Following years of urging, and currently amid illegal discharges of sludge into a popular waterway and fishing waters, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally released long-overdue grant money for upgrades to Nassau County’s troubled wastewater treatment plants Cedar Creek and Bay Park.
The federal environmental enforcement and regulatory body is releasing $11 million worth of grant money that had been awarded to Nassau in the mid-1980s for multi-million dollar upgrades made to its Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant in Wantagh and Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant under a now-defunct EPA Sewer Infrastructure program but had never been disbursed. The EPA owes Nassau $20 million in total for the unreimbursed work.
Efforts to pressure the EPA to release the funds were spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer. The news comes while Bay Park continues to illegally discharge and sludge into Reynolds Channel, a several-mile-long strait connecting the Atlantic Ocean to Broad Channel and Nassau County’s network of Western Bays.
“After years of pressing the EPA to release these funds, the check for Nassau ratepayers is, finally, in the mail,” Schumer said in a statement. “These funds will be used to address major sewer infrastructure issues and will provide the county with long-overdue resources to address urgent problems like the leak at Reynolds Channel.”
“Thanks to Senator Schumer’s years of hard work, Nassau taxpayers are finally getting paid back what they are owed,” added County Executive Edward Mangano in a statement. “This vital funding will allow us to immediately improve the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant and other County infrastructure that crumbled due to neglect over the past decade.”
Mangano met with Schumer and other officials in May to press EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for a review of the grant awards and to release the long-overdue funding. Schumer urged the EPA again last month to expedite the process, according to his press office.
The release of the EPA funding also comes less than a week after a Press cover story [“Wasteland,” Dec. 16, 2010] highlighting the illegal expulsions and in the wake of three previous cover stories exposing myriad health and safety concerns for plant workers, the public and environment, at both Cedar Creek and Bay Park facilities [“Toxic Offender,” Sept. 22, 2005, “Toxic Time Bomb,” April 29, 2010 and “Death Threats, Demands & Inquiries,” July 29, 2010].
County officials told the Press during a recent tour of the troubled Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant that if Schumer were successful in prying the EPA money loose, the funds would immediately go toward critical upgrades to repair the facility, which a Press investigation has discovered suffered from years of gross neglect, understaffing and mismanagement—and which county officials only recently stated has been spewing illegal excretions intermittently since 1988.
The admission was the first time an official had acknowledged such a mass breach of legal effluent (what’s coming out of the plant) limits publicly, though the Press probe discovered both county officials and state regulators have known about such discharges for years and yet have never informed the public, issued warnings or shut down fishing grounds.
Bay Park’s excretions have spawned mammoth swells of toxic, hydrogen sulfide-emitting seaweed in Point Lookout that choke both residents and marine life.
News of Bay Park’s $11 million shot in the arm is music to the ears of Scott Bochner, a lifelong Long Beach resident who has been documenting the sludge slicks since the summer from his rooftop deck and posting video footage of them on YouTube since September. He tells the Press there was another small spill into the channel on the same day the belated funding was announced.
“That’s fantastic!” he tells the Press of the EPA funds. “It’s great! It’s a fantastic thing. It’s a step in the right direction. It’s obvious that the plant needs it.”
Yet while the immediate repairs to Bay Park are now well underway, warning signs have still not been posted, nor health announcements issued to the dozens of fishermen frequenting nearby Magnolia Pier, a popular fishing spot immediately downstream from the illegal stew—many of whom still feed their families with the sludge-marinated catch.
“It’s a health issue and they need to post it,” says Bochner, adding that days following the latest Press story he attended a meeting with various county and elected officials at Mangano’s Mineola offices that included discussions about the health department potentially telling the public of illegal discharges after the county informs the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Schumer says he will continue to fight for the remaining $9 million owed to Nassau taxpayers.