Police and Thieves
The Press article and accompanying mini-documentary details hazards at the facility, ranging from aforementioned inoperative methane gas valves that have been dysfunctional for years, to multi-million dollar taxpayer-financed equipment prematurely broken down and out of service due to neglect or willful abandon, among many, many other issues, according to records. The story raises serious questions about what exactly is being flushed from the plant’s outflow pipe into the waters two miles offshore Jones Beach Field Six. It also highlights the need—and desire, among residents, watchdogs, environmentalists and legislators—for accountability.
Since our April publication, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office has been investigating the matter. So has the tri-state Interstate Environmental Commission, which sent an additional team of agents to take samples at Cedar Creek July 27, according to Peter Sattler, its principal environmental planner. He adds that Bay Park is next on the list. The criminal division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also been reviewing the Press’ findings.
The New York State (NYS) Department of Labor Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau (PESH), the public, local arm of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has issued another Notice of Violation and Order to Comply to the county for dangers at the plant, citing 10 hazardous violations for plant workers (five deemed “serious”). Cedar Creek was issued a similar order in February, which found 26 violations, 22 declared “serious.” The plant (really, county taxpayers) has been fined due to non-abatement of at least one of those violations so far.
Among the latest round of hazards: no “suitable facilities for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes and body” where employees were exposed to “injurious corrosive materials” for immediate emergency use, no monthly inspections of critical self-contained breathing apparatus, and (ironic, being it’s a sewage plant) “lavatories were not provided with hot and cold, or tepid running water.” Agents observed “human fecal matter was lying on the floor” in several buildings, the report states.
In addition, PESH issued violations and an order to comply July 26 based on the findings of an April 2 inspection. Three were “serious,” spokeswoman Karen Williamson tells the Press.
PESH hasn’t inspected Bay Park since 1996, she adds.
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has also taken action.
On June 3, the agency issued a letter and Inspection Report to Cotugno (who also oversees Bay Park), containing the findings of an April 7 inspection it conducted at Cedar Creek. The report is loaded with a laundry list of equipment “observed as either inoperable, or need repair/replacement,” along with “the approximate length of time those equipments are out of service or in need of repair/replacement.”
The report, obtained by the Press, includes, for example:
Grit Tank Unit # 2 [grit tanks remove solids from the wastewater as it flows through the plant] is listed as being out of service for more than six months.
Another grit tank, # 1, is listed as being down for “more than one (1) month.”
Primary tanks # 7 and # 8 [which remove sludge and scum from the flow], it states as being out of service for seven and six months, respectively.
Final Tank Unit # 3 [one of the last stages of treatment before the flow is discharged into the ocean] is flagged as being inoperable for more than two and a half years.
One of the outfall pumps (# 3) that pushes the treated wastewater, called effluent, out, has been down for “more than six (6) months,” the report found.
And Cedar Creek’s “Total Residual Chlorine (TRC) analyzer 15-minute read out function is not working,” it states. Additionally, “Direct reading from another TRC analyzer is producing incorrect information and thus was not being used.” These measure how much chlorine should be used to kill bacteria in the wastewater that’s eventually flushed into the Atlantic Ocean.
The correspondence demands Cotugno submit “a corrective action plan with implementation schedule to address all noted deficiencies” by July 16 for review and approval.
He and Nassau’s Chief Sanitary Engineer Joseph Davenport were grilled for more than three hours about Cedar Creek’s many woes during a February hearing before two subcommittees of the Nassau County Legislature. That session resulted in a loaded report sent to Mangano. Among its conclusions—stressed by county legislators on both sides of the aisle—is that Cotugno and his crew need to be replaced in order for conditions at the plants to improve. That never happened. But Raymond Ribeiro, Nassau’s former DPW commissioner, recently the deputy to new Commissioner Shila Shah-Gavnoudias, has left the county’s service in the wake of the Press story.
The DEC’s discoveries mirror many of the Press investigation’s findings: “Insufficient Preventive Maintenance;” myriad problems with “Building/Grounds/Housekeeping,” such as flooded floor drains; and inadequate “Process Control Sampling,” referring to the negative effects of farming out time-sensitive test samples to an outside laboratory instead of performing said tests in-house.
Overall, explains Jim Tierney, assistant commissioner for water resources at the DEC, Cedar Creek was given an across-the-board “Unsatisfactory” rating.
“There was an April 7 inspection [by the DEC],” Tierney tells the Press. “And confirming a lot of the items that were discussed in your article, they found a lot of equipment that was out of service. So the plant was losing what they call its redundant capacity. That’s a bad thing because then you’re operating on a thinner margin of error.”
Cotugno just scraped by, literally—responding via certified mail on July 16 (which was also obtained by the Press). Had he not met the deadline, the agency would have issued a formal Notice of Violation (NOV), initiating a formal enforcement action, DEC Citizen Participation Specialist Aphrodite Montalvo informs the Press. Non-compliance would have resulted in even more of the taxpayers’ hard-earned cash being flushed down the proverbial toilet.
“If the NOV is not complied with, the case will be formally referred to DEC’s legal department where charges can be levied,” she explains. “Potential fines for this case would be a maximum of $37,500 per violation per day.”