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Privatizing Nassau sewage put on hold

The Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant at 1

The Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant at 1 1st Avenue, East Rockaway. (Nov. 14, 2012) Credit: Doug Kuntz

A proposal to privatize Nassau's sewage treatment system is on hold until plans are finalized for repairing and hardening the Bay Park and Long Beach treatment plants, both of which suffered extensive damage during superstorm Sandy, County Executive Edward Mangano said.

Mangano has selected New Jersey-based United Water to manage the Bay Park and Cedar Creek plants, the county's 53 sewage pumping stations and 3,000 miles of sewers. The transaction would be financed by a private investment group that would provide the county with at least $750 million that would be used to pay down its $3 billion in debt.

"Right now, we are focused on working with the state on a regional plan to harden the Bay Park and Long Beach plants" against future storms, Mangano said this week.

Mangano's comments came as Civil Service Employees Association president Jerry Laricchiuta fielded questions from his members this week about whether the privatization plan will be changed.

Among the issues discussed at meetings this week at the Bay Park plant in East Rockaway and the Cedar Creek plant in Seaford were "rumors" that Nassau might not sell the treatment system, but instead may hire United Water to operate the manage the plant for the county, Laricchiuta said.

Laricchiuta said he told members that the union has not received a new sewer plan.

He said in an interview that "based on conversations" with county officials, "we have been led to believe that the county is still entertaining a public-private partnership for the sewer system."

Mangano declined to talk specifically about whether the plan could be revamped.

"All options are on the table," he said.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state oversight board that controls the county's finances, last year blocked the administration's sewer plan, saying the financing element constituted "backdoor borrowing."

A team from Nassau, Long Beach, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is analyzing how to protect the Bay Park and Long Beach plants from future storms. Mangano said the effort will include elevating equipment above the flood plain to guard against saltwater intrusion.

Federal funding included in a $60 billion Sandy aid package passed by Congress is expected to pay for much of the repair and hardening, Mangano said. The county estimates it will receive $6.6 billion in federal aid, but officials have not disclosed how much will go to the treatment plants.

NIFA board member Chris Wright said last week that the board has not discussed a revised sewer plan with Mangano but that it remains opposed to the original privatization deal.United Water spokesman Rich Henning said there have been no "formal discussions" with Nassau about altering the original privatization deal. But he said the company remains interested in managing Bay Park and Cedar Creek, and that Sandy "re-emphasized" Nassau's need for an outside contractor to run the system.

Long Beach Public Works Commissioner Jim LaCarrubba said no discussions about privatizing the city's sewage treatment plant have occurred.

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