Shockingly—and just as the aforementioned spills, unreported to residents of surrounding communities, let alone anyone who happened to be fishing nearby—the DEC tells the Press that Bay Park had a 3.5 million gallon overflow this past March.
“The 3.5 million gallons of treated effluent entered the East Rockaway Channel,” writes Montalvo. “Approximately 5 inches of rain fell during that rain event.”
When informed of the overflow by the Press, Dunne says,“I’m not happy to hear this at all.” Dunne has been an outspoken critic of Cotugno and Suozzi’s administration’s operation of Bay Park and Cedar Creek for years, and has accompanied the Press within the latter on several tours. “That’s not fair to the community, to the people who live in the area, and it’s not fair to—oh my God, the waterways.
“How much was it treated?” Dunne asks. “Treated could be it went through the first treatment of five different phases.”
Longtime environmentalist Morris Kramer of Atlantic Beach has dedicated the past 45 years of his life to protecting the ocean, the Western Bays and Long Island’s water supplies. He responds to news of the March overflow with short, concise words.
“Fucking outrage,” he says, bluntly. “But it’s to be expected.
“This is also what caused a major fish kill some years ago,” he explains. “There was a discharge or leak into East Rockaway Channel, the high tide pushed it further toward Atlantic Avenue. It destroyed the oxygen in the water, and massive numbers of fish died. The story put out was that it was naturally caused.”
Kramer tells the Press that Bay Park and other sewage plants releasing their outflow on the South Shore have been slowly killing the bays and its marine inhabitants for decades. Unlike Cedar Creek, which empties its treated wastewater off Jones Beach Field Six, Bay Park—permitted by the DEC to receive and treat up to 70 million gallons per day (mgd) of sewage and wastewater sent from the drains and toilets of countless homes in southwest Nassau—flushes its daily load into Reynolds Channel, a strait separating Long Beach, Atlantic Beach and Lido Beach from mainland Long Island. It spans from the East Rockaway Inlet to Point Lookout.
So, instead of its outflow having even the possibility of being swept far out to sea, Bay Park’s constant stream flows directly into the area’s bays and inlets. It backs up even further inland depending on tides and weather.
One need only visit parts of the plant’s outwash to witness its effects firsthand, he explains. The Press did just that last month, walking along what from a short distance away looked like a bright, green field on a dark sandy beach near Point Lookout. This was not Yankees Stadium, however. This was, explained Kramer, mega seaweed—the result of undissolved organic nutrients being pumped out into the water from Bay Park and spawning the vegetation’s massive growth.
Being low tide, the greenish mass spanned about a football field’s length across water and shore, bunching and clumping together, piling up in 3- and 4-foot high swaths in the shadow of multi-million-dollar beachfront homes. The mounds along the water were bright, shining green. The wads along the shore were a thick, mud-desert brown that crackled beneath our feet.
The smell—a flammable, poisonous and deadly gas called hydrogen sulfide—was ferociously omnipresent. The NYS Department of Health warns that varying degrees of exposure can cause chemical changes in human blood and muscles to eye irritation, to lung damage and nervous system failure.
After about 20 minutes, this reporter got dizzy.
“It’s going to require bulldozers and trucks to clean this stuff up,” said Kramer. “This is all because of Bay Park.
“We have a hospital, a nursing home, four schools and two churches a few feet from the bay,” he explains. “An Island Park nursing home is by the bay.
“Anyone who states that the seaweed is caused by runoff is either misinformed or straight-out lying,” he adds. “It does not rain 365 days a year.”
In the bays, he explains, pollutants in the plant’s outflow and the resulting seaweed suffocate marine life and decimate shellfish and other bountiful natural resources. And though it’s tough to identify exactly what other pollutants lurk below the surface of the bays, Robert Weltner, president of Freeport-based nonprofit Operation S.P.L.A.S.H. (Stop Polluting Littering And Save Harbors) has a pretty good idea how much they flood the waterways there.
The combined daily outflow of Bay Park and nearby Long Beach wastewater treatment plant, he says, is “the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez coming into that little spot in the bay and opening up its hull every single day; 62 million gallons.”
Weltner stood alongside Point Lookout Civic Association Board Member Gerry Ottavino, environmentalists and a handful of local politicians on a pier in Long Beach last month in a public show of support for a state-funded study that will finally document those toxic ingredients. Approved in 2007, the required research funds have been held up in Albany.
“Back in 1999, and then later in 2006, DEC cleared these bays from their impaired list,” said Ottavino. “It was impaired once for pathogens, and once for nutrients. This has got to stop. That’s 10 years without assessment, and without remediation. So, Albany: Stop the delay and let’s get moving!”
While the push is on to identify the pollutants muddying the waters off Bay Park’s sewage treatment plant, watchdogs of Cedar Creek’s ailing infrastructure are also demanding immediate action to avert potential disaster similar or worse than that of 34 years ago.