Jim Hangley fishes in Reynolds Channel and his children swim there. But for the past six months, he and his neighbors who live on the bay in Long Beach have notified government officials about a visible gray-brown plume that is discharged daily into the bay.
"It's the toilets of Nassau County flushing out right behind my house," Hangley said at a press conference held on West Bay Drive with the bay as the backdrop Tuesday afternoon.
Hangley is part of an ad hoc group of residents, activists and elected officials, dubbed Sludge Stoppers, who are calling on Nassau County to hold public hearings about this discharge of sewage.
Nassau County Legislator David Denenberg led the charge that the county-operated Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, located on the bay in East Rockaway, has discharged illegally excessive amounts of solid waste from an outflow pipe on Reynolds Channel since March, but has failed to notify the public, the county Department of Health and the legislature about these violations.
"We wanted an investigation so that never again will violations continue for months without notice and without proper warning," Denenberg said.
The sewage facility has six tanks but two are inoperable, and consequently the sewage is discharged into the bay. Denenberg said the county's Department of Public Works operates the facility and must report any violations to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and that both agencies should report violations to the county Department of Health and the public.
"I'm trying to figure out after six or seven letters and months of emails, whether the Department of Health was told about this," Denenberg said. " … Where the reporting and notice fell off, none of us knows."
Aphrodite Montalvo, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said that in April the DEC was taking "enforcement action" against the Bay Park plant because it was not addressing the "minor but chronic problem" of the solid waste discharged into the bay. Then the DEC received a complaint on Oct. 18 and a subsequent inspection revealed solid waste was being discharged into the channel.
The DEC recently inspected the plant and determined that the conditions have deteriorated substantially from a March inspection, and that the plant was pumping out a much higher concentration of solid waste than the average allowed per month, according to DEC officials.
DEC officials met with the commissioner of Public Works on Oct. 22, and demanded emergency response measures. The county implemented some of those measures to eliminate the excessive discharge of wastes, but the DEC's follow-up inspections determined that those temporary measures failed to stop the daily dumping into the bay, and is demanding additional action.
Meanwhile, Sludge Stoppers is requesting that residents sign an online petition that calls on the county to release information to the public, and that the legislature hold a public hearing.
"We want an investigation and we want hearings as to what needs to be done to get this to stop, and it has to stop immediately," Denenberg said.
The legislator said that temporary tanks might be used until the inoperable tanks can be fully repaired and brought back online. "That's why we want a hearing, so the public can hear what the solutions are," Denenberg said.
Legislator Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) said that the legislators will meet with County Executive Ed Mangano and department heads to discuss these issues. "They can explain what's being done and what we need to do in the future, and then from there we can decide whether or not to have a public hearing to alert the public as to what's going on," Ford said.
Denenberg said that he and his fellow legislators only learned about this issue from Scott Bochner, whose West Pine Street home overlooks the bay. Bochner videotaped the sewage being dumped into the channel, posted it on YouTube and emailed it to government officials at various levels in September.
"All of these months have been nothing more than a bureaucratic problem," Bochner said.
"Maybe it should be a private company that runs [the facility], because then the DEC can fine them," he added. "If this was a private company, the DEC told me themselves it would have been shut down immediately. It would have been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars a day."
Sludge Stoppers at Tuesday's press conference:
- Rob Welter, president of Operation SPLASH
- Gerald Ottavino, president of Point Lookout Civic Association
- Scott Bochner, Long Beach resident whose home overlooks Reynolds Channel
- Jim Hangley, Long Beach resident whose home overlooks Reynolds Channel
- Nassau County Legislator Dave Denenberg
- Long Beach City Council member Len Torres
- Claudia Borecky, president of the North Merrick Community Association
* Jeff Lipton contributed to this story.