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Long Island

Officials question science of proposed pollution control act

An aerial photo of the Caithness facility in

An aerial photo of the Caithness facility in Yaphank on June 6, 2013. Credit: Doug Kuntz

Proposed state legislation to create the Long Island Water Pollution Control Act came under heavy criticism Tuesday from town and village officials, who joined others in questioning whether the measure's assumptions are grounded in hard science and said they fear it would erode local authority over land-use issues.

The bill's critics added, however, that they support the need to protect the Island's groundwater.

"We're not disagreeing with the intent, that the water be protected here on Long Island," said John Cameron, head of the Long Island Regional Planning Council, which convened the meeting. "The proposed act is more focused principally on nitrogen and not other pollutants. Candidly, I think it's weak on the science and heavy on the policy."

George Proios, chairman of the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District, said gasoline infiltration poses a greater threat to the water supply than problems from nitrogen referenced in the legislation.

The solution, said Dennis Kelleher, president of Melville-based H2M water resource engineers and consultant to 30 water suppliers on the Island, is to create more sewers in Suffolk County that take away and treat waste that might otherwise leech into groundwater. "It's a simple answer, but a costly answer."

Meanwhile, the legislators working on the bill -- Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) -- made it clear that the current measure is simply a starting point.

The two lawmakers expressed disappointment that the council, a bi-county advisory group, held what they said amounted to a public hearing on the measure, saying the discussion was premature.

"We don't have, nor are we really approaching, a final, revised version of this bill," Sweeney said in a phone interview.

LaValle, in a separate interview from the state's capitol, said, "We are many, many weeks away from a final version on this . . . So I'm a little startled that individuals would continue to beat a dead horse on this."

Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino, who sits on the planning council and requested its involvement, confirmed he attended a meeting this year at which mayors' input on the proposed legislation was sought.

"But I find it hard to believe Senator Lavalle and Assemblyman Sweeney started drafting this bill without the involvement of the mayors," he said. "It's like putting the cart before the horse."

Scordino was wary of the bill's provision creating a water quality commission with regulatory power, saying that would be "usurping our local law."

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, declined the council's invitation to him and other environmental groups to participate in Tuesday's panel. He said discussion of the measure would only "fuel confusion and speculation."

"Let's visit this issue again, when the actual bill is ripe for legitimate consideration," he said in the letter released Tuesday.

Amper, in an interview, rebutted criticisms that the bill's assumptions are not grounded in science, saying, "There is absolutely no one who doubts the magnitude or concern about groundwater contamination."

He said a recent study showed nitrogen has increased 200 percent over 15 years and is "producing brown tides and algae contamination that is closing beaches, shellfish beds and undercutting the economy and environment on Long Island."

The council also designated the proposed Caithness II 750-megawatt power plant as a project of regional significance, which was sought by the company seeking Brookhaven Town approval.

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