never seen a crowd like this here in my life,” trustee Christopher Siciliano said of the 70 people that filled Village Hall. “And for over three hours, the board heard from those who supported and rejected the proposal.”
“For years, dating back at least to the 1970s, previous East Williston village boards have studied such an undertaking only to determine that it was either not feasible, impractical or too risky,” the village board has collectively said. “With plans and approvals in place, East Williston is at an historical crossroad with an opportunity to finally have a permanent and independent solution to our water supply needs.”
Legal Tussle With Neighbor
The Village of Williston Park is still seeking $300,000 in interest and penalties from East Williston following a recent state Appellate Court decision upholding the second of two imposed water rate increases. East Williston had prevailed in the first round of lawsuits, which began in April 2011, where they objected to a $3.83 per thousand gallon rate set by Williston Park, and the Nassau County Supreme Court found the rate was improperly set.
Following an appeal by Williston Park in the appellate division of the Second Department, the second lawsuit was brought about in August 2012, contesting a $4.33 water rate. After the Nassau County Supreme Court reviewed the case, it was transferred to the appellate division again.
East Williston was ruled against, establishing a 13 percent increase from $3.83 per 1,000 gallons of water to $4.33 per thousand gallons, the current rate, as within legal limits.
“We’ve never had the option of this project in our negotiations with Williston Park, and anyone who understands negotiations knows that when you have options, your ability increases,” Vella said.
Williston Park sent East Williston a bill for $300,000-$600,000 for the withheld rate increase and $300,000 for interest and penalties, following the court decision.
East Williston made a payment of $239,000 to Williston Park to cover the cost of the increased rates, minus $61,000 accrued under the court-ruled to be improper rate hike.
When asked why Williston Park has not been willing to negotiate, East Williston Deputy Mayor Bonnie Parente said, “I don’t know if there is a specific problem, but they have said to me that ‘this is the rate we’re charging you.’”
East Williston recently said Williston Park was not entitled to penalties and interest and they would fight any effort to collect them. Williston Park recently responded by filing a notice of claim for the disputed payments.
“Everybody would prefer to have resolved this with the village of Williston Park,” Parente said. “We still have hopes that it’s possible. But as elected officials, we would not be doing our job if we didn’t investigate this alternative.”
The village has also sought other alternatives, meeting with the Albertson Water District to join or purchase water, as well as the villages of Mineola and Old Westbury, which according to officials, all have stated they are unable to meet the needs of East Williston.
“I feel it is in the best interest of both villages that we find some common ground, but it’s not going to be easy,” Williston Park Trustee Teresa Thomann said. “The road we’re going down is creating two village infrastructure bureaucracies.”
Former Mayor Speaks
Former Village of East Williston Mayor Anthony Casella (1977-1995) said he was less than pleased with the two villages’ actions.
“I am so disappointed in both East Williston and Williston Park,” he said. “I’ve negotiated for 35 years. This board has to work hard for their residents, and you’re not working hard enough.
“This is a small village, we have 850 houses, a golf course and condominiums,” Casella continued. “We’re all effectively going to be burdened with $14,000 over five years before we even get a drop of water.”
Casella noted that East Williston comprises 33 percent of Williston Park’s water revenue, and spoke of the neighboring bond between the two villages, urging East Williston to dismiss their proposal, stay all litigation, meet with Williston Park and “realize that without working out a deal, it’s not going to be happy for either party.”
H2M’s Paul Granger considers the proposal to be a “large scale” project for the contractor, and while projects see a variation of either falling above or below the estimated cost between 7 and 10 percent, he considers the possibility of the cost increasing from $7 million as “totally out of character.”
Vella, who has been instrumental in negotiation efforts with Williston Park along with Parente, responded in saying that during Casella’s tenure on the board, East Williston was paying less than Williston Park “because they recognized that we are a wholesale customer, and different than their commercial customers. We are not a commercial customer of Williston Park. All they have to do is turn a spigot on and send it to us— after that it’s our cost and our problem.”
Vella also explained that based on the village’s average water usage, their debt service comprises 68 percent of the cost to produce water, and said “that’s going to stay the same for 30 years, however the wild card is what are the other operating costs going to be? If they doubled, the cost would go from $4.68 to $6.17 per thousand [gallons].”
Resident Suggests Negotiator
Resident Louis Theodore spoke of the proposal as “a form of insanity” and suggested two outside mediators negotiate a deal between the two villages.
“We’ve lost confidence in [the village board], and I recommend we get a member of the community who has past experience with this area, to meet with a similar individual in Williston Park,” he said. “I don’t think you are capable of closing the deal.”
Jim Daw, a former trustee with the Village of East Williston, supported the village’s proposal but rejected the suggestion of an outside negotiator.
“We’ve been left with no choice but to explore our own independence,” Daw said, and remarked that Teresa Thomann’s presence at the meeting is “a very encouraging sign. I think that we will find that the five members of the Williston Park board will be willing to negotiate.”
A copy of the report by H2M and photos of a model of the proposed site are available at eastwilliston.org, under the “administration/regulations” tab.