Members of the Freeport-based Operation SPLASH (Stop Polluting Littering and Save Harbors) were out and about on the South Shore this month to explain and promote a Nassau County proposal to send treated sewage from the Bay Park Water Reclamation Facility in East Rockaway to the Cedar Creek facility in Wantagh via a 110-year-old steel pipe.
Currently, tens of millions of gallons of treated wastewater are sent from the Bay Park plant into Reynolds Channel, just north of Long Beach, where it spreads throughout the Western Bays, according to Rob Weltner, of Freeport, the SPLASH president.
Treated wastewater is loaded with nitrogen and accelerates seaweed growth in the bays. As the seaweed, called ulva lactuca, grows unusually long, it breaks apart, and as it rots, it robs the water of dissolved oxygen, killing marine life.
“Any im-provement will be good,” said Joe Baker, of the South Merrick Civic Association. “I don’t see any reason why the conduit shouldn’t be used.”
Like Baker, many peoplehave said the plan would likely help improve water quality in the Western Bays and rehabilitate them, but others instead were not convinced, and said they were concerned that repairing the century-old pipe that runs under Sunrise Highway could disrupt the community. They also worry about the project’s cost — $300 million — as well as the possible effects on the ocean’s ecology.
An alternate solution
“I still believe that a direct ocean outfall pipe will be the best solution,” said Long Island Clean Air, Water and Soil co-founder Claudia Borecky, of Merrick, referring to an alternative that she has suggested in the past. That would send sewage from Bay Park directly into the Atlantic Ocean, and not through Cedar Creek.
Borecky’s proposal mimics a project already underway in Suffolk County, in which effluent from the Bergen Point Sewage Plant is sent 3.4 miles into the ocean through a pipe built under the Great South Bay. The state and county considered building a direct ocean outfall pipe, but never received full funding.
The current plan cost roughly $200 million less than the direct outfall pipe plan.
The Western Bays stretch for 10 miles, from Rockaway Inlet in the west to Jones Inlet in the east. They are home to a large concentration of salt marches, and provide essential habitats for birds and marine species. The Bay Park plant has sent treated sewage into the bays since the 1940s. The bays, once a productive fishing and clamming area, have been heavily impacted by degraded water quality and excessive seaweed growth, officials say.
A heavy load to bear
The county recently conducted a study to determine whether the 110-year-old pipe could support a connection to Cedar Creek’s ocean outfall pipe. Bay Park and Cedar Creek treat 85 percent of Nassau County’s sewage. The Cedar Creek outfall pipe has a capacity of 200 million gallons of effluent per day. Currently, it handles about 50 million gallons a day, and treated sewage from Bay Park would add another 50 million, officials estimated.
“I’m worried about Cedar Creek being able to take on that load,” Borecky said, and referred to events like Superstorm Sandy that cause the volume of sewage to swell. “When you have a sewage surge, the pipes can’t take that.”
Many parts of the Western Bays are now considered “dead zones,” according to environmental experts. Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said her organization and other Long Island activists have been concerned about the state of the waterways for more than a decade.
In 2005, Esposito said, Town of Hempstead crews were plowing local beaches twice a day to clean up the decaying seaweed on the shoreline. “It wasn’t just a nuisance, it was a public health concern,” she noted, explaining that seaweed breaks down into toxic hydrogen sulfide.
Weltner has been following the county’s progress on the issue closely, and noted that the engineers responsible for inspecting the pipe have stated that it remains in “very good condition,” and that any new connections would be made using “trenchless methods” and directional mapping to minimize impact to surrounding communities.
The next steps for the project will involve fitting the pipe with a “sleeve” lining to minimize the risk of leakage. The county is expected to release a more detailed construction plan by 2019, with all work expected to be completed by 2022.