1999-07-17 / Front Page

Judge Says City Polluted Jamaica Bay

A State Supreme Court judge has ruled in favor of the state in an action charging New York City with repeated violations of state wastewater discharge laws at eight city sewage treatment plants.

Justice Richard F. Braun granted a motion for summary judgment brought by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner John P. Cahill. The Manhatten Court ruled that the city was liable for discharging illegal amounts of nitrogen into the East River, which flows into Long Island Sound, and into the Jamaica Bay. The city could be fined millions of dollars for its actions.

"The case is a major victory for all New Yorkers who believe our fish and other marine life must be protected from wastewater contaminants," said Spitzer. "Our court action will ensure that the City lives up to its obligation to keep our water clean and healthy. While the City has made some progress in this regard, it must be more careful and committed in its efforts to restore our waters."

DEC Commissioner Cahill said: "The water quality improvements that will result from the success of this case will contribute significantly to Governor George Pataki’s longstanding efforts to restore Long Island Sound and preserve it for generations to come, rejuvenating businesses and communities in the process. We look forward to continuing to work with New York City and other local governments to ensure that New York State’s natural resources are protected."

The city faces potential penalties of $25,000 per day for each violation of a permit limitation or requirement. The Court found the city liable for 205 distinct violations.

At the request of DEC, the Attorney General’s office filed the lawsuit against the city in March 1998 seeking penalties and an injunction requiring the city to reduce its discharges of nitrogen and other pollutants to levels set in DEC discharge permits.

Justice Brown concluded that the City not only violated the nitrogen limits, but also numerous sampling, recording, reporting ,and operational requirements of the permits.

"Fish and other marine life are harmed when nitrogen reduces the oxygen in coastal waters," added Spitzer. "The State has committed millions of dollars to restoring the health of Long Island Sound and the Jamaica Bay. The decision will help ensure that New York City does its part as well."

The City agreed to the terms of the permits, which were issued in 1994. Although the new permits gave the City until 1996 to meet the nitrogen levels, and the City had begun a series of studies and pilot projects in the early 1990’s in anticipation of the nitrogen requirements, the City failed to achieve compliance.

Violations involve eight city sewage treatment plants. Four plants-the Bowery Bay and Tallman Island plants in Queens, Hunt’s Point plant in the Bronx, and the Wards Island plant in Manhatten-discharge into the upper East River and Long Island Sound. The other four-the Coney Island and 26 Ward plants in Brooklyn, and the Jamaica Bay and Rockaway plants in Queens-discharge into Jamaica Bay.

The court called for further proceedings to establish penalties. No hearing dates have been set.

The case handled for the Attorney General’s office by Assistant Attorneys General Andrew J. Gershon and Gordon J. Johnson. DEC’s Regional Attorney for Region II, Laurieann Silberfeld, and DEC Engineers Timothy Burns and Joseph DiMura assisted in the prosecution.

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