'Green ecosystem' plan offered at hearing

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In the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, Long Island sewage treatment plants should be rebuilt above sea level and a "green ecosystem" of oyster reefs and wetlands bolstered to reduce tidal surges.

Those were among the suggestions given by a dozen environmental advocates, conservationists and scientists who testified Wednesday before the state Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation in Manhattan.

"This is very scary and terrifying, but it means Long Island has to take action and stop talking," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Farmingdale.

The four-hour hearing focused on the "devastating environmental impact of extreme weather events" -- and how government can help protect residents and businesses. Sandy, which struck Oct. 29, destroyed tens of thousands of homes in New York and New Jersey.

Committee chairman Bob Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) asked, "Where should we prioritize in spending this money?"

Esposito suggested rebuilding treatment plants "above sea level and the wave mark."

She showed committee members photographs showing raw sewage pouring out of a damaged pipe at the Bay Park sewage treatment plant. She said a 91/2-foot wave devastated the facility, which was built below sea level.

Causing another public health risk, thousands of gallons of home heating oil also spilled into streets during the flooding. Esposito said the state should help homeowners build raised concrete foundations to securely mount their oil tanks.

Scientists and environmental engineers said expanding the region's "green ecosystem" will help reduce damaging tidal surges caused by future storms.

Stuart Gruskin, of The Nature Conservancy in New York, said towns and villages should review their wetland maps to make sure they are not building near them.

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Philip Orton, a research scientist at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., said restoring wetlands to a minimum width of 2.7 miles "can reduce waves and stop the rapid movement of water."

Benjamin Strauss, director of the Princeton, N.J.-based research group Climate Central, said sea levels are rising, as are the number of punishing storms "as the climate heats up."

The panel's next hearing is Jan. 30 at Babylon Town Hall in Lindenhurst.

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