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Letter: Part Two: Selling Off the County’s Sewage Treatment Plants

(Editor’s note: This letter is in response to “Denenberg Asks AG to Investigate Privatization of Sewage Plants,” that appeared in the Thursday, Jan. 14, edition of The Roslyn News. This is the second of two letters from Claudia Borecky. The first letter appeared in last week’s edition.)

County Executive Mangano is proposing to sell or lease three of the County’s sewage treatment plants (STP), Cedar Creek, Bay Park and Glen Cove, to fill the county’s budget gap. He stated in a Long Island Press article, “In this case, we have the ability to protect the taxpayer, increase efficiencies and protect the environment.”

In last week’s letter, I discussed how Nassau County will lose its ability to protect the taxpayer and sale of our STPs will mean a huge increase in our sewage tax bill. Research has also shown that the quality of service often declines when operated by a private system. Although faith in the private sector to outperform government agencies is ingrained in the American psyche, facts disproving that belief are steadily mounting. Private companies seek to maximize profits, often by cutting corners to reduce costs. This can greatly impair service quality and maintenance. Over 60 percent of governments that brought functions back in-house reported this as their primary motivation.

In 2010, Morgan Stanley, the very same company that the County just hired, fostered a deal for the City of Indianapolis to take back its water and wastewater facilities from Veolia at a cost of $1.7 billion. The city had the second worst drinking water in the country. A grand jury investigated accusations that Veolia was skimping on staffing, water testing, maintenance and chemicals. Ironically, Veolia is one of the companies bidding for our STPs and is currently running our bus transportation. Do we really want a company with a long history of cutting corners and environmental violations running our sewage treatment plants?

Nassau County will lose its ability to protect our environment.

When private companies cut corners to increase profits, it can lead to shoddy work and deferred maintenance. Milwaukee’s recent experience with sewage spills, again under Veolia, highlights this risk.

Private companies have privacy protection. They are not required to reveal their reports to the public and are not subject to Freedom of Information Requests. Again using Aqua Water as an example, we believe that our infrastructure is falling apart, yet we are unable to get maintenance and operation reports of even crisis situations such as water main breaks in the system. Once privately owned, how well will the County be able to monitor the STPs and protect our waterways from sewage leaks?

There are currently three critical research studies under way for the Western Bays. Once completed, all three studies will be used to assess the health of our Western Bays and will be used to craft a restoration plan.

The studies found high levels of ammonium (mainly from hair care products) and nitrogen (mainly from our sewage and water run-off) near Bay Park STP’s outflow pipe. Serious respiratory problems are being reported from Point Lookout residents. The County Health Department admits that it could be caused by hydrogen sulfide gas emanating from seaweed decomposing at its shores. Sewage leaks in our waterways may be the reason for the increase in seaweed growth. Tertiary treatment that filters out nitrogen and an ocean outflow pipe are being considered at Bay Park to remediate our waterways. Does anyone believe that a private company will invest in such improvements if they will not bring in more profit?

The Future

The County expects to receive approximately $1 billion for the sale of our STPs. To be profitable, the new company is likely to cut corners, take in toxic hydrofracking wastewater from upstate, sewage from Suffolk, pollute our waterways and increase our sewage tax.

We cannot foresee what problems we’ll face in the future. Twenty years ago, hydrofracking was not even conceived of. But at least under public control, the people could elect representatives they trust to protect the health and safety of our families and our environment.

The Crest Law of the Iroquois Confederacy states, “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the seventh generation.” It would be irresponsible for Mangano to look to fill the county’s budget gap without considering what effect that decision will have on our children’s children.

Claudia Borecky
President, North and Central Merrick Civic Association
and founding member of Sludge Stoppers