Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano Wednesday pledged to clean up homes in Baldwin and East Rockaway that were flooded by raw sewage during superstorm Sandy -- houses he said should not be occupied until they are restored.
He also announced that a team of consultants from county, state and federal governments and the public sector were evaluating flood damage to the stricken Bay Park Sewage Treatment Center, where efforts to build a temporary system to fully treat sewage could take as long as two months.
Sandy sent a 9-foot wall of water into the East Rockaway treatment plant, knocking out power and damaging equipment. Two pipes ruptured under the storm pressure and sent raw sewage into homes in Baldwin and East Rockaway.
"It's catastrophic damage that is a health safety issue," Mangano said after touring the areas with town, county, state and federal officials. He declared homes hit by sewage to be a public health emergency.
"My heart breaks to see the homes in this condition . . . and our residents to be subjected to that degree of pain and suffering."
Mangano's visit followed Newsday's report Wednesday about the frustrations of residents and elected officials who said no agency would take responsibility for the cleanup or answer their questions.
"It's progress," Baldwin resident Richard Barone said of the promise to clean up the homes. "No question about it. Progress happened today."
Mangano first visited the home of Jeffrey and Erica Press, who have been living with friends and afraid to return to their house.
"He walked inside my house, stopped at my threshold and said 'I don't need to go any further -- this is a total loss,' " Erica Press said.
The assessment teams, including health officials, an environmental hygienist and contractors, will evaluate homes, determine the work needed and start restoration.
Mangano's declaration of a health safety emergency triggered a FEMA program that splits costs between federal funds and the state and county.
"There's 50 households counting on them to follow through," Press said of the Baldwin neighborhood around Barnes Avenue.
It's unclear how long the assessments will take. The teams will focus on homes near the pipe bursts and fan out into neighborhoods until they stop finding sewage contamination.
"We are slowly emerging from survival to revival," said Legis. Joseph Scannell (D-Baldwin), who also praised agencies for "coming together to restore a community that was knocked to its knees by a superstorm and a failed sewage system."
Emergency repairs are estimated to cost $20 million, said Mike Martino, the county's Department of Public Works spokesman. Long-term restoration costs haven't been calculated. Mangano has requested federal funds.
"It's not just a matter of fixing the parts," Mangano said. "The areas that these are in now post-Sandy are subject to possible saltwater intrusion."
Since Nov. 1, the plant has been removing solids and chlorinating sewage, but not fully treating about 65 million gallons a day before releasing the partially treated sludge into Reynolds Channel, which ultimately flows into the Atlantic Ocean. In a month, that amounts to 1.95 billion gallons.
Environmentalists and the county say one result of Sandy may be that Bay Park gets the upgrades it has needed.
"I want to believe it will happen," said Rob Weltner, president of the nonprofit Operation Stop Polluting, Littering And Save Harbors. "I'm going to do my best to make sure it happens."