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Is clean water in sight for Crescent Beach?

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Crescent Beach’s public accessibility — or lack of it — has been a source of frustration for many Glen Covers for the past decade. The beach was closed in 2009 due to bacterial contaminants in the stream that empties out there. Although the level of contamination has fluctuated over the years, there have been instances when the concentration of bacteria in the stream has been over 1,000 times higher than what is deemed safe for humans.

A number of studies have been conducted over the past 10 years to determine how the city could rid the stream of contaminants. None has led to solutions that have allowed the beach to reopen, but the city hopes to change that if the upcoming conclusions of yet another study, focusing on “simulated wetlands,” show promise. Mayor Tim Tenke approached Nassau County officials last July about funding the study, and secured $200,000.

Past studies have concluded that the contamination comes from runoff that finds its way into pipes leading to Crescent Beach. Water flowing through the pipes carries bacteria from animal feces, which makes the beach unsafe.

Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a Democrat from Glen Cove, has closely monitored problems at the beach for years. She said that most suggested solutions have involved the installation of filters in the pipes to clean the water as it flows through them. Last year, DeRiggi-Whitton discussed different means of cleaning up the stream with Eric Swenson, executive director of the Hempstead Harbor Committee, and Dr. Sarah Meyland, an associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology and the director of the school’s Center for Water Resources Management.

According to Meyland, communities across the country are working to improve water quality by constructing simulated wetlands. The stream flowing onto Crescent Beach, she said, is a perfect candidate for such a process. “Wetlands are naturally a water filter system,” she said. “As water migrates through a wetland, water quality is improved.”

The roots of plants in wetlands — especially sea grasses — can soak up harmful bacteria, Meyland explained. And the bacteria and other microorganisms already present in wetlands soil can kill intrusive bacteria. As a result, water flowing through these wetlands can come out much cleaner than when it entered them.

Heather Johnson, executive director of Friends of the Bay in Oyster Bay, said that natural solutions such as Meyland’s suggestion are almost always preferable to machinery-based methods. They typically have more long-term benefits, Johnson said, and tend to be safer means of pollution control. “It usually seems to work best when we work with Mother Nature,” she said.

The city sent out a request for proposals in search of a partner for the project in January, and eventually came to an agreement with H2M, an architecture and engineering firm based in Melville. H2M officials agreed that simulated wetlands could be a good way to filter the stream’s water, and began the latest study.

Now that it is nearly complete, the cost of creating an area of wetlands will need to be determined by H2M and the city to see if the firm will stay on to do the work. While Tenke could not say when the study would be completed, he said he was confident that implementing its conclusions would give the city the best chance to reopen the beach.

“This is 10 years, and we want to make sure that the beach is safe for our residents to use,” Tenke said. “There are kids now who are 10 years old who have never been able to swim at Crescent Beach, so we need to give this back to the residents.”

DeRiggi-Whitton said that her primary goal in this process has always been to reopen Crescent Beach. She also hopes, however, that simulated wetlands can have an impact on a much larger scale. “This might be an example for other parts of the county and state and so on,” she said, “to show how this sort of natural cleansing process can work.”