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State DEC: Bethpage plumes’ clean-up cost is $268M to $587M

Northrop Grumman contractors drill at the corner of

Northrop Grumman contractors drill at the corner of William Street and Broadway in Bethpage on Feb. 18, 2015, as part of the ongoing investigation of decades-old underground plumes emanating from former manufacturing sites once run by the U.S. Navy and what now is Northrop Grumman. Credit: Barry Sloan

Fully containing and removing dangerous contaminants from Bethpage-area groundwater plumes could cost between $268 million and $587 million and require treatment for up to 100 years, according to a report released Wednesday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The state also announced its intention to seek restitution from the U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman over environmental damages from the plumes to help restore and protect underground aquifers.

That could include adding open space, and restoring wetlands and other natural systems that aid in recharging aquifers, the DEC said.

The agency said it notified the Navy and Northrop Grumman that by letters issued Wednesday that it will formally assess the damage to groundwater and quantify costs associated with the plumes, which have been traced back to former aviation manufacturing operations that used hazardous chemicals between the 1930s and 1990s.

“When New York State’s natural resources are damaged, the public should be compensated and those funds should be put back into the impacted communities,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. “Today’s action is the latest step in holding Northrop Grumman and Navy accountable for their contamination.”

Navy officials said they had not been notified of the state’s intent to complete the “natural resources damage assessment.”

Northrop Grumman spokesman Vic Beck said in a statement the defense contractor has worked for decades to address environmental issues in Bethpage.

“We have just been notified and will review the details,” Beck said. “We remain dedicated to sustaining this effort with the regulatory agencies and other responsible parties.”

The financial calculations should take a few months and if the Navy and Northrop Grumman do not agree to pay, the state attorney general could file claims in state or federal court, DEC officials said.

Settlement money would be separate from what the Navy and Northrop Grumman are obligated to pay under a number of cleanup plans approved over the years through the state Superfund program to remove the contaminants.

“It’s a very effective tool that runs parallel to our remedial work,” Seggos said.

Groundwater contamination in the area was first documented in the 1940s. The plumes today put the drinking water supply for an estimated 250,000 people at risk, officials said.

“Protecting the health and safety of our residents is the top priority of our administration,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement.

For years, water suppliers, the state, elected officials, Navy and Northrop Grumman have tussled over how best to treat the contamination that has moved underground as far as three miles from Bethpage. This year, the state has renewed efforts to clean up the plumes.

“It seems the DEC and the governor have taken their gloves off,” Massapequa Water District Superintendent Stanley Carey said. “We are very happy DEC is being as aggressive as they are to contain the leading edge of the plume.”

Bethpage Water District has spent millions to treat its drinking water to meet federal standards. Massapequa wells have not been affected, but the contamination moves closer.

“I think this is going to be good for everybody, but it’s especially good for Bethpage,” Bethpage Water District Superintendent Mike Boufis said. “I think Bethpage is going to be restored back to what it used to be.” The district has closed a well due to radium levels, sought to install new wells outside the plume and has treatment systems in place throughout the service area.

The overall cost estimates to fully remediate the plumes were included in a DEC report by the Albany office of engineering consultant HDR Inc. That study, required by legislation signed in 2014, looked at three options for containing and removing contamination.

“Now it’s on us to take the information in the report and determine how and if the remedy should be modified,” Seggos said.

The report said the size and depth of the plume plus it’s presence under a dense urban area make removing and treating the contamination the best method.

The three options include installing up to 16 groundwater extraction wells along the Southern State Parkway and pumping about 19 million gallons per day of groundwater contaminated with volatile organic chemicals for treatment, including trichloroethylene, a solvent and carcinogen.

The cheapest includes discharging treated water into Massapequa Creek. The most expensive uses three South Farmingdale Water District wells and new extraction wells to connect to the Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant for treatment and discharge.

“All of the remedial options will result in a loss of 730 billions of gallons of water resource from a sole source aquifer that supply the residents of Nassau County with drinking water for the next century, especially given the unknown effects of climate change,” the report said.

The DEC, after a public comment period, will decide whether to move forward with one of the options submitted in the HDR report or continue with current cleanup plans, which address different parts of the contamination separately.

“The foot-dragging has gone on far too long,” said Assemb. Joseph Saladino (R-Massapequa), who with Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) proposed the legislation that mandated the report. “We must fully contain and clean up this.”

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