A group of environmentalists, residents and local politicians Tuesday demanded that Nassau County immediately take steps to stop a county-owned and operated sewage treatment plant from illegally discharging sludge into Reynolds Channel, a practice that has been ongoing since at least October.
The Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, which treats nearly half of Nassau's sewage, has been violating state environmental laws by allowing "massive amounts of solids" to be released after treatment into Reynolds Channel, according to the state Department Environmental Conservation.
"During the day, the plant occasionally allows a large concentration of solids to bypass that results in a brown plume. That brown plume can be seen a quarter mile down the channel," said William Spitz, regional water manager for the DEC. "At the outfall, it smells like sewage."
Mike Martino, a spokesman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, said the administration is in the process of signing a contract with Synagro Northeast to provide temporary equipment at the facility.
Delivery of two mobile units, called gravity belt thickeners, is expected by mid-December, according to Spitz and Martino. The units are designed to separate solids from wastewater, after which only the water is discharged into the channel.
Residents said they have seen the water in Reynolds Channel turn brown since the summer. Spitz said the DEC became aware of the brown plumes on Oct. 18, and DEC inspectors examined the facility the next day. No single factor or failed piece of equipment caused the brown plumes, he said.
"Instead, it seemed several critical components of the plant were either off-line (in disrepair) or operating at only a fraction of rated capacity," Spitz said.
On Oct. 28, Nassau responded to DEC demands by agreeing to truck solids to Cedar Creek Sewage Treatment Plant and to begin using a chemical coagulant additive to help separate solids from wastewater.
The twin solutions, however, did not resolve the problem at the Bay Park plant, Spitz said.
On Nov. 4, the DEC issued a formal notice of violation against Nassau, again insisting that emergency measures be undertaken, Spitz said. On Nov. 18, Spitz said, county officials informed his office that the gravity belt thickeners, which would help reduce the volume of sludge, would be brought in.
"We are cautiously optimistic when all those elements are brought to bear, the brown plumes will stop," Spitz said.
The environmentalists, residents and politicians are urging the public to sign an online petition calling on county lawmakers to hold a public hearing.
Leg. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) said he has repeatedly called for a hearing but so far none has taken place.
"I repeat my demands for an investigation, a hearing and for full disclosure of what is going on," he said.