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Source: LI Herald

A tale of two sewage plants

County offers info about viaduct plan for Bay Park, Cedar Creek


Posted: July 29, 2016
Originally Published: July 27, 2016

In about a month’s time, county officials say, they will begin studying the possible use of a 110-year-old steel viaduct that runs under Sunrise Highway to transport treated sewage from the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant to the ocean outfall pipe at the Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant on the Wantagh-Seaford border.

Elected officials, engineers, marine scientists and members of Operation SPLASH and Citizens Campaign for the Environment discussed the plan at a community forum in Freeport on July 20. They described how they think it would rehabilitate the Western Bays, which they said are being choked by seaweed overgrowth accelerated by the pumping of effluent from Bay Park.

Deputy Nassau County Executive Rob Walker said that two companies had bid on the County Department of Public Works’ Request for Proposals for what he described as a feasibility study of the viaduct, a 72-inch pipe that runs for 10 miles underneath Sunrise, from Lynbrook to Wantagh.

In May, County Executive Ed Mangano explained that the study would determine if existing infrastructure can support a connection to Cedar Creek’s ocean outfall pipe. The County Legislature will review the bids, Walker said, and a decision will be made about the contract for the study in 30 to 45 days.

“We have to see the pipe, its conditions and impediments,” Walker said at a meeting at Operation SPLASH headquarters in Freeport last week. “We will see if it’s doable and then come to the public. … If we do it right, it will be the best environmental project on Long Island, maybe in New York state.”

‘The bays will die’

The Western Bays stretch for 10 miles, from Rockaway Inlet in the west to Jones Inlet in the east. Since the late 1940s, the Bay Park plant, in East Rockaway, has sent treated sewage into Reynolds Channel from a cement pipe just north of the Long Beach fishing pier.

Carl Lobue, a marine scientist with the Nature Conservancy, explained that the effluent is loaded with nitrogen, which accelerates seaweed growth. The seaweed, called ulva lactuca, breaks apart in the tides and rots. As it does, it robs the saltwater of dissolved oxygen, killing marine life.

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 seaweed on the shoreline. “It wasn’t just a nuisance,” she noted, explaining that seaweed breaks down into toxic hydrogen sulfide, “it was a public health concern.”

Esposito helped form the Western Bays Work Group, which includes representatives of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Nassau County, the Town of Hempstead, the Nature Conservatory and other groups.
Dr. Larry Swanson, associate dean of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and his team have studied the nitrogen levels in the bays and the impact on the ecosystem.

“The smell of seaweed in August is awful,” said Lobue. “It’s really a quality-of-life issue. The main reason for this is that [the effluent] doesn’t really flush … that water is basically just sitting in the bay, as an incubator for accelerated growth. Right around the time that [Hurricane] Sandy hit, we realized what effect this was having on the salt marshes … We need the marshes to protect us.”

Lobue said that the location of the sewage plants impacts the resilience of the costal communities. “We clearly don’t want to have a negative impact on the ocean,” he said. Although the effluent eventually works its way out into the ocean, “it festers in the bay … So we must modernize the plant.”

Esposito said that scientists have determined that the bays were not just impaired, but that species were disappearing — and “the outfall pipe for the Bay Park Sewage Plant into Reynolds Channel was the reason,” she added. “If we don’t get that outfall pipe out of the bay, the bays will die — that’s a scientific fact.”

The Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Operation SPLASH began lobbying for funding to construct an ocean outfall pipe at Bay Park before Sandy hit. Activists went to Washington, Albany and county officials, but were unable to secure enough funding. Esposito said it would now cost $550 million to construct the pipe.

“What are we going to do without giving up?” she said. “Now there’s a new potential remedy, and we’re very hopeful. We want this saga to have a happy ending, and we think this could be it.”

A new plan

By bypassing the need to tunnel under the Long Beach barrier island to build a new outfall pipe from Bay Park 3.5 miles into the Atlantic Ocean, the project’s cost would be cut nearly in half. County officials said it would cost $200 million to $300 million to divert treated effluent from Bay Park to the Cedar Creek outfall pipe by way of the viaduct.

Walker noted that the project could also be completed more quickly than building an outfall pipe. It is estimated that work could be finished in 18 months if the old Brooklyn Waterworks aqueduct in Freeport is usable.

“Once we get the outfall pipe out of the bays, those bays will come back,” Esposito said. “The fish will come back, the shellfish will come back … We have a duty to explore this option and see if it’s going to work for all of us.”

The aqueduct under Sunrise Highway was constructed between 1890 and 1892, and enlarged in 1900 to bring fresh water from Long Island’s streams, ponds and lakes to New York City. Tom Gallagher, a longtime Wantagh resident who now lives in East Meadow, said at the meeting last week that there is more than the viaduct underground: the Neptune cable, which brings power from New Jersey to Long Island, is buried alongside the Wantagh Parkway and runs up to a transmission station in Westbury.

Gallagher raised this concern with county leaders, and other locals questioned whether the viaduct was damaged when a section of the Long Island Rail Road’s Babylon line that runs through Freeport was elevated in 1960.

Joe Davenport, chief sanitary engineer of the county DPW, said that more would be known about the condition of the pipe after the feasibility study is completed. He believes, however, that the viaduct is continuous.

Walker said that cameras would examine the pipe’s condition. The project, he said, could take about nine months to complete.

Davenport and Michael Martino, a spokesman for Suez Water, noted that as part of the plan, no new sewage would be treated at Cedar Creek. “We don’t have to treat a drop of extra sewage,” Martino said in May. “All it does it gets hooked up to the outfall.”

While officials wait for the pipe to be studied, Walker said that improvements continue to be made at both Bay Park and Cedar Creek. About 40 pump stations were damaged when Sandy ravaged the East Rockaway plant, necessitating repairs that Walker said would continue through 2017.

He added that a de-nitrification project at Bay Park, which is expected to reduce the nitrogen being dumped into the water by about 50 percent, is continuing. At Cedar Creek, influent screening, odor control, improvements to the grit tanks, a bio-solid reduction program and examination of the electric distribution system have also been completed.

“The county doesn’t want to stop and wait,” Walker said. “We need to do our due diligence with [the feasibility study].”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, speaking at the forum, described the issue as one of, if not the most, critical on the South Shore. “The need for [the pipe] is so great and so obvious,” he said. “If we don’t get this done now, our children will inherit something that is close to a disaster. We have to be a little bit patient. Hopefully by the fall, we’ll have some good news.”

Between them, 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.