2001-10-13 / Front Page

Raw Sewage Ravages The Bay

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

"Severe leaks in a 54-inch pipe that delivers wastewater from the main pumping station to treatment facilities" at the Flatlands Avenue (Brooklyn) wastewater treatment plant will cause the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to dump upwards of 60 million gallons of raw sewage into Jamaica Bay each day for three days, according to Joel Miele, the agency’s commissioner.

The plan, which has been approved by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will begin on Thursday, October 11 and continue through Saturday, October 13.

"The DEC has approved DEP’s plans and concurs that the immediate repairs and associated plant shutdown and bypass are required and that no reasonable alternative to address this emergency exists. DEC has stated that to delay undertaking the repairs could lead to a total plan failure for a more extended period of time."

The release of waste was due to begin on Wednesday, but a call to the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head, Christine Todd- Whitman, from Congressman Anthony Weiner, drew a postponement of the plan for one day "in order to give the community a chance for input and give officials a chance to warn fishermen and other users of the bay to stay away from the facility for the duration of the dump and "at least a week more."

The EPA had earlier given the DEC a "blanket approval" to close any plant on an emergency basis whenever necessary.

To stop this discharge, the EPA would have had to rescind that approval, something it was obviously not ready to undertake.

The National Park Service, which has many facilities bordering on the bay, put out a warning to those who use its facilities.

"Park visitors are advised to avoid contact with Jamaica Bay waters (including fishing) during this time period and the week of October 15, 2001," the warning states.

The DEP’s move to dump the sewage into the bay, regardless of the emergency, has angered many Rockaway residents and politicians.

"To take such an outrageous step without notifying anybody in the community that it was coming is beyond understanding," says Congressman Weiner. "They really dropped the ball on communicating about this. I am unhappy that I had to find out about it from a telephone call from a constituent."

"Whenever anybody in Rockaway or in Broad Channel wants to do some work around the bay, the DEP refuses them permits because the bay ecology is so fragile," says Liz Sulik, the president of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce. "Then, they go ahead and kill the ecosystem by dumping millions of gallons of sewage into the bay. This makes a mockery of all of their own rules."

"It’s pretty shitty," said Community Board 14 District Manager, Jonathon Gaska.

"This dumping is a showing of a failure to plan. There should have been contingency plans," says James Sanders, a candidate for City Council, "They defiled the community. They killed marine life. We have to resolve to do something so that nothing like this happens ever again."

"Once again, Rockaway has been victimized by the city," says City Council candidate Joann Ariola.

"I have three questions for the EPA," concluded Weiner. "How do you build a plant such as this without some redundancy? How do you build a plant that can’t be maintained without shutting it down? How can you dump this much sewage without communicating with the community and its elected leaders?"

Notification has become one of the major issues surrounding the dumping plan.

Most Rockaway residents first heard of the plan on Monday, when a Broad Channel resident found some NPS flyers in Brooklyn and brought them back to Broad Channel.

As far as The Wave can ascertain, no notification was made by anybody involved in either Rockaway or in Broad Channel until Wednesday, the day the plan was scheduled to begin.

At press time, Officials of the National Park Service were not available to answer questions about why no notification was made in Rockaway or Broad Channel.

Democratic District Leader Lew Simon made a number of calls to those involved in the decision to dump into the bay.

Simon told The Wave that he contacted Mark Lanigan, an official of the EPA and asked him why they were doing this.

""We have an emergency," Lanigan retorted. "What do you expect us to do?"

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