With over 52 million gallons of high-volume nitrogen effluent still being discharged into Nassau County’s West Bay daily in continued violation of New York State law, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation is partnering with the county to expedite a solution to halt the discharge by refitting an unused aqueduct pipe under Sunrise Highway to transport effluent away from the bay.
The Sunrise Highway aqueduct pipe would act as a conduit to transport treated effluent from Bay Park to Cedar Creek, and out to the ocean
The refitted pipe, at roughly $350 million, is considered the most economically feasible way to effectively stop the secondary treated discharge into the bay from East Rockaway’s Bay Park sewage treatment plant by rerouting it to the outflow pipe at Cedar Creek’s sewage treatment plant in Wantagh for dispersion into the ocean three miles off shore.
It is believed that once the discharge into the West Bay stops – one of four bays comprising the Western Bays of the South Shore Estuary, the bay could begin to recover and spawn sea life again within two years.
At a recent initial meeting at Wantagh High School county and state officials took their case for refitting the aqueduct pipe to the public and heard calls for a tertiary treatment to rid most-to-all nitrogen from the treated effluent, to begrudging respect for the plan, to all-out calls to implement the plan quickly to stop the continued discharge in the bay.
VIOLATING STATE LAW
James Tierney, DEC’s deputy commissioner for water resources, began the meeting, telling roughly 80 in attendance that the 52 million gallons being discharged into the West Bay daily “violate state and federal law” by continually discharging harmful nitrogen into the bay.
He said the discharge was responsible for the growth of macro algae, which has killed clam beds and spawning grounds for fish, and has loosened the roots of grasses in the marsh islands responsible for protecting against large storms such as hurricanes and nor’easters.
He said that while FEMA and HUD funds were dispatched to rebuild much of the Bay Park plant after being hit by a nine-foot wave during Superstorm Sandy, which shut down the plant, there was no federal funding to construct an outflow pipe three miles into the ocean because “there are already 24 such outflow pipes discharging into the New York Bight,” or harbor area.
He noted that a system to de-nitrogenize secondary treated sewage being planned at Bay Park could reduce nitrogen discharge to less than 72 parts per billion when finished, but was still years away.
Brian Schneider, Nassau County Deputy County Executive for Parks and Recreation, said that after several in the Department of Public Works – including now-Nassau County Department of Public Works Commissioner Ken Arnold – had grappled for years with the difficulty of building north-to-south drainage systems for communities because of the 72-inch unused water pipe under Sunrise Highway situated in the middle of every plan they devised, it raised a question that, with no inexpensive way to cut the solid steel pipe, could it perhaps be used to transport treated sewage from Bay Park to Cedar Creek and out to the ocean?
Schneider said the steel pipe had been used decades ago to disperse water from Long Island South Shore reservoirs such as Hempstead Lake and Massapequa Preserve along Sunrise Highway to millions of residents in Brooklyn from 1880s until it was closed in 1950. Well-known Queens’ locations such as Conduit Boulevard and Aqueduct Raceway, he said, pay homage to the essential work of the water system during that era.
The plan the department devised would feature a polyethylene sleeve fitted into the pipe – slipline technology – and links built to connect the Bay Park plant and Cedar Creek plant to the aqueduct pipe under Sunrise Highway. “That pipe is in better shape than anyone realized,” Schneider told the audience. “Pipes like that aren’t made anymore.”
Several residents spoke of their concerns about where the pipe to link to the outflow would be built. “Would it go through Wantagh streets, or tear up Mill Pond?” one resident asked.
Deputy County Executive Schneider maintained the connecting pipe could be built along Wantagh Parkway before being linked to the outflow pipe as it comes out of the Cedar Creek plant, with no streets being dug up or damage to Mill Pond. He said the firm building the pipeline would have 30% design flexibility on the best way to accomplish the connections with the least impact on neighborhoods and the surrounding wetland environments.
Claudia Borecky, co-director of Merrick-based Long Island Clean Air Water and Soil Ltd. asked whether the refitted pipe could leak contaminated sewage into the ground beneath where proposed sections of slipline pipe would be connected. “Could those connections leak to spill sewage into the ground?” she pushed to know. “They could create superfund sites!”
State DEC’s Deputy Commissioner Jim Tierney says the state is partnering with Nassau County to expedite the aqueduct pipe project under Sunrise Highway to transport treated wasterwater from the West Bay, saying the county is in violation of state laws
Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhoads (19th LD) – host of the meeting, remarked that, presently, every resident, when flushing the commode, sends raw sewage into a pipe, and those pipes have never been known to leak. He said that the sewage to be sent through the pipe would be treated twice and be considered safer than raw sewage.
Still, Borecky insisted on a recharge and tertiary treatment plan as the safest way going forward, consistent with LICAWS’s position that the best solution to the West Bay contamination was for near zero-nitrogen emissions at the Bay Park site.
Seaford resident Jack Healy told Your NewsMag he had opposed the original Cedar Creek plant and would also oppose the pipe proposal. “There is enough advanced technology today to build tertiary treatment systems at the plants” and without having to send sewage through pipes under highways several miles.
Tierney explained to attendees that, at present, it would cost roughly $800 million each for a tertiary system at the two plants, totaling $1.6 billion.
Environmental Sciences Professor David Stern of Nassau Community College suggested releasing some of the effluent into the head of Mill River, at the top of Hempstead Lake, so the effluent would make its way slowly down the river and be absorbed through the wetland as a tertiary like treatment.
But Adrienne Esposito, president of Concerned Citizens for the Environment, responded, saying secondary treated sewage could still have unregulated contaminants in it, such as 1-4 dioxane, and having it absorbed into a shallow aquifer such as the Upper Glacial was not a solution.
Her group endorsed the aqueduct pipe plan, saying “We can’t wait 10 years longer” to stop the crisis in the West Bay. Within two years of ending the discharge, the bay could begin to “recover,” she said.
Phil Franco, chairman of the Cedar Creek Oversight Committee, appeared relieved at efforts from both county and state officials to address all facets of redevelopment of the aqueduct pipe. “I thought I would be here arguing against your plans,” he told the officials.
Instead, he asked about the integrity of the outflow pipe in handing the extra 52 million gallons of secondary sewage that would enter the pipe. “What is the condition of the pipe now? Is there a study being prepared should the outflow pipe fail?”
Schneider maintained the original outflow pipe, built in the 1960s, was designed for a capacity of 240 million gallons daily and that, as part of the 30% design approach, robots would be sent down into the pipe to evaluate its condition to determine whether it could withstand more nitrogen.
Schneider added that the plan was to keep the Bay Park outflow pipe into West Bay open during severe storm conditions to not “overstress the Cedar Creek outflow pipe during stormy conditions. We anticipate opening the West Bay outflow pipe maybe five days a year,” he said.
Rob Weltner, president of the SPLASH (Stop Polluting Littering And Save the Harbors), which has held meetings for years over the concern of the deteriorating West Bay and the loss of sea life in it, said “This [aqueduct pipe] plan is the way to move forward.” He said the county had backed itself “into a corner” with its constant discharging and its aging infrastructure, and the plan was a safe, economical way to back itself out – at least for the time being.