Nassau officials and lawmakers spar over pace of Sandy fixes

Deputy County Executive Rob Walker offers testimony regarding Deputy County Executive Rob Walker offers testimony regarding the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant to the Nassau County Legislature in Mineola on March 20, 2014. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Nassau County officials told a legislative panel Thursday that they are moving swiftly on federally funded projects to repair and fortify the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, which was heavily damaged during superstorm Sandy.

But Democratic lawmakers criticized the pace of the projects, arguing that only a fraction of the $830 million in aid earmarked by the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been spent on plant improvements.

The comments came at a special hearing into the time frame and financing of repairs at Bay Park, which is located in East Rockaway and serves 40 percent of the county.

The plant was knocked out of service during Sandy in October 2012, and more than 100 million gallons of raw sewage flowed into area waterways.

Deputy County Executive Rob Walker said the FEMA funding will go to build an 18-foot concrete wall around the plant, elevate and harden the electrical distribution system and 57 pumping stations and replace sludge dewatering equipment.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said the FEMA funding provided the county with a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to rebuild the plant.

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But Legis. Dave Denenberg, of Merrick, ranking Democrat on the Public Works Committee, said the county has fallen behind schedule in awarding repair contracts. "So little has been done," he said.

Walker said the county is moving aggressively to issue contracts, but that weather and other factors have caused temporary delays.

"We always want to be moving faster," said Walker. "But we want to do it the right way and . . . [make] sure that the residents are being dealt with appropriately."

A $28 million contract to replace the electrical distribution system at Bay Park will go to the county legislature next week, and Nassau will issue a request for proposals for the second phase of the electrical contract in August, Walker said.

A $37-million contract to build a flood wall around the plant, cultivate new vegetation and improve area parks and roadways will go to lawmakers in April, he said.

The seawall, and other odor-control improvements already underway, should improve the smell emanating to area homes, Walker said.

But Michael DeNicola, vice president of Hazen & Sawyer, a county consultant, conceded that the plant's odor "will never totally disappear."

Nassau also is attempting to secure about $750 million more in federal aid to build an outfall pipe and a system to remove nitrogen from treated wastewater before it is dumped into the Atlantic Ocean.

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