A county plan to use a 112-year-old aqueduct beneath Sunrise Highway to transport treated effluent eight miles from Bay Park to the Wantagh-Seaford border is on the cusp of becoming a reality.
Dozens of South Shore residents filed into the Wantagh High School auditorium on Feb. 28 to hear the latest update on the project. Many offered vocal support for the endeavor, while others voiced their concerns.
Brian Schneider, the county’s deputy executive for parks and public works, said his department has submitted a draft of a request for proposals to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for review. The request asks engineers to formulate the best way to complete the Ocean Outfall Diversion Plan, which would reroute treated effluent from the Bay Park Water Reclamation Facility to the Cedar Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant. It would do so through the Sunrise aqueduct, which sent water from Long Island to New York City in the early 1900s.
“It will give a tremendous amount of flexibility to these designers to think of unique ways not only to save money,” Schneider said, “but to work with the community to make sure we’re not going to be impacting people’s lives.”
The project is estimated to cost $350 million. Bonds and grants will cover most of it, but Schneider told the Herald that the county might have to “get creative.”
Because the 72-inch steel pipe is beneath Sunrise Highway, workers will have to access it through manholes, which could mean lane closures during the work. Once in the aqueduct, the engineers will “slip-line” it with a new, smaller polyethylene pipe. Engineers will also be tasked with coming up with routes for constructing a pair of two-mile pipes to connect the aqueduct to Bay Park and Cedar Creek.
Schneider said that the best plan for connecting Sunrise to both plants would be to dig into parking lots, but he cautioned that there might also be some commuter disruption. Jim Tierney, the DEC’s deputy commissioner for water resources, said that it is ultimately up to engineers.
“Part of the charge to the designers is to understand the geology, understand the communities and understand the potential pathways that would have the least disruption to the community,” Tierney said. He added that construction techniques, such as directional drilling underground instead of trenching, could be used to mitigate issues, as could night work.
Schneider said that despite some deterioration of the interior surfaces of the aqueduct, officials were encouraged by its stability, and added that the polyethylene pipe would curtail potential leaks. Engineering company AECOM studied the pipe from March to June 2017, and deemed it a viable host.
‘We have to address the problem’
Each day, the Bay Park plant sends 52 million gallons of nitrogen-loaded effluent into the Western Bays, which stretch for 10 miles, from the Rockaway Inlet in the west to the Jones Inlet in the east. The nitrogen “literally deadens the water,” Tierney said, and has led to the loss of marine life and marshes, which are critical barriers in fending off coastal flooding during storms.
“It violates state and federal water quality standards,” Tierney said. “The conditions of those waters are illegal.”
During Hurricane Sandy, the Bay Park plant sustained significant damage when part of it was hit with a 9-foot wall of water. Through federal grants, $810 million has been invested in upgrades to make it more storm-resilient.
Built in 1968, the Cedar Creek pipe has the capacity to take on 240 million gallons of effluent per day, and now has 57 million gallons pumped through it daily. Cedar Creek’s ocean outfall pipe extends three miles out into the Atlantic.
“We have to address the problem,” Tierney said. “Denying that it’s there is not an option anymore. We have to take it on. Because Long Island’s future depends on that, and we want to build a Long Island that’s forever.”
There have been several alternative solutions offered to address the problem. They include building a new outfall pipe from Bay Park into the ocean; tunneling a pipe underground through Long Beach; building a denitrification plant; and an energy-intensive solution to reduce the concentration of nitrogen being dumped into the Western Bays from 17 parts per million to two parts per million. Each has been deemed too expensive.
While many residents supported restoring the bays, some expressed concerns about potential pipe leaks, fears that the Cedar Creek pipe will fail and issues with pharmaceuticals and other pollutants being flushed through the pipes.
Phillip Franco, co-chair of the Cedar Creek Oversight Committee, said he was worried about the 50-year-old Cedar Creek pipe taking on double its normal load. “We’ve had a lot of talk about the pipe on Sunrise Highway, but I’ve heard zero tonight on the outfall that’s existing that we have,” Franco said to a smattering of applause. “For instance, what kind of testing is being done on that that says we can handle this?”
Schneider said that the pipe is inspected every five years, and added that part of the design bidding will include testing it. In addition, the Bay Park pipe could still be used to dump effluent in an emergency.
David Stern, a scientist specializing in wetland treatment, said he would strongly urge the state and county to pursue an alternate use of the aqueduct under Sunrise. He said he believed the best idea would be to use it to transport the effluent from Bay Park to the headwaters of Mill River and Hempstead Lake, and connect to a conduit there. That plan, he said, would be less expensive and cause less pollution, while eliminating 10 miles of construction, and would cost about $60 million.
Reached by phone last week, Schneider said it was an interesting idea, but cautioned that it could be problematic. “[Stern’s] proposal would be to transmit secondarily treated sewage — even though it’s going to be a lower nitrogen load — into a water body that is connected to a sole-source aquifer,” Schneider said. “That’s a concern.”
County Legislator Steve Rhoads, who hosted the forum, said that there would be regular meetings during the project. The next is scheduled for March 13, at East Rockaway Village Hall, at 7 p.m.
“This is the start of a conversation with the community,” Tierney said. “We’re going to be back.”