The effort to rebuild our communities after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation has not been without a sense of urgency, especially when it comes to reconstructing homes and critical infrastructure “stronger, smarter and safer,” if we are to go by the mantra in Long Beach.
One of the most critical pieces of infrastructure that must be addressed is the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant in East Rockaway, an antiquated facility that is notorious for its mechanical failures, which result in the discharge of raw or partially treated sewage and other pollutants into our waterways, rendering them unfit for boaters and fishermen and fueling devastating algae growth. Though the discussion of how to rebuild the iconic Long Beach boardwalk is getting most of the attention these days, now is the time to focus on upgrading and modernizing the aging Bay Park plant.
The facility processes more than 40 percent of the county’s sewage and discharges an average of 58.5 million gallons of what is supposed to be treated effluent per day into Reynolds Channel, according to the New York- and Connecticut-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
It has been nearly three years since local environmentalist Scott Bochner fired up his camcorder and documented an alarmingly large brown plume moving across the channel, bringing attention to what we learned was a discharge of only partially treated sewage, in greater concentrations than allowed by environmental law.
The Bay Park plant needed new equipment even before Sandy. Though the county has spent millions of dollars on upgrades since Bochner’s videos were posted on YouTube, the storm made clear just how vulnerable the facility is. A nine-foot storm surge, and a subsequent fire, caused the entire plant to go offline, and sewage backed up onto streets and into homes and spread throughout the Western Bays. Pipes also broke in East Rockaway and Baldwin, flooding parts of those communities with sewage.