2010-11-05 / Top Stories

Breezy Point Turns Down Vacuum Sewer Project

By Howard Schwach

Stockholders in the Breezy Point Cooperative, the gated community at the far western end of the Rockaway peninsula, have turned down a controversial vacuum sewer project that would have replaced the septic systems now in place.

After a contentious debate that promised to split the community, the votes have been counted, and the sewer plan proposed by the coop’s Sewer Committee has been defeated by a count of 2,011 to 389, according to local sources. Approximately 85 percent of the stockholders voted on the question.

The sewer issue has always been a contentious one in Breezy Point, with at least one resident who favored sewers forced to sell his home and leave the community.

The most recent plan called for an untested and yet-unlicensed vacuum sewer project that would have sucked the waste from homes and sent it to central collection points.

In a vacuum sewer system gravity lines carry wastewater from the source to a sump. When 10 gallons of wastewater collects in the sump, the system valve opens and differential pressure propels the contents into the wastewater collection tank. From there, wastewater travels at 15 to 18 feet per second in the vacuum main to the vacuum station. The vacuum main is laid in a sawtooth fashion to ensure adequate vacuum levels at the end of each line.

The vacuum pumps cycle on and off as needed to maintain a constant level of vacuum on the entire system. Wastewater enters the collection tank and when the tank fills to a predetermined level, sewage pumps transfer the contents to the treatment plant via a force main.

Such systems are not regularly in use in New York State, a source said. A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency said that the cooperative would need a permit from his agency to operate such a system, and that no such permit had been sought.

One cooperative resident, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the debate, said that it would have cost him nearly $20,000 at the outset, money he does not have.

“Many of the homeowners here are senior citizens on fixed incomes,” he said. “There was no way they were going to approve a massive amount of expenditures when we really don’t need the sewers in the first place.”

Ellen McCarthy, an attorney and community activist, wrote about the controversy in a recent Rockaway Point News column.

“Throughout the entire debate, it has been interesting to observe that those opposed to the proposed vacuum sewer system have consistently presented well-researched facts establishing that the proposed system is wrong for our community,” she wrote. “The proponents of the sewer system, on the other hand, have presented no factual support for their position; instead, they have merely fallen back on calling the other side names, such as ‘outrageous.”

Cooperative officials declined to comment on the vote.

Marty Ingram, who served as the chairman of the Sewer Committee, did not return calls for comment.

A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency said that he could find no record of problems caused in either Jamaica Bay or the Atlantic Ocean by the existing systems.

Sources say that no future vote on a sewer system for the cooperative is contemplated.

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