The north side of the Elmont water tower, on Miriam Parkway, has been rusting for years, and blue paint chips are constantly falling off. But only a few miles away, the Franklin Square water tower appears to be in good condition, with its bright blue paint and the name of the town emblazoned on the side.
It was this disparity that prompted Elmont resident Dwayne Palmer to ask Nassau County Legislator Carrié Solages, a Democrat from Valley Stream, to pressure the Water Authority of Western Nassau County to begin renovations on the Elmont tower in July. In a letter to Solages, Palmer wrote that the water tower, which is one of the first structures people see when they enter Nassau County from Queens, “has become an eyesore, and gives the impression of blight in a community with an average median income of $100,000,” and “leaves the impression that Elmont is a community that is uncared for.”
Palmer, who can see the water tower from his backyard on Nassau Street, said he had asked the water authority many times to repair it, but was told that it would be an arduous and expensive process, which he called “bureaucratic talk.”
Joe Corbisiero, the authority’s director of plant operations, said the tower has not been repaired since the mid-1990s, when it was under the control of the Jamaica Water Supply Company.
Corbisiero estimated that the repairs would cost $3.5 million to $4 million, because the authority would have to ensure an adequate water supply to take the tank offline for about 15 months, harden the rest of the system and protect the site.
Additionally, he and Chairman John Ryan said, the water authority is currently spending a great deal of money to remove 1,4-dioxane, a potentially carcinogenic organic compound found in many personal care products, and perfluoroalkyl substances, manmade chemicals known as PFAS, from the drinking water, as mandated by the state government.
In July, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation limiting dioxane to 1 part per billion and limiting the amount of one of the chemicals, perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, to 10 parts per trillion. The new regulations require public water systems to test regularly for the substances, and providers have up to three years before they would be issued violations for having levels above the state standard. Penalties could range from $2,000 to $25,000 per violation, state officials said at the time, depending on how many customers the provider serves.
The Water Authority of Western Nassau County, which serves Elmont and parts of Franklin Square, has since installed new wellhead treatment systems to remove the contaminants while meeting peak demand. The system has six wells with levels of dioxane that exceed the 1-part-per-billion standard, and 11 wells with levels of PFOS above 10 parts per trillion, Ryan explained in a letter to Solages on July 10, which cost an estimated $90 million to mitigate.
“The financial impact of regulatory changes resulting from 1,4-dioxane and PFAs has been dramatic for the Water Authority,” Ryan wrote, adding that the agency had to delay capital-improvement projects to focus on the new state regulations. The authority originally planned to repair the Elmont water tower in 2021, he said, but has had to delay the work until 2023 or 2024.
“It’s a very complicated process,” Solages said, but added that he was pleased that the water authority was on schedule to eliminate the chemicals from drinking water, because Elmont has seen increased levels of prostate, colorectal and lung cancers, according to state data, which could be attributed to the levels of chemicals in the water.
The authority has also spent a lot of money in Elmont over the years, Corbisiero said. In 2012, he said, it spent $8 million to build new structures near the water tower, and it recently completed a project on Elmont Road, installing air-stripping towers on four wells that were previously out of commission. Air-stripping facilities separate out volatile organic compounds by aerating the water.
“The treatment side has been taking a lot of our capital funds,” Corbisiero said, adding that the Nassau County Department of Health inspects all the water distribution tanks twice a year.
But Palmer said he could not understand why the water authority could not complete both the water treatment and the tower repairs at the same time, as the engineers contend. He said that Elmont residents pay the water authority, which has a fiduciary responsibility to maintain the water tower. “It should never have gotten to this level,” Palmer said, adding that he thought it was unreasonable for repairs to the tower to be delayed for three and a half years.
“If Elmont residents collectively voice their concern and displeasure over the current state of our water tower to Mr. Ryan,” Palmer wrote on Facebook, “he may be able to make the anticipated capital project for the Elmont water tower more of a priority.”
“They have the manpower — they have the equipment,” Palmer said. “They just need the willpower.”