Operation SPLASH in a holding pattern

No swimming, no surfing, no eating. Not even cleanup, says environmental group.


Operation SPLASH (stop pollution, littering and save harbors), a group synonymous with the cleanup of Long Island’s bays and waterways, has been stifled by hurricane Sandy. It’s not that the dedicated volunteers wouldn’t like to be out there helping with the cleanup, but at the moment, they say it’s just too dangerous.

Rob Weltner, president of Operation SPLASH, says his crews are currently collecting samples and running tests, but maintains that they won’t start any hands on activity for at least a few more weeks. “We’re being scientists right now,” Weltner said. “Waiting for things to show up in our petri dishes. It can take a while for e-coli and other harmful things to become clear under testing, so we’re advising people to stay out of the water. We have surfers and other folks calling. They say, ‘can we go in the water yet?’ and we have to stay, ‘No. It’s not worth it.’”

For the moment Weltner is advising callers to avoid swimming in local waters, eating anything from the bays, or even starting cleanup for fear of disease. He also says that the inorganic material Sandy brought may be an even greater threat.

“You had a lot of boats overturned, cars that were flooded,” Weltner said. “In a way, those oils and chemicals are five times worse than any organic matter that backed up from [the Bay Park sewage treatment plant]. The bottom of the bay is like a garden or a farm. There are clams that live down there, and mussels, which are like the worms. A big layer of sludge was just dropped on those things and that is not good. The water is very acidic right now — the ph is down to 5 — it’s not a healthy environment.”

Although Weltner says he and his army of volunteers are not currently able to play the role of caretaker, they have already pledged to start up again as soon as possible. “Operation SPLASH has collected more than a million pounds of garbage in the last 22 years,” he said. “We did some reconnaissance two Sundays after the storm and it looks like we were never even there.”

Weltner says community members anxious to help with the massive cleanup to come should be looking to mobilize around March. To join Operation SPLASH, see operationsplash.net. For the latest from Nassau County on stormwater management, go to www.nassaucountyny.gov/agencies/DPW/mailinglist.html and sign up for bulletins.