County votes on $66 million bond for sewer consolidation plan
The City of Long Beach could soon be out of the sewage business.
In what officials called one of the city’s most important environmental initiatives, the Nassau County Legislature voted 18-1 on July 15 to approve a $66.4 million bond to reroute Long Beach’s sewage to the Bay Park Water Reclamation Facility and stop the flow of waste into Reynolds Channel.
The county and the City Council also approved an intermunicipal agreement that officials said would improve water quality and save taxpayer costs in order to redirect the flow of sewage from the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The $77 million project, which is expected to take several years to complete, calls for converting the city’s 70-year-old wastewater treatment plant into a pumping station and diverting up to 5 million gallons of raw sewage per day to the Bay Park facility.
The city’s untreated wastewater would be transported through a yet-to-be-built, four-mile-long pipe under Reynolds Channel leading to the Bay Park plant for treatment, and then to the Cedar Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, in Wantagh, through a viaduct under Sunrise Highway. It would then be pumped into the Atlantic Ocean through a planned three-mile-long ocean outfall pipe.
“In the long run, it’s immediately going to be beneficial to the City of Long Beach, but it will ultimately be beneficial to the residents throughout Nassau County,” said Legislator Denise Ford (R-Long Beach). “Once we take away the sewage treatment plant and make it a pumping station, the residents who especially live on the north side of Long Beach will [benefit from] having much better air quality and not having a stench permeating their neighborhood.”
“Ultimately, when we divert Bay Park to Cedar Creek, there will be no discharge of effluent into to the Western Bays, other than the East Atlantic Beach plant that is further west of these facilities,” said Ken Arnold, the county’s public works commissioner.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and other activists have said for years that the pumping of effluent — or treated sewage — into Reynolds Channel is to blame for the high nitrogen and ammonia levels in the Western Bays.
Nitrogen and ammonia accelerate seaweed growth, which removes dissolved oxygen from the water and kills marine life.
The current water treatment plant in Long Beach is obsolete, and struggled for years to meet current water treatment standards and state Department of Environmental Conservation regulations, the city said. Additionally, to meet new DEC regulations, the facility would have to undergo $50 million in upgrades. The current plant is also a pollution risk during storms as severe as Hurricane Sandy. Overall, city officials have said, updating the facility would cost $178 million.
County and city officials said that Bay Park, which underwent $830 million in upgrades after Sandy, is now a state-of-the-art facility that is much better equipped to handle and treat the city’s wastewater, and that work on the Long Beach project could begin next year.
John Mirando, the city’s commissioner of public works, called the measure one of the most important environmental and financial projects in the city that would benefit the environment and residents.
Officials said that both the county and city could face fines of $38,000 per day if they don’t move forward with the project.
“We are faced with a consent order from the DEC — and at this point we’re either faced with consolidating with Nassau County or meeting the new ammonia standards,” said Mirando, adding that more federal and state regulations will have to be met, such as removing pharmaceuticals from wastewater. “The plant will continue to show its age and continue to cost huge sums of capital money to upgrade. This plant is just going to keep bleeding money.”
City officials have said the consolidation project would stop the pumping of about 60 million gallons of effluent per day, with more than 15 tons of pollutants, into Reynolds Channel and the Western Bays, and the dilution of the effluent would reduce nitrogen and ammonia levels. The county is pursuing state grants to pay for the bulk of the project.
Long Beach’s share of costs associated with the project is $18 million, and officials said that the city had already received $7.5 million in state funding, and would apply for another $10 million in grants on Friday. Long Beach would also cover the county’s debt service and operational costs associated with the plan through the collection of sewer fees.
City officials said that under the intermunicipal agreement, the city’s treatment plant workers would not be laid off as a result of the deal, and would be integrated into different departments or be offered opportunities with the county.
“I strongly believe that this is an environmental victory not only for the City of Long Beach but for Nassau County,” Councilwoman Anissa Moore, who lauded Mirando and other city officials for moving the plan forward, said at the July 16 council meeting. “Also, I think this is once again another way to minimize the financial risk we continue to deal with.”
Some legislators expressed concerns about what would happen if the city, which is struggling financially, were to declare bankruptcy.
“I am not confident that, under the [intermunicipal agreement], the taxpayers of Nassau County are sufficiently protected from liability for costs of the project, which should be borne strictly by the City of Long Beach,” said Legislator Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence). “Unfortunately, the recent management of the city does not give me great assurance that its promises will be honored in a timely fashion.”
Local environmental activists lauded the agreement and the vote to approve the bond, with Esposito saying that the project is vital to residents throughout Nassau.
Esposito and Long Beach resident Scott Bochner — a member of the Western Bays Coalition, a co-founder of the Sludge Stoppers Task Force and a member of the Long Beach Environmental Advisory Board — called on Kopel to support the plan before he cast the lone dissenting vote and expressed concerns about details of the intermunicipal agreement. Both said that residents of his district would benefit from the project.
“I’ve been living on the bays for a really long time, and we’ve been watching the degradation of the bays for years and years, and this is the only way we’re going to correct the problem,” Bochner said. “In order to get this pipe diverted, we’ve been really patient and it takes time to get a project like this under way. If you don’t take that effluent out . . . there won’t be any protection.”
Esposito urged legislators to vote yes, saying that the project would improve wetlands to protect from flooding and storm surges while also restoring water quality and the shellfish industry.
“We have been working together for 15 years on this particular campaign on this particular issue,” she said. “Here we are today with a successful program.”