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Nassau eyes borrowing to pay for sewage plant fixes

Nassau's Legislature will once again consider a borrowing request to pay for extensive repairs to the damaged Bay Park Sewage Treatment plant after three key committees approved $451.2 million in borrowing Monday for the repairs and other sewage-system upgrades.

The Republican-controlled Finance, Public Works and Rules committees all approved the borrowing requests put forth by Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and the public works department. The request comes two weeks after the full legislature approved borrowing nearly $260 million to fix the aging plant that was damaged during superstorm Sandy.

Mangano has requested $722 million in borrowing to repair the plant, located in East Rockaway, but the legislature's Democratic caucus has opposed borrowing the full amount all at once, arguing additional oversight is needed to ensure the money is spent as intended.

"We are committed toward doing the entire amount, but we truly believe $260 million gets that process rolling," Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said during the Finance Committee meeting.

Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) broke from party ranks and voted for the additional bonding as a member of the Finance and Public Works committees.

Denenberg said since 2010 he has been calling on the county to hold public hearings on the state of the county's sewer-treatment plants.

"It's incumbent upon us to do our job," Denenberg said.

Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), chairman of the Finance Committee, criticized Democrats, saying they were attempting to "slow down" the project.

"From a political standpoint, why would you want to slow this down?" Nicolello said.

The bonding request came in a series of 12 separate measures presented to committee members. The largest request -- $326.2 million -- would be used to replace and elevate the plant's electrical distribution system, public works officials said at the meeting.

Another $72.5 million would be directed toward "hardening" the plant's exterior to protect it from future storms, Deputy Public Works Commissioner Richard Millet said.

"We're still looking at various options," Millet told lawmakers. "A dike with sea walls, it might be some sort of retractable wall system, as well as an exterior pump system."

Deputy Public Works Commissioner Ken Arnold told lawmakers the money was needed as the county seeks reimbursement for the project from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as "a good-faith effort to the federal government that we're moving forward on these projects."

The damaged plant serves 40 percent of the county's population -- about 520,000 residents -- and was knocked offline for two days after 9 feet of saltwater entered the plant during the Oct. 29 storm. The plant has since run on generators at a cost of $700,000 a month, according to county officials.

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