Nassau Dems press for hearings on Bay Park sewage plant repairs

Shown are digestor tanks at the Bay Park

Shown are digestor tanks at the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant in East Rockaway. At right is a 60-foot-high gas sphere on March 9, 2011. (Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin)

Democrats in the Nassau County Legislature repeated their call Monday for the GOP majority to hold special hearings on major county issues, starting with the $850 million rebuilding of the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) raised the issue when a legislative committee considered a $604,194 contract increase for the design of a new grit removal facility at the plant, which was damaged heavily in superstorm Sandy.

Abrahams said that when the legislature approved $262 million in borrowing last summer for Bay Park repairs, aides to Republican County Executive Edward Mangano said the bonding would cover the $19 million for grit removal, and that the work was eligible for federal disaster reimbursement.

On Monday, Mangano aides told lawmakers that the grit removal project had nothing to do with Sandy, and had been in the works since 2010. Brian Schneider, a Public Works Department official, said he could not comment on the administration's testimony last year, but said officials would review it and report back to the legislature.

"This is why we need hearings, because trying to get information on the fly is ridiculous," Abrahams said.

Democrats have made special legislative hearings their major goal for the new session, but Republicans, who hold an 11-7 majority, with one open seat, have yet to schedule any.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) told Abrahams Monday she'd consider requests for hearings held "in a timely fashion," but didn't think the Bay Park issue was one.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Saturday that the federal government has approved at least $730 million in grants to rebuild the East Rockaway plant, which treats 58 million gallons of sewage each day, and serves more than 550,000 residents. The facility's pumping system was flooded with 9 feet of water during Sandy in October 2012, ruining the electrical system and causing sewage to back up into homes and streets.

Mangano has called repair of the plant a top priority of his second term. The legislature has approved more than $700 million in loans for the work as the county awaits full federal reimbursement.

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