Pictured Above: The traffic circle at the center of Riverside.

As Riverhead Town considers taking legal action against Southampton Town over its plan to establish a sewer district in the blighted hamlet of Riverside, the Southampton Town Board closed a public hearing that had been open since January on establishing the district Tuesday afternoon, after hearing comment on the proposal on five occasions since the beginning of the year.

The board also voted unanimously to file a notice of completion of the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the project and to use up to $4.6 million in water quality funding from the Community Preservation Fund for the sewage treatment plant, which would be located on Enterprise Zone Drive behind the Suffolk Credit Union branch on Flanders Road.

Southampton has been exploring options for sewering Riverside for over a decade, and in 2014 adopted a redevelopment plan that relied heavily on the future installation of sewers in the neighborhood. But as the $35 million project gets closer to reality, Riverhead Town and the Riverhead Central School District (RCSD) have become wary, as the reality sinks in of the possibility of adding as many as 2,300 new housing units to the area, putting a strain on infrastructure in the town and bringing more children to a school district that is already bursting at the seams with students.

The sewage treatment plant would also be located in an industrial park that backs up to RCSD’s Phillips Avenue Elementary School, which has recently raised concerns from the school district and from parents.

Riverhead Town representatives are also saying they want Southampton to place the Suffolk County Center buildings and the Suffolk County Jail on Nugent Drive in the new sewer district — the buildings, which are in Riverside, currently send about 100,000 gallons a day of wastewater into the Riverhead Sewer District and Riverhead officials say they need that capacity to instead extend sewer lines down West Main Street, alongside the Peconic River in Riverhead Town.

At his first State of the Town Address on Tuesday, April 9, new Riverhead Town Supervisor Tim Hubbard said Riverhead is hiring legal counsel to explore its options for forcing Southampton to take Riverhead’s concerns into account, after what he termed a breakdown in negotiations with Southampton.

“We’ve made clear that housing units in such large volume place a burden on the Riverhead Central School District and town infrastructure,” said Mr. Hubbard in his address. “They must include the County Center and the correctional facility. To date Southampton Town officials have been uncooperative and we have little choice but to pursue legal action. Stay tuned.”

“They’re on a timeline, I understand,” he said after the speech. “But I wish they had worked together with us on this.”

Mr. Hubbard added that, while the county buildings are included in later phases of Southampton’s sewer district plan, he is concerned that later phases won’t happen.

Riverhead Town Community Development Administrator Dawn Thomas echoed that concern at the Southampton Town Board’s hearing that same afternoon.

“I was disappointed to receive an email that because of Riverhead’s objections to the sewer district as planned you will no longer be working with us on a better, more informed plan for Riverside,” she told the Southampton board.

Southampton Town Supervisor Maria Moore said the Southampton board has a meeting scheduled with two members of the Riverhead Town Board on Friday, April 12.

“We have repeatedly said we would consider including the County Center and jail in later phases” of the sewer district design,” said Ms. Moore.

She added that, while there was some discussion between the boards about having a joint private executive session with both the Riverhead and Southampton town boards, she didn’t think it would be legal to hold such a meeting.

Southampton Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni gave Ms. Thomas a history going back two decades of Southampton’s planning efforts for the revitalization of Riverside.

“This is certainly not new. I’ve gone back four boards here. I’m sure the Town of Riverhead and the Riverhead School District have been aware of this,” he said.

Ms. Thomas said the demographics in Riverside “have changed greatly” since the Riverside redevelopment plan was adopted in 2014.

“Things have changed. The zoning should be informed by the current conditions,” she said. “My objective is really not to talk about litigation, just to express the continuing thought on our part that we could work for you. I’m not feeling like we’re getting anywhere.”

“Our board wants to sit with your board and talk through this,” added Riverhead Councilman Bob Kern, who spoke at the public hearing.

Southampton Board Member Cyndi McNamara said she believes Riverhead Town and school district “have now been weaponized against this (sewer) district,” and added that Southampton is committed to working out issues with the school district.

