Tuesday, June 10, 2014

COA Raises Questions on Environmental and Development Impacts of Proposed Ocean Outfall for Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant at Public Hearings

The State of New York announced on April 23 that three public hearings would be held on Long Island in May to gather information and input from scientists, engineers, local government representatives, environmental groups, and the public on how to improve coastal resiliency and wastewater infrastructure on Long Island.  

One of the most controversial issues presently up for discussion is the proposed construction of an ocean outfall pipe at the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, located in Nassau County.  In addition to relocating the outfall from the Western Bays to the ocean, the current proposal includes conversion of two smaller treatment plants in the area to pumping stations, which would send their wastewater to Bay Park for ultimate ocean discharge.  

COA delivered the following oral comments during the third of the three meetings, held on May 28 at the Suffolk County Community College:

Good afternoon.  Thank you to the panel for inviting the public here today to offer their comments.  My name is Cassandra Ornell and I work as staff scientist for Clean Ocean Action, a non-profit organization.  Clean Ocean Action’s mission is to improve the marine water quality off the New York and New Jersey coasts.  We’ve been working to clean up these shared waters for over 30 years now.

I’d like to share some thoughts on the proposed ocean outfall for the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant today.  From what I’ve heard and read, it seems like we are in agreement that the Western Bays are suffering – we’ve seen this problem time and again here on Long Island as well as in New Jersey, as John Weber from Surfrider discussed.  These problems are caused by an excess of nutrient loads entering the waters, which is oftentimes linked to excessive development.

This is a problem that certainly deserves our attention, and we support the upgrading of the Bay Park Plant to tertiary treatment and denitrification of the effluent.

However, the call for an ocean outfall pipe concerns us, for several reasons.
1) The Bay Park plant currently discharges 58 million gallons per day, with a capacity of 70 million gallons per day.  What ecological impacts will relocating this source of freshwater input to the Bays have on Bay salinity and ecosystem functioning?
2) On the ocean side – have studies of localized ecological and physical impacts to the marine environment in the area of the proposed ocean outfall pipe been done?  Where will the currents take this effluent?  How will localized salinity changes impact the marine ecosystem?  What species or habitat types are present in this area?
3) Freshwater is already very scarce on Long Island – we are depleting our aquifer and saltwater intrusion is a major concern.  Given this backdrop of freshwater scarcity and aquifer depletion, I have two questions:
                a) What will be done to ensure the expansion of the plant will not increase sprawl and further aquifer depletion?
                b) How can we reasonably throw away over 50 million gallons of highly treated freshwater daily?  Once freshwater is discharged to the ocean, there is no getting it back.

This proposed destruction of invaluable freshwater resources is a huge waste.  Not to mention the estimated $690 million dollars it would cost – just to build a long pipe out to the ocean.

As such, Clean Ocean Action would like to voice our support for recycling of the treated effluent from the Bay Park plant.  I urge the County, State, and Federal agencies to fully explore all options for water recycling, including aquifer recharge, potable and non-potable reuse, and surface water and freshwater wetland recharge.  These alternatives should be evaluated now, before moving forward with a decision on the ocean outfall pipe.  

Instead of pushing our problems out to sea, let’s spend those nearly 700 million dollars on a green, sustainable solution that employs efficient use and reuse of our freshwater resources.  Long Island is at a critical juncture now, and has the chance to choose a more sustainable path and serve as a model for other communities. 
As the discussion continues, it is essential that we all recognize this as a dilemma.  While an ocean outfall may be preferred by some, ocean dumping is nothing to celebrate.  The rally cry for an ocean outfall should be tempered with the reminder that many of us have long worked to keep harmful pollution out of the New York bight.  Though cleaner than in the past, this little pocket of the ocean is suffering too - it's downstream of the most densely populated region in the US, at the receiving end of billions of gallons of wastewater, and is weakened by the adverse effects of climate change. 

The Governor’s office will host a fourth meeting in June (date and location TBD) to announce their recommendations for improvement of wastewater and septic system issues on the island.  For more information on meetings held to date, how to submit your own comments, and the schedule for the final meeting in the series, click here.

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