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State proposes protection for fish near power plants

Power plants throughout the state, including four of Long Island's largest, would be required to install costly new cooling systems to protect aquatic life under a proposed policy from the state DEC published Wednesday.

The draft plan would mandate that plants that draw more than 20 million gallons a day from waterways instead recycle and reuse water in so-called closed-cycle systems. The Department of Environmental Conservation, which issues pollution discharge permits for the plants, will accept plan comments through May 9.

Environmentalists and fishing groups strongly favor closed-cycle cooling systems because they sharply reduce destruction of fish and fish eggs, sucked through or trapped against filters in the systems each year.

The Northport power plant owned by National Grid draws 939 million gallons from the Long Island Sound each day, destroying an estimated 8.4 billion fish, fish eggs and larvae annually, the DEC said.

Experts say the closed-cycle systems would require tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades - costs paid by ratepayers - and could reduce plant efficiency. Proponents say it's worth the cost. "These systems are costly, there's no way around it, but that needs to be compared to the cost of diminished fish stocks," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

LIPA will consider closed-loop systems and other alternatives that are environmentally sound and economically feasible, said LIPA vice president Michael Deering.

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