Both the incumbent, David Lurie, and the challenger, Leonard Samansky who are running for the position of Water Pollution Control District (WPCD) commissioner agree that diversion of sewage from our plant to Cedar Creek on the South Shore is an issue that needs to be explored with open minds and much, much more information in order to make a well-informed decision. (See Great Neck Record, Dec. 1 or online at antonnews.com "What Happened to Diverting Sewage?" for a preliminary analysis of the issue.)
At a Chamber of Commerce event this fall, David Lurie (l.) and Leonard Sasmansky exchanged a cordial "hello."
Luckily, for the community, this important and far-reaching issue has not become too wildly politicized and all those involved are taking a cautious "let's see" approach. At the present time, there is recognition that there are more questions than answers about the real costs involved with either diverting sewage or upgrading the two facilities on East Shore Road.
But when it comes to the day-to-day operations of the WPCD plant on East Shore Road that services broad swaths of Great Neck, including sections of the Old Village, Kensington, Thomaston, the Plaza, Saddle Rock and unincorporated areas of the Town of North Hempstead, there has been a steady stream of accusations from the opponent relating to how efficiently and effectively it is run.
Mr. Samansky, longtime mayor of the Village of Saddle Rock says, "I supported David Lurie in his last election, but until this year, didn't realize how poorly things were being handled over there ... they operate in secrecy and always point the finger at someone else for any of their problems."
The trouble started between the village and the district this past spring when the district began to attempt to do work on an underground pump station that is situated under the street at the bottom of Greenleaf Hill Road in the Village of Saddle Rock. According to David Lurie, the district wrote three letters to Mayor Samansky at various stages about the intent to do the work, which would require closing the street for the duration of the work and received no response from him. Mr. Samansky acknowledges that the correspondence occurred, but said that having no objections to the work, no response was needed.
It was when the work became imminent that a conflict between the two entities began to spark. There was a major delay when it was discovered that the design for the pump station did not take into account the layout of the nearby water main. The district's position was that the lines for the water main were incorrectly drawn on the street while superintendent of the Water Authority of Great Neck North of which Mr. Samansky is a director, states in a letter dated Nov. 2, 2005 that the engineering firm working for the district should have known that when the pump station was installed back in the 1970s, the water main was moved. At any rate, this crimp in the work resulted in another delay. The work is still in progress.
Both Mr. Samansky and the district officials have been allowed to write their own accounts of the saga, defend their positions, tell their side of the story in this paper. (See Great Neck Record issues, Sept. 29, 2005, "Big Dig" and Nov. 10, 2005 "Dig We Must" for which there was a point of retraction.) In essence, the district commissioners say that Mr. Samansky caused delays by insisting on postponing the work until school was out even though the WPCD had checked with the school's transportation department who stated that there were no pickups on the street. Further, they say he caused delays by requiring a higher performance bond than necessary from the contractor and generally inserting himself in the middle of procedures the district requires. Mr. Samansky says that the district went about the work in a manner that was inefficient and hampered by poor communication.
One thing is clear. In talking with both Mr. Lurie and Mr. Samansky, it was evident that both were exasperated with the other.
Mr. Lurie says that during his time on the board, the district has made positive strides in preventing back-ups in the system by moving proactively to cut down on grease blockages through public education and crackdowns on restaurants that do not dispose of grease properly. He also says that he was instrumental in promoting the use of bio-diesel fuels and is proud of the new hybrid vehicle recently acquired.
Mr. Samansky, however, is critical of the emergency system in place at the plant saying that during a 400,000 gallon spill this summer, the alarm system did not go off and that it is difficult to reach the supervisor directly by phone. Mr. Lurie counters that the prompts for the phone on the weekends or evening take a caller to the emergency answering company that forwards calls to the supervisor. In addition, he says, that a district employee lives in the Bayview building (adjacent to the library) and is on call 24/7.
One of the main objections to the candidacy of Mr. Samansky revolves around his role as mayor of a local village and the charge that if he became a commissioner at the WPCD it would constitute a conflict of interest. Mr. Samansky bristles at the criticism. "What about Allen Gussack who was mayor of the Plaza for many years and who served at the same time on the water district board? A precedent has been set." He goes on to add that commissioner Deena Lesser who is also employed by the Town of North Hempstead as director of inter-municipal affairs could, if judged using the same gauge, be seen as susceptible to a conflict of interest situation, perhaps favoring unincorporated areas over villages. He says, "It's just silly. I'm on the board of the water authority and have always worked for better water for everybody, not just my village ... and if there were a conflict, well, the fall-back position would be to recuse myself."
Mr. Lurie who has served as a commissioner for over 2 years now says that the learning curve for the position is "never-ending." He says that he spends a great deal of time reading 8 to 10 specialized journals on wastewater treatment per month. "There is new technology coming out all the time on better ways of inspecting, burying and maintaining pipes...we have to keep up to date." As a result of his research, the district installed sewer manhole inserts that are made of pine chips. These inserts, relatively inexpensive, filter the sewer gas and also block intrusion of rainwater, which means there is less water to treat, another money saver. He said, "If you notice, there are no more bad smells on East Shore Road ... we are really proud of that."
Although Mr. Samansky has been criticized for working in the Gulotta administration of Nassau County, he says that he is proud of the work he did during that era. He says, "When I was the ombudsman and the director of accounts, which was shorthand for accountability, I helped many, many people to cut through the red tape of the bureaucracy. I was the one who worked with the FBI to bring a corrupt public official before a grand jury for an indictment. I didn't hold the purse strings of the county, but I did my job. And during the time that I was in charge of emergency management, our response to New York City during 9-11 was exemplary."
Both men have held various volunteer positions of responsibility and service to the community. In the end, both are running on their records.
The election for the WPCD is on Tuesday, Dec. 13 between the hours of 3 and 9 p.m.: zip codes 11020, 11021 and 11030 vote at Grace Avenue Senior Center; zip codes 11023 and 11024 vote at the E.M. Baker School.