Debra Mulé decries aging infrastructure after water main break in Baldwin


One week after a June 7 water main break in Baldwin affected communities in Island Park, Oceanside, Roosevelt and South Hempstead, Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé, accompanied by residents and local business people, called on Liberty Water to reimburse customers for their losses while spotlighting the broader issue of aging infrastructure.

“It was just a year ago I was talking about the need to hear about our aging infrastructure,” Mulé said at a gathering last Friday outside The Irish Pub in Baldwin, “and here we are. And that was because we had a giant sinkhole on Grand Avenue caused by a sewer main break, and now we had a water main break, which affected virtually my entire district.”

Roughly 30,000 customers experienced a water outage on June 7, which affected water pressure at nearby Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital as well.

Although water service had been restored within an hour, many people — including Mulé’s office, in Baldwin, were not satisfied with the communication from Liberty as the situation unfolded.

“We’re concerned, because the communication from Liberty Water was not what it really should have been,” Mulé said. “I’ve heard from many residents that they called (Liberty), were on hold for 45 minutes to an hour, and got various responses.

“My office called,” she added, “and honestly, we didn’t get a real explanation of what was happening so that we could advise our residents.”

As a result of the break, the county Department of Health ordered Liberty Water to issue a boil-water notice, advising customers not to drink the water without boiling it first. The notice was lifted on June 9, after the repair of a 20-inch water main beneath Winona Avenue in Baldwin.

Shawn Sabel, owner of The Irish Pub, faced difficulties the weekend of the break, forced to empty the ice machine and eliminate the use of soda from the bar’s soda guns.

“We’re getting ready for the weekend, and then you get a text message saying that the water is off,” Sabel told the Herald. “Then it’s blowing up all over Facebook and everything, and I call Liberty and there is no communication with them about health guidelines on what we’re supposed to do as a business.

“They’re telling residents to boil water,” Sabel added, “but at the scale of how we do things, it’s impossible to do that.”

Sabel went to McBreen’s Beverage in Lynbrook, for ice and bottled soda for the weekend, and called on Liberty to reimburse him for his expenses. Asked how much he spent, Sabel said “at least” $1,000.

“The community is not confident in our drinking water, either,” he said, “and at what point does Liberty take the responsibility and ensure that our drinking water is clean?”

The nearby restaurant Novi Restaurant lost $3,000 on the night of June 7 alone because it had to cancel reservations, according to manager Nicole Wenz.

“We understand our customers’ frustration over last weekend’s main break and boil water advisory,” Pamela Bellings, a Liberty Water specialist, wrote in an email to the Herald after the gathering. “We do our best to prevent these events from occurring; however, as with all utilities, emergencies like these do occur. During this event and every day, we adhere strictly to our tariff, governed by the NY Public Service Commission. Our customers are charged for the water they use, and as such bills will only reflect the water used during that time. Boiled water was drinkable, and water was safe for showering without boiling as explained in the Department of Health information we shared. We want to reiterate that all testing came back to show that there were no contaminants in the water at any time. The Department of Health issued the Boil Water Alert out of an abundance of caution.”

Mulé said that there would be more such incidents unless the county’s aging infrastructure is addressed.

“What we are dealing with in this county is infrastructure that is centuries old, well past its useful life,” she said. “We are going to continue having problems like this if we don’t fix it in a comprehensive way.”