2006-07-14 / Community

Does the DEP Plant Have A Hurricane Plan?

By Brian Magoolaghan

What's the plan for the Rockaway Water Pollution Control Plant in the event of a hurricane? That's what community board and Councilman Joseph Addabbo Jr. want to know.

Doubt over how the plant would weather a severe storm surfaced at a community board meeting June 13, when Maryann E. Marrocolo, the Office of Emergency Management's Director or Plan Management, presented the city's revamped plan.

A local Department of Environmental Protection worker said DEP, which operates the plant, has no emergency plan, and Marrocolo admitted that a question mark still looms over what her agency and DEP would do in the event of an evacuation and/or severe flooding at the water treatment facility that has a capacity of 45 million gallons per day.

"We recognize that it's an issue and we're working with DEP," Marrocolo told the capacity crowd at the CB14 meeting.

The response prompted CB14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska to write to DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd to ask for a meeting between DEP, CB14 and local elected officials, but one has not been scheduled yet.

"It was clear by OEM's response that neither they nor your agency has a well thought out plan to restart the plant after the flooding from a hurricane recedes," Gaska write in a letter dated June 30. "Most of the electric pumps and equipment will be rendered useless after the storm. When the Mayor deems it safe for residents to return, they will be unable to stay if the plant is not functioning."

It could be worse than that. Flooding at the plant, located on Beach Channel Drive between Beach 108 and 106 Streets, could send untreated wastewater into the floodwater and cause backups into homes on the peninsula, a local DEP worker said at the June meeting. That could cause disease and even death.

Addabbo said this in his letter to DEP: "I am respectfully requesting information on plans or preparations DEP is making in the event of an emergency or evacuation of the Rockaway peninsula," he wrote in a letter dated July 6. Natalie Milner, a spokesperson for DEP, told The Wave this week that the safety of personnel at the plant would be first priority during a storm. If an evacuation of the peninsula is ordered, she said, staffers would leave and return as soon as it was deemed safe. She said an auxiliary or external pump system could be used if the plant's pumps were out of commission. Milner also pointed out that the plant, built in 1952, has "survived many storms."

OEM told The Wave this week that they're still in the process of figuring out a plan with DEP.

"We've had DEP in here a number of times," said OEM spokesperson Jarrod Berstein. "It's a continuing process." Bernstein mentioned a tabletop ambulance exercise the agency was running though on Tuesday. "We're not on summer vacation," he said.

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