Port water commissioner candidates debate the district’s plans in addressing water contaminants

Port water commissioner candidates debate the district’s plans in addressing water contaminants
(From left to right) Port Water Commissioner Peter Meyer and candidates Mark Gibbons and Charles "Chuck" Idol debated Thursday night as they vie for the post of one of Port's water commissioners. (Photo by Cameryn Oakes)

All three Port Washington Water District commissioner candidates said one of the main issues they would need to address if elected is contaminants in the water, with the two challengers pushing for more thought on how the district would address new, emerging contaminants in the future.

Incumbent Water Commissioner Peter Meyer debated his two challengers – Charles “Chuck” Idol and Mark Gibbons – Thursday night at an event hosted by the Port Washington-Manhasset League of Women Voters.

Meyer, a Port Washington resident of about 50 years and owner of Meyer Mechanical Services has served as one of Port’s water commissioners for 23 years.

“Port is what I call home,” Meyer said. “As a resident, my family and I share the same needs that every other Port Washington resident requires from their water district.”

Idol, a business and technology consultant, has worked in the high-tech field for multiple banks and the federal government for about 30 years. Gibbons is a general contractor who said he started his local company at 16.

The candidates responded to questions asked by residents, with multiple addressing issues concerning contaminants in the water, conservation and methods to better the district’s operations.

Multiple residents asked about contaminants, specifically PFAS like 1,4-Dioxane, asking the candidates how they would work to continue removing the current contaminants and what their plans are to stay ahead of emerging contaminants.

Meyer said the district currently monitors all of the wells to ensure the water is safe, but that contaminants are present in a lot of products that individuals use making it hard to prevent from entering the water system.

He said the district is spending $75 million over the next 5 years to remove PFAS chemicals from Port’s water.

“So we are working diligently,” Meyer said.

But Gibbons and Idol said the district needs to look ahead and identify future emerging contaminants and how to address them to mitigate harm.

When asked what the most important issues the district is facing in the future, Gibbons said it is identifying the next emerging contaminant.

“Ten years ago we didn’t know about 1,4-Dioxane, and there’s always going to be something new,” Gibbons said. “And it’s how we proactively look at it and how we are going to take care of it.”

Idol agreed that, while he doesn’t know the next emerging contaminant, he is confident in the development of technology to speedily address the issue and would assist in finding solutions.

“I don’t really think there is anything that we can’t tackle,” Idol said.

He suggested boosting education for residents on contaminants and how they can help reduce their entering into the water.

“We can educate but we can’t control,” Idol said.

Meyer said that the district is already taking action for the possibility of emerging contaminants.

“It’s not something that we’re not thinking about for the future,” Meyer said. “We’re thinking about you and me and what we’re drinking… We’re not just thinking about today. We’re moving ahead with the thinking.”

While contaminants are entering the water source, Idol reassured residents that the water is still safe.

Idol said as water commissioner he would promote sustainability, conservation and “any other method necessary to protect our groundwater and our environment.”

“As your water commissioner, I will work tirelessly to protect the infrastructure and water resources which is drawn from a sole source aquifer,” Idol said.

Gibbons said the district already has established expansive water conservation projects, but that “there’s always more that can be done.” He suggested irrigation home assessments, rain harvesting and promoting dual flush toilets to continue the district’s conservation efforts.

“Conservation is just not Port Washington’s problem,” Gibbons said. “It’s Long Island’s problem.”

Gibbons said as commissioner he would also want to increase local education on water systems and conservation, starting at an early age with young children.

Meyer said the district already has an education program for students, holding events at schools inviting them on tours of the well pump stations.

One resident asked the candidates whether or not they were open to working with other local water districts to develop shared services. All three agreed they would not want to consolidate, advocating for a district that solely services Port.

“If you have a problem with your water you want to be able to call up your local supplier and get somebody right on the spot, right there,” Meyer said. “And that’s what we do… You call Port Washington, somebody’s right there.”

Gibbons and Idol said that if there are methods of sharing services with other districts to save money, they would consider implementing such practices.

Idol said that he would look to advance the operations of the district and bring in solutions like implementing community solar to diminish electricity usage and its costs.

“I hope to take a bigger picture view of the operation itself and look at helping to maintain costs,” Idol said.

Meyer said the initiatives and plans the candidates proposed have either already been implemented by the district or already looked into and determined to not be feasible.

He said he has pushed for responsible water use and conservation efforts, as well as advanced the technological advancements of the district during his tenure.

“As a longtime water commissioner with a proven track record of experience, I am committed to the community as an environmental leader and will continue to protect and serve and manage Port Washington’s water resource,” Meyer said. “As commissioner, I’m putting Port first, today, tomorrow and in the future.”

Idol said he is the best candidate “for the future,” attributing the claim to his experience in business, technology, operations and environmental advocacy. He said his environmental leadership exemplifies his “care, concern and commitment” to the Port community’s environment and water.

“All this for the preservation and safety of infrastructure of our water,” Idol said.

Gibbons touted his construction knowledge, problem-solving skills and team building abilities.

He said if elected, he would do differently than Meyer by being a more active presence in the community.

“I want to be the face of this water district,” Gibbons said.

Gibbons questioned Meyer’s passion for his position after serving 23 years, saying he lacks a public presence representing the district. He advocated for the next generation of water commissioners, bringing eagerness to the post, saying that he is that candidate.

“We need a water commissioner that will be out within our community, with our residents,” Gibbons said. “Not only spreading the message of our district but listening to our 30,000 residents about their needs.”

“As far as being in the newspaper every day, that’s not my position,” Meyer said. “I’m working behind the scenes.”

Residents of the district can vote from 12-9 p.m. on Dec. 12 at the Polish American Cultural Association at 5 Pulaski Place in Port Washington.

All of Port’s special district elections will be held there at the same time, including the Water District, Water Pollution Control District, Police District and Garbage District.

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