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Navy to foot bill for Seaford facility to treat possible toxic plumes

A file photo from September 2014 shows U.S.

A file photo from September 2014 shows U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer speaking with Alison Auriemmo, of H2M Water, as he and the South Farmingdale Water District call on the United States Navy and Department of Justice to prevent significant water bill increases for Farmingdale residents. Credit: Newsday / Howard Schnapp

The U.S. Navy will pay millions of dollars to cover the cost of a treatment plant in the South Farmingdale Water District, which could one day be impacted by plumes from a Bethpage site where aircraft manufacturing and military work took place decades ago.

In a settlement filed this week in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District said the Navy agreed to pay the water district for construction and operation of an air stripping tower to remove volatile organic chemicals from drinking water.

The estimated cost over 30 years is $10 million, but the amount could change if new toxins are found or additional treatment is required, according to court documents.

The 5.4-square-mile water district serves 44,700 customers in South Farmingdale, North Massapequa and parts of Bethpage and Seaford. The plumes have not reached district boundaries but are creeping up on them.

"We are not contaminated but we're prepared to ensure the wellhead treatment is operating as necessary for the future," said James Rigano, the water district's Melville-based attorney. "The system is in place and has been in place for a year as a preventive measure to ensure there will not be any problems."

In September, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) pressed the Navy to cover the costs of the treatment system in Seaford. The district had taken out bonds, and payments were due beginning this year. "Had this not happened each ratepayer would have paid an average of $1,200 over the course of the loan," Schumer said Friday. "[The Navy] came just in time and the ratepayers will not have to pay a nickel for this."

The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment Friday.

South Farmingdale will get more than $3.3 million immediately, according to court documents. Future payments will come incrementally as invoices and operation costs are submitted. In 2010, the Navy agreed to pay the water district a lump sum of $14 million to cover construction of another treatment facility related to the plumes, Rigano said.

Water districts in the region have long been concerned about water quality and the impact from Navy and what is now Northrop Grumman operations on more than 600 acres in Bethpage dating from before World War II. Manufacturing ceased in 1998.

In 1986, a shallow plume was discovered coming from the sites, and in 2009 another deeper, more contaminated plume was found emanating from beneath Bethpage Community Park. Both plumes are part of state Superfund cleanups.

In November 2013, Bethpage Water District sued Northrop Grumman over the contamination, and in December amended the complaint to include details about high levels of the volatile organic compound trichloroethylene that was recently found in the district.

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