Written by Aliza Schauder Friday, 29 November 2013 00:00
Community backlash against erection of a new radio tower drove the Manhasset-Lakeville Water District into the spotlight in recent weeks, forcing its commissioners to address communication lapses, and ultimately, ceasing and reversing construction efforts. The district covers North New Hyde Park.
Now, a Dec. 10 election for a commissioner’s seat is thrusting the water district toward center stage once again. Current commissioner Donald O’Brien will vie for a second term, challenged by former commissioner Robert DeVito.
Donald O’Brien joined the Board of Water Commissioners in January 2011, with the intent to reduce the water district’s long-term debt. Nearly three years later, the incumbent candidate is campaigning for another term to build upon the fiscal stability he believes he already instated.
O’Brien said the water district—which also manages the fire district’s funds—will pay off its existing fire bond debt in 2017, and going forward, fund new equipment purchases solely through annual budgeting.
The water district’s annual capital improvement program is already funded through its yearly budget, he said, and the district has reduced its long-term debt by $4.2 million over the last three years. These owed monies currently stand at $12 million and reflect funding for various projects, such as a water treatment plant on Searingtown Road.
The latest capital improvement projects – those budgeted for on a yearly basis – target a variety of needs, ranging from the replacement of equipment and wiring at Shelter Rock Road’s Eden well site to installation of more efficient fire hydrants throughout Munsey Park. The hydrants, O’Brien said, can pump 1,250 gallons per minute to more efficiently quell shooting flames.
O’Brien said he wishes to use his financial background – a bachelor’s degree in finance, as well as a master of business administration in corporate finance – to bring further fiscal stability to the district. He is also determined to improve communication between the Board of Water Commissioners and the people they serve – a focus deemed necessary last month, when surprised residents awoke to the construction of a radio tower in close proximity to their homes.
O’Brien maintains that a “real history of communicating” exists between the district and its constituents, and said the district did notify the villages of Munsey Park and Flower Hill of its plans to construct the structure. Still, he acknowledged that, “it was an error in judgment by the board not to have involved in the villages, and not to have foreseen an adverse community reaction.”
O’Brien said the Board of Water Commissioners opted to remove the radio tower and affix an antenna to the soon-to-be constructed Munsey Park water tank in order to avoid litigation on the matter. Still, he maintains that the board
generated the original plans as a cost effective method of ensuring communication between the fire, rescue and ambulance service personnel. While water tank replacements and restoration projects involve the cost of moving affixed antennas, this radio tower would never be moved.
The board was not initially planning to replace the Munsey Park water tank in the upcoming year, but in order to affix this antenna sooner than later, will do so in 2014.
Manhasset-Lakeville Firefighter and Apparatus Chauffer Robert DeVito has served the water district for two terms as commissioner. DeVito lost his re-election campaign in 2009, but decided to run again upon determining that the current
board “lost touch with the public.”
While DeVito maintains that the Board of Water Commissioners should have postponed any antenna-related projects until the new Munsey Park water tank was constructed, he also believes that its members should have engaged in personal communication with its constituents on the matter. DeVito suggested using the district’s newsletter, web page, water bill mailings or electronic signs in front of each firehouse to carry out this responsibility.
“You cannot get the word out to everyone in a district as large as ours,” he said, “but the district and villages should have worked closer together with a project of this magnitude.”
In addition to improving communication between board members and the people they serve, DeVito is also focused on upgrading the water district’s supply system should he be elected. Specifically, he plans to replace the Munsey Park water tank and ensure that the district’s nitrate removal plant is up and running to capacity. DeVito also plans to continue upgrading the water pump stations and distribution systems as needed.
DeVito believes that accomplishments from his prior term should speak to his present potential. He prides himself on leading negotiations in 2009 to gain $2.7 million in settlement money from North Shore University Hospital, after pollution from the hospital’s properties seeped into the Lloyd Aquifer. The water district allocated this sum toward combating this problem, DeVito said, by building a water purification plant on Community Drive.
DeVito said he also prides himself on developing water district initiatives such as a new water main system to increase water pressure in the Leeds Pond area, as well as construction of a new water pump station and treatment plant in North Hills.
While DeVito regrets that the Manhasset-Lakeville’s nitrate treatment plant is not yet running to capacity, he credits himself with acting as a visionary in formulating ideas to remove nitrates from the district’s groundwater.
“At the time,” he said, “there were no facilities on Long Island that dealt with this type of situation.”
As for fire district initiatives, DeVito said he and his fellow board members oversaw major renovation to meet requirements stated in the Americans with Disabilities Act. Upon completion, new restrooms and elevators existed on every floor of all firehouses.
Should DeVito win a seat on the Board of Water Commissioners next month, he hopes to earmark monies for upgrading firefighters’ equipment; specifically, self-contained breathing equipment, pumpers, ladders and any other equipment necessary to meet standards set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Fire Protection Association.