The anger and frustration over the difficulties in resolving the multi-faceted issues facing the two sewage treatment plants on East Shore Road erupted at times during a lengthy and intense meeting run by Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman and attended by the Sewer Advisory Committee, made up of five mayors; two of the commissioners of the Water Pollution Control District, and a cadre of district engineering, environmental and public relations consultants.
A conference call patched to William Spitz, the Regional Water Manager in the Division of Water at the DEC, highlighted a number of key points.
In 30 days, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will make a ruling that will determine whether the construction of a combined sewage treatment plant will move along on a relatively fast track or will require detailed and time-consuming environmental studies.
If the DEC issues a "negative declaration," it means that the construction of the proposed sewage treatment plant is determined not to have significant adverse environmental impacts. On the other hand, if the agency issues a "positive declaration," it means that the construction could have potentially significant adverse environmental impacts and would require detailed studies, plans for mitigating negative impacts and sign-offs from relevant agencies or divisions. This ruling will mark the beginning of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR) process with the rather unusual arrangement of the DEC taking on the role as lead agency, coordinating and organizing the review.
Answering a number of Mr. Kaiman's questions, Mr. Spitz noted that the DEC does not have enough information currently to determine if the project is viable or not.
He also emphasized that a number of permit approvals are needed from other agencies, such as the NY Department of State and the U.S. Corps of Engineers and thusly, outside the control of the DEC.
In regard to receiving federal stimulus monies, Mr. Spitz said, "I don't think it's reasonable to expect that a project of such an enormous size would be under construction in 11 months." He added that another round of stimulus money might be available at a later date.
Diversion to Cedar Creek was mentioned, but that option is realistically speaking "off the table" now that Nassau County has acknowledged its own financial problems in running and maintaining their sewage treatment plants and there is talk of privatization of the those facilities.
Conflicting information has complicated the governance of the project. The district's engineers in computing the placement of the oval-shaped, 280 foot long, 20 foot high oxidation ditch did not take into account the 75-foot setback from tidal wetlands required. This placement will require a variance from the DEC. An engineer from Gannet Fleming, Inc. stated at the meeting that New York City has received such variances for closer placement to the shoreline. This problem was only recently noted when top experts from the DEC made a site visit.
There is also a requirement that the surface within 300 feet of the shoreline is a permeable one. The oxidation ditch would not meet that requirement.
A Nassau County storm drainpipe runs under the area where the oxidation ditch is slated for placement. That pipe would have to be moved and, further, it would have to be updated to meet current standards for filtering sediments out of the water before release into Manhasset Bay.
The repaired and extended bulkhead, which was originally presented as an option, is actually necessary according to the DEC. The NY Department of State must sign off on any "hardening" of the coastline and permits from the Corps of Engineers are necessary for any bulkhead construction.
Space for future mandated upgrades is also a concern.
Supervisor Kaiman has been investigating purchasing land from Commander Oil and/or adding a strip of land from the Village of Kensington. Discussions have also touched on moving administrative offices from the site to another location, either the Bayview Avenue pumping facility or the village's current treatment plant site.
The most vocal critic of the commissioner-run special district has been Mayor Leonard Samansky of Saddle Rock. At the Friday, March 20 meeting, he called for the commissioners to resign, stating that their "incompetence and over-reliance on consultants and tendency for secrecy" has led to this impasse. He said, "Every time we meet with you, there's something new that you haven't told us about."
Mayor of Kensington Susan Lopatkin said, "What he's saying is that the commissioners are showing no leadership."
Supervisor Kaiman, while backing off from taking legal steps to dissolve the board, made a number of critical comments as well, saying, "The commissioners are out of touch...for them, money is no object." The supervisor commented that perhaps the Mayor's Advisory Board might evolve into a "steering" board.
Deena Lesser, the only commissioner left in the room at this point stated, "We have a fiduciary responsibility and legally you have no right to change the function of the advisory board." District chairperson Jane Rebhuhn was not present at the meeting and Jerry Landsberg had had to leave for another appointment.
Libby Ford, a district consultant from Nixon Peabody and an environmental health engineer, stated that she thinks the applications are proceeding at a normal pace and appeared more optimistic about working through the bureaucratic maze. Not all were reassured.
With the harsh reality of delayed start-ups to construction, Mayor of the Village of Great Neck Ralph Kreitzman expressed his worries about whether or not a combined plant is now viable given all the mounting problems. He said, "We have immediate problems of deadlines and potential penalties from the DEC if we have to construct our own separate plant. I really need to know what to do now."
In 2006, the district declared that there was not enough space to permit the construction of a combined plant serving their flow and the Village of Great Neck's plant. The district and the village began to prepare separate plans for upgrade.
In late 2007, at the urging of Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, the district brought in another engineering firm that determined that with some creative "scrunching" there would be a way to build an oxidation ditch big enough to handle both flows. By early 2008, it was announced that a combination of both plants would be actively pursued.
During the same time period, Mr. Kaiman explored acquiring a narrow strip of parkland from Kensington to enable the district to have more space for the project. That action required an act from the New York State Legislature, and at that time, the idea was dropped because of time constraints. (That possibility is back on the table currently.)
Mr. Kaiman and the town council appointed an Advisory Committee, made up of mayors from the affected areas, Kensington, Saddle Rock, the Plaza, Thomaston and the Village of Great Neck to advise the town on the matter. After months of negotiations, an intermunicipal agreement was hammered out between the village and the district, which indicated that there would be significant operational savings to the residents brought about by an economy of scale of a larger facility.
The town council agreed to loan the district $1 million to cover design costs until the project is bonded.
The lure of federal money in the stimulus package raised hopes for reducing the amount of money to be bonded and fueled the urgency to finalize design plans and permit applications. The growing list of permits and complications has dimmed the prospects of federal grants now and has left officials frustrated, but determined to overcome the obstacles.