Officials: Navy to help with Bethpage plume costs

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, second from left, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, second from left, offers a celebratory water toast after announcing that the U.S. Navy has offered a settlement to reimburse the Bethpage Water District for all the money it has spent on equipment to treat drinking water. (March 28, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

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A settlement with the U.S. Navy over costs associated with the toxic plumes endangering Bethpage water is imminent, with ratepayers to be spared from a "plume tax," elected officials said Thursday.

The Navy is to reimburse the $14 million the Bethpage Water District bonded for a wellhead treatment facility to ensure its water is safe to drink, officials said. It also will cover 30 years' worth of operating costs, or about $5 million, officials said.

The deal needs approval from the U.S. Department of Justice, which should come within a month, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a news conference with water district officials.

Bethpage residents Sal and Noel Greco, who hosted the conference at their home and celebrated the settlement with a toast of tap water in champagne glasses, said the deal will save them $300 a year.

"That's a big hit for the next 20 to 30 years," said Sal Greco, 74, a water district consultant. "It's not going to affect just us; it's going to affect our children and the next generations."

The Grecos are among 9,000 district customers who are to see relief from water-purification costs associated with two toxic plumes emanating from a former Bethpage military manufacturing facility used in the 1930s and '40s by the Navy and what was known as Grumman Corp. The plumes have chemicals classified as carcinogens.

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Thursday marked the third anniversary of negotiations with the Navy, water district attorney Anthony J. Sabino said.

Navy spokesman Thomas Kreidel Thursday said the agency is "in discussion with Bethpage officials," but said he could not comment on details until they are finalized.

"Without this settlement, ratepayers would have been paying for a mess they didn't create," Schumer said. "So now the district can pay back the bond holders, protect the ratepayers and continue to provide safe, clean, lovely drinking water."

He said he also is working to obtain financial relief for cleanup in Massapequa, which is in the path of the plumes.

"The Navy and the contractors made this mess, they should clean it up," he said.

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The Navy is responsible for cleanup outside the base and Grumman for cleanup within it, according to an agreement between the two parties, Schumer said.

But Bethpage Water District board of commissioners chairman William Ellinger Thursday said the district plans on taking Grumman to court for $20 million in cleanup costs.

Bethpage water is treated and very carefully monitored, he said.

It is safe to drink, he said."Hopefully, it's almost over but we don't know that for sure," he said of dealing with pollutants. "Our engineers and scientists keep checking the water to make sure it's in good shape before we send it to the people."

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