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New environmental curbs on Port Jefferson power plant

New York State is requiring new measures to reduce the damage a decades-old water-cooling system inflicts on marine life near National Grid's power plant in Port Jefferson, but some environmentalists want stricter measures.

For years, the Port Jefferson facility and four other large steam-generating plants owned by National Grid have been cooled by drawing millions of gallons of water a day directly from nearby waterways. The heated water is then discharged into the Long Island Sound.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, citing tougher federal Clean Water Act standards, issued stricter measures last week for operating the plant as part of granting a permit needed to operate. Measures include installing a barrier net in front of the plant's intake equipment; variable-speed cooling pumps; seasonal fine-mesh screens; and procedures to shut down pumps when the plant isn't operating.

All are aimed at reducing the collective destruction of an estimated 10 billion fish eggs, larvae, hatchlings and larger fish annually by the drawing of seawater at the five plants.

The DEC estimated that the new measures will reduce the damage done to fish eggs and larvae drawn directly into the system by 65 percent, while 90 percent fewer fish would suffer death or injury after being caught in screens as they are sucked toward the plant.

The new measures are "helpful but not the answer," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. The group instead advocates use of a "closed-loop" cooling tower that draws significantly less water. Esposito, working with another group called the Manhattan-based Network for New Energy Choices, called the issue "a matter of life and death," not just for fish but for fishermen who depend on them.

But the DEC has already ruled out a cooling-tower system, primarily because the Port Jefferson plant doesn't have room for it, said Yancey Roy, a DEC spokesman.

Bob Teetz, director of environmental management for National Grid, said the company during a public comment period will propose modifications to the DEC requirements that he said would "achieve equal or better impact with less cost to the rate payer."

The DEC said National Grid estimated the requirements will cost $5.8 million a year to implement - a cost to be paid by LIPA ratepayers.

Cooling towers would cost about double that. They'd make the plants economically unfeasible, said Dowling Business College Dean Matthew Cordaro.

Teetz said that, while fish deaths from the cooling systems might seem high, "it's really a very tiny fraction of the overall abundance of eggs and larvae in Long Island Sound."

Esposito disagreed, calling it a "large-scale concern" for the estuaries and worth millions of dollars to fishermen.


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