The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation temporarily shut down shellfishing Tuesday across 922 acres of eastern Northport Bay after an underground sewer pipe broke.
Village officials did not immediately know how much sewage had reached the harbor. A pump truck was in place sucking up the sewage, said Northport Village Trustee Damon McMullen.
"The problem is there's also saltwater mixed in with it at this point, so we need to have that taken to a different facility," said McMullen, also village commissioner for wastewater treatment. "Too much salt water can kill off the bacteria. It's the bacteria that breaks everything down."
The shutdown went into effect at 2 p.m. Tuesday, and will end when the state determines water quality has improved so shellfish are not possibly dangerous to eat.
The pipe that broke was attached to 16 residences, meaning the flow would be contained to the waste produced by those households, McMullen said.
Town officials were going door-to-door to those homes, asking them to minimize their use of water until the repair is complete.
McMullen said fixing the pipe was complicated by the fact that it is buried under sand and the tide was coming in when the problem was discovered.
While waiting for the tide to recede, officials placed new pipe and materials on the beach. Low tide is expected at 8:15 p.m.
"You're racing against the tide to get it dug up, to get it repaired before the tide comes back in," McMullen said. "It needs to be completed by 11 p.m. . . . [Tuesday]."
Officials will calculate the volume of sewage that went into the bay once the repair is complete. It was also unclear how the pipe, one of the originals installed in 1932, broke.
"We're not sure if it was part of the construction work that was going on, or just the fact that it was an old pipe," McMullen said. "It's not the first time that we had to repair it during its lifetime."