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Report: LI beach closures up 10 percent in 2009

A 'no swimming' sign is posted on Centerport

A 'no swimming' sign is posted on Centerport Yacht Club Beach in Centerport because of high bacteria levels in the water. (July 28, 2010) Photo Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Between polluted runoff from heavy rains and sewage problems in Northport Harbor, Long Island beach closures were up 10 percent in 2009 compared with the previous year, according to an advocacy group's annual beach water quality report released Wednesday.

The Natural Resources Defense Council looked at federal data on pollution-related closures and advisories for more than 3,000 beaches across the country. While closures nationwide were down 8 percent, the report found 7 percent of water samples still violated federal health standards - the same rate as the past two years. Statewide, New York beaches had an 11 percent violation rate, earning the state the seventh-worst beachwater quality of 30 coastal states.

"We've come a long way in 20 years," said Sarah Chasis, director of the group's Oceans Initiative. "But from human and animal waste to dangerous oil slicks, our nation's beaches continue to suffer from pollution that can make people sick, harm marine life and destroy coastal communities."

On Long Island, the two beaches with the most closures in 2009 were Centerport Yacht Beach Club on Northport Harbor and Crescent Beach in Glen Cove. Bacteria levels at both beaches were so high county health officials shut them last year. They remain closed while investigators determine the sources of the pollution.

"I want this to be cleaned up so my children can enjoy what I enjoyed," said Joe Morency, 45, a Centerport resident and commodore of the yacht club. "For us, it's a bigger issue than the beach - it's a health issue."

One likely culprit at his beach: decades-old sewage pipes in Northport Village. Tests indicate the pipes are leaking raw effluent into storm drains that empty into the harbor, said Robert Waters of Suffolk's health department. The county is also running tests at Tanner Park and five other often-closed South Shore beaches.

At Crescent Beach, officials are still investigating whether the problem is storm water runoff, boat traffic, waterfowl feces or some combination.

As in past years, the worst-scoring Long Island beaches were mostly located in protected bays and harbors with little tidal flushing. Advocates and local health officials said most 2009 closures were due to storm water runoff, which sweeps contaminants off roads and into waterways. While there were fewer closures so far this summer because of the dry weather, Waters said, storm water remains the biggest source of pollution.

"It rains, the beaches close, revenue is lost and public health is threatened," said Adrienne Esposito, of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, at a Manhattan news conference. She and NRDC urged municipalities to install "green infrastructure" - such as permeable pavement and rain gardens - that absorb and filter storm water.

In a separate ranking of top vacation beaches, the report awarded Robert Moses State Park only one of five possible stars because 5 percent of water samples there last year violated health standards. But Zach's Bay at Jones Beach State Park, which has struggled with water quality, was awarded two stars for frequent testing and posting closure notices - even though 10 percent of samples there exceeded health standards last year.

Local groups have pressed officials for years to connect the Zach's Bay sewage treatment plant, which empties into the back bays, with the ocean outfall pipe at Nassau's Cedar Creek plant. The change would discharge treated sewage from Jones Beach into the Atlantic. Nassau and state parks officials said an agreement was signed this summer, but it's not clear when construction will begin.

With Ben Weider

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