If you're going to do something, do it right. From the start.
State officials agree, and have said repeatedly, that rebuilding Nassau County's Bay Park sewage treatment plant should include both an outfall pipe to carry effluent out to the Atlantic Ocean AND a nitrogen removal system to minimize pollution. But they're not saying that anymore. And it's bad news.
The state now is proposing to take $150 million in federal funding intended for nitrogen removal at the plant and divert it for the pipe, which could take up to 10 years or longer to build. Officials say the $450 million pipe is the bigger priority and insist they are not abandoning the process called denitrification. But it's clear their commitment has weakened. This is wrongheaded.
While ongoing repairs at the plant have cut nitrogen by half, there's still too much to risk another decade of dumping into the imperiled western bays. And simply extending the pipe to the ocean means moving the pollution, not reducing it. Adding a nitrogen removal system, if that ever even happens, would be more expensive after the plant is rebuilt. Denitrification is recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency and is what modern plants do. Northport's facility just added the technology. So did the Great Neck plant that opened last year. Both are tiny compared with Bay Park -- but they did it because of the impact their effluent was having on their waters.
State environmental officials know this and agree. But they also need to fund the pipe and have been struggling to get Nassau, which owns Bay Park, to do its share. The state is applying for $150 million from a federal national competition for resiliency projects, but getting that full amount is unlikely. The county now agrees to cover its own $150 million. But instead of using the nitrogen money to plug the remaining gap for the pipe, Nassau should cover the difference, too. The Bay Park sewer district serves 550,000 residents, as well as businesses with 87 million square feet of space; a 30-year bond spread across the district should not be an exorbitant cost. And it's only fair. The primary beneficiaries of Bay Park should foot a share of the bill.
But the county's stance was reflected this week when Norma Gonsalves, the presiding officer of the Nassau legislature, told the Newsday editorial board that the state and federal governments are not doing their part to help Nassau and should give the county the money for the pipe. This after the county got $900 million in federal funding funneled through the state to repair the Sandy-battered plant. And this after Nassau's yearslong refusal to upgrade Bay Park. The county's noncompliance with the Clean Water Act is the reason Reynolds Channel and the South Shore bays are an ecological disaster.
The state is right to seek whatever federal aid it can get for the outfall pipe. And if it has some funds to contribute, it should. But the money designated for nitrogen removal should be used for that. Leave it alone. It's high time Nassau finally takes responsibility for the heinous problem it created and assume the lion's share of this bill. The county made this mess, it should be paying to clean it up.