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Group claims state DEC, National Grid's Northport cooling system damages aquatic life

The National Grid Power station in Northport on

The National Grid Power station in Northport on December 12, 2012. Credit: newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

A Connecticut environmental group has filed suit against the state Department of Environmental Conservation and National Grid, charging the agency failed to enforce a mandate that would protect fish life from an antiquated water cooling system at the utility's Northport Power Station.

The suit, filed by Long Island Soundkeeper in state Supreme Court in Mineola, charges the DEC "failed to take action" after a permit for the plant's water discharge system expired in 2011 and National Grid applied to renew it. State and federal environmental laws mandate that plants use the "best available technology" in their cooling systems, and the DEC has recommended closed-cycle systems that don't draw large amounts of water from local waterways.

Because the DEC has not renewed the permit and applied new environmental standards to the cooling systems, National Grid has operated under existing permits issued in 2006.

Soundkeeper and Citizens Campaign for the Environment are holding a briefing near the plant on Wednesday calling on the DEC to act.

The 48-year-old Northport plant's damage to aquatic life "far exceeds that of any other industrial facility in the state," the suit charges. The plant also discharges "hundreds of millions of gallons of hot water back into the Sound, causing further harm to the aquatic ecosystem," it says.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director for Citizens Campaign, has written the DEC's acting commissioner expressing "great concern" over the agency's "extraordinarily slow pace" in making a final ruling on permits for both National Grid plants.

The Northport plant's current system, known as once-through cooling, draws 939 million gallons of water from Long Island Sound, according to the DEC. Two additional dilution pumps increase that amount to 1.6 billion gallons a day, the suit says. The process destroys an estimated 8.4 billion fish eggs and larvae a year and kills or injures up to 127,118 fish, which can get trapped in intake filters and other plant gear. The plant, at 1,522 megawatts, is Long Island's largest.

The suit, an article 78 proceeding, asks the court to compel the DEC to act on the 5-year-old application.

National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd said the plant was in compliance with DEC permits that regulate "all aspects" of its activities, including discharge. She noted that National Grid has applied to renew its cooling water permit, "which allows it to continue to operate under its existing permit until the renewal is final," and said the utility is working with the DEC to study the impacts the cooling water system "may have" on aquatic life. The company has proposed "a suite of technologies to reduce those impacts," she said.

A DEC spokesman didn't return a call seeking comment.


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