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Navy to get easements to address Bethpage underground contamination

A Bethpage Water District water tower seen from

A Bethpage Water District water tower seen from Caffrey Avenue in Bethpage, Friday, March 8, 2019. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Nassau lawmakers on Monday unanimously approved a resolution granting the U.S. Navy access to county property to clean the largest area of underground contamination left by defense contractor Northrop Grumman in Bethpage. 

The permanent easements on five parcels of county land represents a necessary step toward remediation of the Bethpage plume, Long Island's largest mass of carcinogenic groundwater pollution. Named a state superfund site in 1983, the plume is moving a foot a day toward the Great South Bay.

After the vote, Legis. Rose Walker (R-Hicksville), who's district lies abovei the plume, said, "Grumman, the Navy and the federal government must do everything in their power to expedite this process as quickly and efficiently as possible."  

The Navy will pay Nassau $50,000 for use of the county parcels and will begin constructing wells to collect samples of underground contamination, along with recovery wells to extract contaminated groundwater.

The easements on the vacant land located behind fenced off wooded areas in Seaford and Massapequa, will allow the Navy to finish drilling and treatment system designs on schedule and award a remediation contract by early 2021 as planned, county officials said. 

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran applauded the legislative vote. She said county officials were "working collaboratively with the federal and state government every step of the way to ensure remediation plans are successfully carried out without delay.”

“This decades-long environmental disaster is no longer being ignored," said Curran, thanking lawmakers "for not delaying action on this plan and keeping the project on schedule,”

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Some legislators, primarily Democrats, expressed concern about what they called a lack of advance information about the agreement with the Navy.

Legis. John Ferretti (R-Levittown) and Legis. Ellen Birnbaum (D-Great Neck) questioned whether the Navy would maintain the properties after the decontamination work was complete. 

Navy officials said the agency would either maintain the land or pay the county additional funds for upkeep.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said Democrats supported the Navy's involvement in addressing the environmental damage. 

But Abrahams said caucus members were, "concerned that agreements pertaining to the specific aspects of the remediation efforts -- specifically, the ones that will impact quality of life -- are not codified within the plan."

He also said Democrats were, "disappointed that the legislature, aside from representatives of immediately impacted areas, received so little time to review such a crucial proposal." 

The full 19-member Legislature passed the resolution as an emergency item. Democrats said they had about four days to review the resolution of about 80 pages. 

Also Monday, lawmakers approved a resolution to delay fees and penalities on late property tax payments by first responders and families grieving COVID-19 deaths.

The proposal, originally introduced by Legis. Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview), was filed by the GOP majority with all 19 county legislators as co-sponsors. Drucker said lawmakers wanted "to do whatever we can to show our appreciation to the frontline workers in their hero work during this pandemic." 

Curran administration officials, however, questioned the Legislature's authority to delay the fees and penalties. 

County spokesman Mike Fricchione said in a statement, “as with the extension of any tax deadline in New York, the State legislature is the only body that can change the law regulating the collection of taxes. The County Executive supports our heroic first responders and health care workers and is reaching out to the Governor to ask for a State executive order that can accomplish what this bill is unable to attain. Passing a local law in the Nassau County Legislature is little more than symbolism and confuses grieving families.” 

Monday's legislative session marked the first time members of the public were allowed to attend a meeting in persosn since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

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