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Feds to help upgrade sewage plants to withstand storms

A worker replaces motors and local control panels

A worker replaces motors and local control panels at a final settling tank at the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant. (Nov. 28, 2012) Credit: Charles Eckert

The federal government Thursday said it would make more than a half-billion dollars available to help New York and New Jersey communities hit by superstorm Sandy pay for upgrades at water treatment plants.

The $569 million in loans and grants -- $340 million for New York and $229 million for New Jersey -- will be disbursed through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. About 30 percent of the money will be given as grants and 70 percent as loans, which local governments need to pay back.

The EPA's plan was quickly criticized by a research group as a Band-Aid on a massive problem, which includes the threats of rising sea levels, that needs to be addressed in a more comprehensive way.

"Handing out grants on a piecemeal approach is not the long-term answer," said Angela Anderson, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The federal government needs a nationwide plan to provide funds to all coastal communities, not just the ones hit hard by Sandy, to adapt to the changes global warming is bringing."

After Sandy smacked into the East Coast in late October, an estimated 11 billion gallons of raw sewage flooded waterways and streets from Connecticut to Washington.

The Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant on Nassau's South Shore, knocked out of service for 44 hours, dumped about 100 million gallons of untreated sewage into Hewlett Bay. In the 44 days it took to restore operations fully at the plant, another 2.2 billion gallons of partially treated sewage flowed through the plant.

The Bay Park plant will apply through New York State's Revolving Funds Program for funding, said a spokesman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano.

"We are presently working with a federal-state-county team that will clearly compete for those dollars to help mitigate our sewage treatment plants, implement clean water projects and help clean debris from our waterways," Mangano said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said his administration has not identified which project would be eligible for funding but is working with the state to do so.

New York State will use criteria set out by the EPA to select the projects and submit them to the EPA for approval.

Such projects could include the installation of flood walls, watertight doors, backup generators, relocation of electrical systems and relocation of entire treatment facilities out of flood-prone areas.

"We believe the best way to utilize these funds is to offer a combination of loans and grants," said Matthew Driscoll, president and chief executive of New York's Revolving Funds Program. "This approach offers cost-effective financing with the incentive of a grant along with it."

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