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Schumer Urges Navy To Expedite Bethpage Reimbursement

Water district has borrowed millions already for water treatment

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has called on the U.S. Navy, by way of the Department of Justice, which is representing the Navy in legal proceedings, to immediately agree to reimburse the Bethpage Water District (BWD) for the money it has spent on equipment and treatment plants to purify drinking water contaminated by the toxic Bethpage plume.  The district has had to issue bonds of almost $14 million for the construction and operation of equipment to treat the drinking water, and repaying those bonds will cost approximately $3,000 per household if the district is not reimbursed. The BWD has already had to make the first payment of $1 million, which will cost ratepayers approximately $100 this year. Schumer, who has been a leading advocate for aggressive cleanup of the plume, called on the U.S. Navy to immediately begin paying the Bethpage Water District for the cost of the equipment and treatment plants so that ratepayers are not charged for cleaning up a situtation they did not create.

Schumer stood at the Motor Lane wellhead treatment plant known as “Plant 6”, on Oct. 11, and was joined by BWD Commissioners William Ellinger and Gary Bretton, Business Manager Sal Greco and Anthony Sabino, counsel to the BWD.

“Bethpage residents didn’t cause this mess and they shouldn’t have to pay to clean it up,” said Schumer. “The Navy and Department of Justice should stop stringing the water district and its customers along and provide the resources needed to pay down the bonds and prevent water bills from sky-rocketing. It is bad enough that residents have to deal with the toxic plume – they shouldn’t have to pay extra to do so.”  

The U.S. Navy operated a Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve in Bethpage for many years, beginning in the late 1930s, which has resulted in at least two plumes containing chemicals classified as carcinogens. Since 1976, when contamination concerns were first identified, the plume has spread and is currently threatening over 20 additional public drinking wells that serve over 250,000 Nassau County residents in Bethpage, Massapequa, South Farmingdale and Wantagh Districts.

There are at least two plumes currently within the Bethpage community, and contaminants were detected in five of the eight wells operated by BWD. The first plume originates from the Grumman Aerospace Corporation and Navy manufacturing facilities, and the smaller plume is associated with the Bethpage Community Park where Grumman and the Navy disposed of wastes. The BWD currently has 8,800 customers.

As a remediation effort, BWD recently built a wellhead treatment facility, known as Plant 6, to purify the drinking water and ensure the delivery of high quality water to the Bethpage community. Because of the plume, the water contains volatile organic compounds (VOC), and Plant 6 will provide a two-step process to provide drinking water free of any VOCs, such as tetrachloroethylene (TCE). This wellhead treatment center employs “air stripping,” and “granulated activated carbon” technology to remove TCE to non-detectable levels. Air stripping involves air being force blown through a column of water so that TCE attaches to the air and is removed from the water. This treatment is 99 percent effective at TCE removal at Plant 6 concentrations. The treated water is then run through the Granulated Activated Carbon (GAC) and the carbon filters out the remaining 1 percent completing a 100 percent removal rate.

The district has had to issue bonds of almost $14 million for the construction and operation of equipment to treat the drinking water. The water district provided the U.S. Navy with all the necessary information, including construction costs, expecting to be reimbursed for the plant. To date, the BWD has not received any reimbursement payments from the U.S. Navy and the delay has caused the BWD to make their first payment of $1 million of almost $14 million. Repaying these bonds will cost ratepayers $95 per year, amounting to $2,850 over the course of the loan. These costs are in addition to the normal water bill that homeowners must pay.

Schumer called on the U.S. Navy, and the Department of Justice, who negotiates on their behalf, to immediately reimburse the Bethpage Water District for the cost and operation of Plant 6. Similarly, after Schumer’s push, the South Farmingdale Water District, who is also affected by this plume, received approximately $14 million settlement from the Department of Defense to protect the district’s Plant 1 in 2010.

In early October, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) wrote to Schumer regarding the Bethpage plume and noted that the NYS DEC met with Grumman and the Navy in October of 2011 and were unsuccessful in getting the Navy to provide reimbursement payments. Schumer explained that he has long supported an immediate remediation plan as opposed to wellhead treatment; however, BWD’s Plant 6 is a step in the right direction. Schumer is demanding that the Navy stop dragging their feet and finally pay for the costs of this wellhead treatment plant so that ratepayers are not forced to foot the bill.

Schumer has been a leading advocate for aggressive federal cleanup of the Bethpage plume, which affects the Bethpage, Massapequa, South Farmingdale and Wantagh communities. In 2008, Schumer first called on the U.S. Navy to reimburse South Farmingdale Water District the cost of a wellhead treatment facility and after Schumer’s push, South Farmingdale Water District received a $14.55 million settlement from the Department of Justice in 2010. In April 2010, Schumer convened a meeting along with the U.S. Navy, Northrop-Grumman, New York State Department of Environmental Protection (NYS DEC), the EPA and local water districts to chart out a roadmap to clean the plume and reimburse local water districts.  As a result of this working group, a geological survey and EPA study confirmed that the Navy’s modeling failed to adequately assess threats to Long Island’s drinking water.  This finding led to a federally funded “optimization review” report commissioned by the Navy and completed by third-party experts that recommended new steps to deal with the plume.  

In September 2010, Schumer secured an EPA commitment to take a lead role in clean-up oversight and the EPA continues to work closely with the DEC on the newest remediation plan known as “OU-3.”  In June, NYS DEC held public comment session regarding the PRAP for OU-3.  Just before public comment session, Schumer called on the Navy and NYS DEC, to include additional remediation wells before the toxins begin to reach more and more drinking wells. For years Schumer has advocated a strategy of aggressive and proactive remediation, as opposed to simply treating the wells as they become infected.  He continues to urge the EPA to take the lead role in the cleanup.