Residents in Bethpage react to the $406M agreement with Northrop Grumman and Navy to clean contaminated parts of the Grumman plume. Newsday's Chelsea Irizarry reports. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Water districts, environmentalists, elected officials and residents hailed the agreements between the state and U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman as a significant — but long overdue — victory for Bethpage and the neighboring communities that have battled pollution for decades.

It's the first time that regulators and polluters all have agreed to stop the Grumman groundwater contamination plume's foot-per-day spread and institute a full cleanup.

"It’s probably 40 years too late," said Jeanne O’Connor, a fourth-generation Bethpage resident and activist for a stronger cleanup, whose mother and grandfather held jobs at Grumman. "But it’s definitely good news."

Richard Humann, president and CEO of H2M architects + engineers of Melville, the Bethpage Water District’s longtime environmental consultant, called the deal, which also includes $104 million in environmental damages to be paid by Northrop Grumman, "monumental."

"It’s a once-and-for-all moment," he said. "This should be the start of a 100-percent commitment on behalf of Grumman and the federal government to completely address the plume."

For Massapequa, whose drinking water supply lies in the plume's path, proposed containment wells along the Southern State Parkway would match what the district long has been advocating.

"We have for the first time all agencies on the same page," said Stan Carey, superintendent of the Massapequa Water District.

A story about pollution, secrecy, water and fear: How the Grumman plume has grown into Long Island's biggest environmental crisis. Credit: Newsday

Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) called the agreements "dramatic steps forward in this 40-year nightmare," thanking Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, state environmental officials, environmentalists, as well as Newsday, which published an investigation earlier this year, The Grumman Plume: Decades of Deceit, detailing the history of deceptive statements, missteps and minimization that slowed cleanup.

Suozzi, however, highlighted the fight from Bethpage Water District, which he said "has unfairly shouldered this burden for far too long."

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who advocated for more than a decade for a more aggressive cleanup — once bringing top Navy brass to Bethpage — called the announcement Monday "a very welcome course correction."

"This is a big, big deal," said Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, who as a state assemblyman sponsored a bill that first called for the Department of Environmental Conservation to study a full plume containment strategy. "People have been waiting, and some didn’t believe a cleanup would ever come. It really speaks volumes of never giving up."

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Environmental advocates also praised the news.

"Long Islanders' only source of drinking water is groundwater. This is long overdue and welcomed news. Health must be protected, and the polluters should pay for the cleanup," said Judith Enck, former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator and president of Beyond Plastics.

She noted that when Newsday published its investigation in February, "I think it got the attention of many key players."

For others, the sense of victory was dampened by how long it has taken to get there.

Anthony Sabino, the Bethpage Water District’s former counsel, was one of the first people to call for a full plume containment, 30 years ago. He also called for the state to sue Northrop Grumman for environmental damages about 20 years ago.

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"At that time, it may have done some good," he said, expressing regret over how long it took to get to today and pessimism that the plume can still be fully contained. "In any event, it’s a good thing for water suppliers."

Sabino, however, reiterated the years of state regulatory failures that only ended within the last six years: "One expects guilty parties to try to minimize their liability. One doesn’t expect the state government to help them. That’s exactly what happened here."

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