Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and County Executive Ed Mangano announced a plan Oct. 29 at the Friedberg JCC in Oceanside to pay for a joint state-county project to send treated wastewater from the South Shore Water Reclamation Facility eight miles east to the Cedar Creek outfall pipe, and from there, 2.5 miles into the Atlantic Ocean.
The plan, officials said, will reduce the impact of nitrogen-loaded wastewater on Long Island’s Western Bays. According to scientists, excess nitrogen in the bays is slowly killing off marine life in them.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said that that before the announcement, “Our two great challenges were funding and political will.” The announcement, she noted, “confirmed that the weight of the governor was behind this to make sure this project happens.”
According to the governor’s office, the project will cost $354 million. The county will pay $157 million, and the state will pay $120 million. The federal government, in the form of Federal Emergency Management Agency funding, will kick in $77 million.
In his presentation, Cuomo said that the project is a quicker, less expensive alternative to a previously proposed plan to build a new ocean outfall from the Bay Park plant through Long Beach and into the Atlantic. According to the governor’s office, that plan would have cost $600 million and taken roughly a decade to complete.
The announcement was made one day before the fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, and the elected leaders’ announcement was framed as a response to it.
Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said, “Today's announcement represents yet another milestone down the path of recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy five years ago.”
Maintaining the health of coastal ecosystems, Schumer said, will help protect against future storms. “Instead of defiling the waterways with countless tons of life-crushing nitrogen pollution,” Schumer said, “the health of the wetlands will be restored, serving as a vital bulwark against future flooding and storm surges.”
The Bay Park sewage plant dumps 52 million gallons per day of treated wastewater into Reynolds Channel, just west of Harbor Isle and north of the Long Beach fishing pier, according to the governor’s office. Operation SPLASH, a Freeportbased non-profit environmental group, said on its website that the plant’s discharge results in “high bacteria levels, high levels of suspended solids, high levels of chlorine, as well as mercury violations” in the channel. This results in lower oxygen levels in the water, to the point where “many kinds of fish and other aquatic life cannot survive.”
"For decades, the Western Bays have been poisoned by treated effluent from the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant,” State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said, adding, “Now, through the leadership of Governor Cuomo, we are moving forward with this innovative and game-changing solution. This is the beginning of the resurgence of the Western Bays."
The plan, which has been pushed by groups like SPLASH, Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Sludge Stoppers, will make use of an unused 100-year-old pipeline underneath Sunrise Highway. The pipe originally carried water to New York City, and had been in regular service until the 1950s. It has only been used intermittently since then. Esposito credited employees at the Nassau County Department of Public Works with coming up with the idea to use the old pipe.
A feasibility study, completed in July, found that the existing pipe under Sunrise Highway can be rehabilitated through a process called “slip-lining,” basically inserting a sleeve made of a modern material into the older pipe to prevent leaks and increase pressure limits. The project will also require the removal of 10 valves that sit at intermittent positions along the eight-mile stretch, which will eventually require construction at those points along the north, or westbound, side of Sunrise Highway in Rockville Centre, Baldwin, Freeport, Merrick and Bellmore.
The county sent out a Request for Proposals for the engineering and design of the project on June 9. The bids were due in mid-August. According to a Nassau DPW spokeswoman, the county has not yet selected a bid, but said in early October that it would take “at least a few more weeks” to do so.
The cost estimate for the project, $354 million, was arrived at by state and local officials in consultation with the engineering firms Aecom and Arcadis, which have been involved in studying the proposal so far to prepare an application for FEMA funding to help pay for the project.
Claudia Borecky, of Long Island Clean Air Water and Soil, said in an email that the project was misguided. She pointed to a project in Suffolk’s Bergen Point Sewage Treatment Plant, which recently replaced a 50-year-old outfall pipe, the same age as the Cedar Creek pipe that will take on the Bay Park plant’s extra load. Borecky expressed concern that shifting the environmental hazards of treated wastewater from Reynolds Channel to the ocean was not an adequate solution. “As environmentalists,” she said, “LICAWS would rather see money spent at reducing nitrogen, pharmaceuticals, detergents from being released into the ocean as well as our channels.”
“We’re thrilled as we could be,” Rob Weltner, the SPLASH president, said, adding, “After 20 years of trying to get this done, working with all our partners in the government, federal, state and local, to see this project so close to happening, it’s a great event for Long Island.
“It’s the best thing to happen to the South Shore in decades,” he noted.