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Suffolk lawmakers approve $207 million for new sewage outfall pipe

The Suffolk County Legislature Tuesday night unanimously approved appropriating $207 million to replace the deteriorating sewer outfall pipe that carries millions of gallons of treated wastewater under the Great South Bay, according to legislative leaders in both parties.

The approval of the long-awaited project -- the largest in the county's $410.3 million capital budget -- will permit the county to complete design work in the next year, begin construction in 2016 and complete work in about 3 1/2 years.

Consultants first sounded the alarm about the current pipe, which originates at the Bergen Point Sewage Treatment Plant in West Babylon and connects with an ocean outfall pipe at Cedar Beach, in late 2007. They warned of potentially "catastrophic environmental effects" after similar pipes in Texas and California began suffering breaks in high-tension wires wrapped around them, which could lead to leaks.

Suffolk has suffered no leaks in its pipes, which were installed in the late 1970s and originally expected to last from 80 to 100 years. But testing has shown one 5,000-foot section of pipe has experienced more than 717 broken wires. Experts have expressed concern that leaks of treated wastewater could damage water quality in the bay, which already has suffered from brown tide algae that damaged the local hard clam fishery.

The new 14,000-foot-long pipe will replace 6-foot-diameter pipe that is buried in a trench, and also runs from Bergen Point to Cedar Beach. The county will use tunneling equipment to install the new, 10-foot-diameter pipe 60 to 80 feet below the bay bottom.

The bay outfall pipe will connect with an ocean outfall pipe that takes the treated waste 3.4 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. That pipe is made of different material than the current bay pipe and has exhibited no problems, officials said.

Gil Anderson, public works commissioner, said the county expects to receive $12.5 million in grants, $37.5 million in no-interest loans and $157 million in low-interest loans from the state Environmental Facilities Corp. to reduce the cost impact of the project to sewer district residents.

Legislative leaders had backed the project.

"It's important to maintain the integrity of the Southwest Sewer District," said Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville).

"It would be catastrophic if the pipe were to fail," said Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), GOP caucus leader. "This is not just a Babylon issue. The sewer district now serves Walt Whitman Mall, the Ronkonkoma Hub and Wyandanch Rising."

Also Tuesday, the legislature:

Expanded the county's lobbying law to require those seeking to influence the executive branch on contracts and procurement to register. The bill also centralizes enforcement of the law under the clerk of the legislature.

Bill sponsor Legis. William J. Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) said he believes the 11 lobbyists currently registered represent only a fraction of people paid to influence legislation or county contracts.

Lindsay, who has been working on the bill since last year, noted the Nassau County contract with an environmental company that had hired former Senate Majority Dean Skelos' son, Adam Skelos, as a consultant.

"People are being paid to meet behind closed doors." Lindsay said. The public "should know who's meeting with elected officials"."

A spokesman said County Executive Steve Bellone was likely to sign the bill.

Approved the transfer of the Brentwood Family Health Center to Hudson River HealthCare, a nonprofit based in Peekskill.

The move is expected to save the county $25.4 million over the next five years. The clinic, which serves about 15,000 people, will remain at the same location. No county workers will be laid off.

The Legislature rejected a Bellone effort to start the process of privatizing the county's Riverhead health center. The newly elected leadership of the Suffolk Association of Municipal Employees asked lawmakers for additional time to talk to the full-time employees there and meet with lawmakers about the privatization. The Bellone administration had asked for the Legislature to schedule public hearings for May 26-27.The health center would be the last county clinic to be turned over to Hudson River. The others are in Coram, Southampton, Amityville, Wyandanch, Patchogue and Shirley.

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