Riverhead School Board President Colin Palmer told the board that the school district is concerned about noxious odors from the plant and whether the distance from the elementary school, which could be as little as 400 feet, would be enough to mitigate noise. He also asked that construction be done on days when school isn’t in session.

He added that many families with students in the Phillips Avenue Elementary School don’t know about the project.

“I think input should be solicited from the Riverside community,” he said. “Earn buy-in from the very community the town hopes to revitalize.”

The school district has a May 6 meeting scheduled with Ms. Moore and Mr. Schiavoni, and Ms. Moore said the town would “respond in more detail to your concerns at that meeting”

Flanders resident Jeremy Rand pointed to a map of the proposed sewage treatment plant behind the podium at the public hearing.

“This is my daughter’s school. This is her classroom,” he said. “Right here, she has field day and plays with her classmates. I can’t believe I’m standing in front of you guys right now. I’m so pissed off, so mad…. This is ridiculous. You guys have gotta find a better spot to do this.”

“Over my dead body will there be anything close to my daughter’s school,” he added.

Eulicha Hines, who lives in Riverhead but has property and family in Riverside, disagreed.

“I’m in education. I’ve built three schools. I’ve had construction next to me, built on piles,” she said. “We got through it. We worked with the construction company. They gave us a reprieve during nap time. It wasn’t permanent. The construction was temporary. The pollution in our water is permanent…. We have to weigh what are the priorities here in terms of protecting families and children.”

Tom Fredette, an owner of the property that was formerly the Peconic Paddler adjacent to the Riverside traffic circle, said it was time to end Suffolk County’s reliance on “primitive, barbaric cesspools.”

“Riverside is one of the most overlooked downtown communities, and its contribution has been stunted by lack of sewers,” he said at the hearing. “I can’t think of a town more in dire need of redevelopment than Riverside. Sewage treatment is the lifeblood for revitalization.”

Brendan Fredette, also a co-owner of the property, agreed.

“This is septic. We all create this, every day, out of our own bodies,” he said. “It’s not DuPont Pharmaceutical. Everybody has this in their house. It’s behind almost every house on Long Island. They’re not harmful. Probably the opposite.”

Flanders, Riverside & Northampton Civic Association (FRNCA) President Angela Hunault agreed.

“The community has asked me to let Riverhead Town and School District know it’s 10 years too late,” she said. “We’re in the eleventh hour. It’s too late now. All the bases are full, there are two strikes and a batter on the plate. Let’s bring this home.”

Former FRNCA President Vince Taldone said he sat in on numerous discussions between the towns when the sewer district was first envisioned about a decade ago.

“I had a long conversation with (former Riverhead Town Supervisor) Sean Walter about letting us take the sewer capacity from the County Center,” he said. “We were looking at it as a nice steady flow… Riverhead claimed it needed the money it got from the County Center and would fight us if we tried to take that flow away from the Town of Riverhead. Downtown Riverhead has grown, and now they would like to unload that extra capacity from the County Center. That’s lovely. But how dare they show up today and say ‘stop what you are doing .'”

“Riverhead’s well-being has always been in the minds of the community” in Riverside, he added.

Southampton Town Planning and Development Administrator Janice Scherer said the sewage treatment plant would be in an concrete building, and that the outflow, which will be treated to a level that is safe to drink, would leach below the ground and downgradient toward the Peconic River, away from the school.

She added that it’s a type of technology that is frequently used in housing developments and other heavily populated areas, including in the middle of Southampton Village, near Southampton Hospital and the Southampton Elementary School. She added that the actual siting on the property and design work is still to be done and the town is happy to take input from the public.

Suffolk County announced in November 2023 that it is allocating $5 million for the project, which is expected to cost about $35 million. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer allocated another $5 million in federal funding for the project in a 2022 federal omnibus spending bill.

Southampton Town has already allocated $6 million Community Preservation Fund water quality funds on the project, in addition to the $4.6 million approved Tuesday, and plans and to finance the remaining costs with a no-interest loan from New York’s Environmental Facilities Corporation.

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Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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