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Sandy victims say sewage plant program poorly publicized

East Rockaway homeowner Howard Griesch photographed in his

East Rockaway homeowner Howard Griesch photographed in his basement a year after it was damaged by sewage overflow from Bay Park's county-owned sewage treatment plant during superstorm Sandy. (Nov.15, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

About 70 people have participated in a Nassau County program to reimburse residents whose homes were damaged by Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant flooding, but other superstorm Sandy victims complain that the effort was poorly publicized.

The plant, in the South Shore hamlet of Bay Park, was hit by a 9-foot-high wall of water during Sandy, causing flooding and knocking out power. Sewage could not be processed and backed up in pipes, which ruptured in East Rockaway and Baldwin, with some homes receiving several feet of waste.

Nassau cleaned about 500 homes after the October 2012 storm, and implemented the reimbursement program in March, Mike Martino, a county spokesman, said. The program was designed to help homeowners who paid to have their homes cleaned of sewage, and the deadline for filing is Dec. 31, he said.

Martino said the county informed residents of the program through mass mailings and social media tools. Workers also went door-to-door in affected neighborhoods to inform them of the program, Martino said.

"The reimbursement program was well-publicized," he said.

But Howard Griesch, an East Rockaway resident whose basement was flooded by 2.5 feet of raw sewage, said he wasn't aware of the reimbursement program until after he tried to recoup $75,000 in damage through a legal claim. It is still awaiting resolution, he said.

"I want to put the basement back the way it was," said Griesch, adding that several of his neighbors have similar stories. "This was all held close to the vest by the county."

The county has encouraged residents to use the reimbursement program, and residents who chose to file lawsuits instead were "informed of the time frame upon contact," Martino said.

The county has spent about $5 million on the program and is seeking federal reimbursement for it, Martino said. He declined to say how many residents have sued the county.

Residents' criticism of the reimbursement program comes as the county is close to securing financing for repairs to the Bay Park plant. It is operational, but remains on generator power.

The county legislature is scheduled to vote Monday on a $463 million bond to fix the plant.

County officials expect federal and state government to reimburse the project, Mike Florio, spokesman for the Nassau Democratic legislative caucus, said. The legislature approved another $262 million for the project in July.

The plant, which serves about 40 percent of Nassau County, released an estimated 104 million gallons of untreated sewage because of Sandy.

Lenore Hickam of East Rockaway said Sandy left her with "a basement full of sewage," which cost about $12,000 to clean up. She said she was unaware of the reimbursement program but would look into it.

"I lost a lifetime of stuff that was down there," Hickam said. "We're all just tired of fighting for what we're supposed to get."

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