Bay Park sewage plant returning to pre-storm operations

The Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant at 1

The Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant at 1 1st Avenue, East Rockaway. (Nov. 14, 2012) (Credit: Doug Kuntz)

The Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant is nearing normal wastewater treatment levels, seven weeks after superstorm Sandy flooded the plant and shut down equipment.

A series of repairs, replacement equipment and mobile machinery have returned Bay Park, which serves about 40 percent of Nassau County residents, almost to pre-storm operations, officials said.

The storm damage left partially treated sewage being discharged into Reynolds Channel and ultimately into the Atlantic Ocean. Pipe damage flooded Baldwin and East Rockaway neighborhoods with sewage.

County officials are looking toward rebuilding the plant with a wary eye on the sea, future storms and the corroding dangers of saltwater.

Nassau worked with several contractors, federal and state officials, and has requested $898 million in federal assistance to help redesign and rebuild the aging East Rockaway facility, County Executive Edward Mangano said.

Permanent repairs and updates could take 36 months to fully implement.

"You're not talking about it just as a repair," Mangano said. "You want to mitigate now for what could be future storms of this magnitude."

Renovations will likely include raising some of the equipment that is located below sea level.

"Critical infrastructure now exists in the path of salt water, which comprises the safety of the plants and the public health," Mangano said.

When Sandy hit on Oct. 29, a 9-foot wave flooded nearly 75 percent of the 30-plus acre facility within minutes, officials said.

"It was a little unbelievable, a little unimaginable," Mike Fasano, superintendent of building operations and maintenance at the plant, said. "The plant was here since 1949 and they never lost it because of the tide."

A pumping station, which brings in wastewater from about 1,500 miles of sewer pipes, failed. An estimated 68 million gallons of untreated sewage was released. The pipe ruptures in East Rockaway and Baldwin sent sewage into the streets.

Two days after the storm, Bay Park was removing solids in the water and adding chlorination but not fully treating sewage. In the following days and weeks, portable sludge dewatering machines, generators and new components were brought into the plant. Settling tanks were drained, and workers started replacing electrical components and other equipment.

"This was really a monumental effort," Mangano said.

Nassau officials still support creating a public-private partnership that would give the county control over the rates but bring in outside experts to operate the plant.

"Our goal is to move forward with a system that is better both structurally and operationally," Mangano said.

Earlier this year, the county selected United Water to run the plant but never entered into a contract with the New Jersey-based water and wastewater management firm. In May, Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which oversees county finances, rejected the county's effort to privatize the sewer system.

County officials said they would still pursue a partnership.

Environmental groups support privatization.

"Sewage treatment is one of the county's biggest challenges, and getting outside assistance would appear to be a good idea," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "The county has ignored this facility for too long and has done so at the cost of health and environmental quality."

Esposito's group, Operation Stop Polluting Littering And Save Harbors (SPLASH) and other organizations Wednesday morning are to announce proposals to modernize Bay Bark and the improve water quality in nearby Western Bays.

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