Sandy Recovery

Pipe dream quashed by FEMA

Agency denies funds for ocean outfall line


The Federal Emergency Management Agency has turned down New York state’s request for funding to build an outfall pipe to send wastewater from the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant into the Atlantic Ocean.

FEMA rejected the request because the agency deemed the project ineligible for public assistance funding under federal law, according to Michael Meenan, a spokesman for the agency’s New York Sandy Recovery Field Office.

“The Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant ocean outfall pipe project is not eligible for FEMA public assistance funding because such an outfall pipe did not exist when Sandy hit in October 2012,” Meenan explained. “Therefore, federal law prohibits spending FEMA funds on such an endeavor.”

In a letter to FEMA on May 6, Joe Martens, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, requested $690 million for the outfall pipe and an additional $130 million for a nitrogen-removal system for the Bay Park plant. Martens wrote that studies show that the nitrogen in the wastewater weakens coastal marshlands, which could be detrimental if another storm hits.

“Loss of marshlands results in significant increases in erosion and shoreline damage during even moderate storm events, placing the densely populated communities of Southern Nassau County at greater risk,” the letter stated.

The plant, built in 1949, treats approximately 50 million gallons of sewage per day — 60 percent of Nassau County’s sewage — and the treated effluent is released into Reynolds Channel. The facility was out of service for two days after Hurricane Sandy, having been hit with a 9-foot tidal surge, and roughly 100 million gallons of untreated sewage flowed into Hewlett Bay and Reynolds Channel. Another 2.2 billion gallons of partially treated sewage was released during the 44 days it took to fully restore operations, according to scientific researchers at Climate Central.

The proposed outfall pipe would send the wastewater into the Atlantic, reducing the nitrogen levels in the Western Bays and allowing the bays to recover, said Mike Martino, spokesman for the county Department of Public Works.

Martino said that FEMA’s rejection is not the end of the search for funding for the outfall pipe, and that the county would continue trying to find the money. “County Executive [Ed] Mangano will continue to work with federal and state officials to achieve an ocean outfall pipe for Bay Park,” Martino said.

Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Mangano, said that county officials had not yet received notice of FEMA’s denial, but would continue to pursue other funding options. “[We] will continue to fight for funding of an ocean outfall pipe from other funding sources that exist,” he said.

Martino and Nevin said that those other sources could include the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Program, which has already given the county $150 million for a nitrogen-removal system for the plant; the Environmental Facilities Corporation; the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, whose New York District is responsible for the Corps’ water resource development.

FEMA awarded $810 million to the county to rebuild the plant after Sandy.