Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano issued a Public Health Emergency Wednesday afternoon in response to a catastrophic sewage treatment failure at its Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant. Among other actions, he announced the drastic measure of diverting raw sewage into Rockaway Channel to prevent it from backing up into residents’ homes.
The warning comes less than a day after Nassau health officials directed hundreds of thousands of residents serviced by the plant to conserve water.
“At this time, the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant is not operational and therefore cannot treat sewerage,” Mangano said in a statement Tuesday night.
Long Beach and Mill Neck residents had previously been advised not to use tap water for any reason due to the contamination.
“To protect the health of residents and stop sewage from backing up into homes, hospitals, schools, firehouses, nursing homes and restaurants, Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano announced today that the county and state critical response teams, aided by Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are relieving sewage pressure values throughout the Bay Park Sewage Treatment System and securing pumps to divert sewage from backing up into houses and streets,” reads the county executive’s official statement announcing the latest move, which is referred to as a “three-part Mitigation Plan” being initiated by a critical response team of engineers.
In addition to the “immediate” diversion of raw sewage into the channel, the plan calls for triage repairs to the plant that will enable “partial treatment of sewage” within the next 30 days.
Residents can expect “comprehensive repair of the facility” during the next six to 12 months, it reads. Initial assessments indicate that full repair will require replacement parts to be engineered, manufactured and replaced. The assessment process is “ongoing,” it states, crediting the critical failure of the plant to damage sustained by Hurricane Sandy’s “tidal surges” and resultant “flooding.”
Mangano’s alert includes the following advisories for residents from the Nassau County commissioner of health:
- Avoid contact with sewage that may back up at manhole covers and basement drains.
- Wear gloves and use soap and water for any required cleanup, followed by disinfecting the area with a 10-percent household bleach solution.
- Items that cannot be cleaned must be discarded.
In addition, a Conserve Water Order is now active and residents of the Bay Park Sewage District are directed to:
- Limit laundry and washer/dryer usage to full loads.
- Shorten shower time.
- Limit flushing toilets.
Although the county is blaming Hurricane Sandy for this meltdown, it will come as no surprise to the residents who have been complaining about the plant’s dismal conditions for years.
A 2010 Long Island Press investigation into Nassau’s Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant and Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant exposed myriad public health and safety hazards at both facilities including: gross mismanagement by local, state and federal officials; unintentional or willful neglect by plant supervisors; critical, multi-million-dollar taxpayer-funded equipment in disrepair; a near-complete lack of preventive maintenance, the equivalent of changing one’s oil in a vehicle so it doesn’t completely break down; a culture of retaliation against those who spoke up.
Gas valves critical to regulating the flow of methane into surrounding communities went un-serviced and unchecked for years at Cedar Creek and were rendered inoperable.
Local, state and federal regulators, along with county sewage supervisors and others, had known for years that Bay Park had been excreting illegal discharges into nearby Reynolds Channel—a popular fishing spot—yet had never alerted the public or closed the fishing grounds.
Mangano has been pursuing the potential privatization of the county’s $1.3 billion sewage treatment system since last year. The plan has been panned by environmental watchdogs, economics and law experts, and the county’s state-mandated fiscal control board Nassau Interim Finance Authority, among others.