County officials announced last week that they are accepting design proposals from engineering firms after a three-month study confirmed that a 110-year-old aqueduct running underneath Sunrise Highway is a “viable host pipe” to transport treated sewage from the South Shore Water Reclamation Facility in Bay Park to the ocean outfall pipe at the Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant on the Wantagh-Seaford border.
The Bay Park plant currently discharges treated wastewater into Reynolds Channel from a cement pipe north of the Long Beach fishing pier. Carl Lobue, a marine scientist with the Nature Conservancy, explained that treated wastewater is loaded with nitrogen, which accelerates seaweed growth. The seaweed, called ulva lactuca, breaks apart in the tides and rots. As it does, Lobue said, it robs the saltwater of dissolved oxygen, killing marine life.
Some environmental activists support the aqueduct plan because they say that moving treated sewage to the ocean would help rehabilitate the Western Bays. But Wantagh and Seaford residents have concerns about the impact it could have on local waterways. At a meeting of the Cedar Creek Oversight Committee on June 28, they asked county officials to hold a community meeting to answer residents’ questions.
Two days earlier, Brian Schneider, assistant to the deputy commissioner of the Nassau County Department of Public Works, had updated South Shore residents, at Operation SPLASH headquarters in Freeport, about the $2.4 million study of the Sunrise Highway aqueduct, which was constructed between 1890 and 1892, and enlarged in 1900, to bring fresh water from Long Island’s streams, ponds and lakes to New York City. Schneider said that requests for proposals from engineering firms were sent out on June 19 and should be completed by July 21.
“We’re looking to fast-track this as quickly as possible,” Schneider said, noting the timeline could fluctuate. “… From a timing perspective, if it’s due July 21, I would like to see by mid-September we have [picked a firm]. And then it needs to go to the County Legislature.” Schneider added that the county would like to award the contract by the fall.
The proposals will include designs for repurposing the aqueduct with a new interior lining, a new pumping station at Bay Park, new pipes to connect the pumping station to the aqueduct and a new set of pipes that connect the aqueduct to the ocean outfall at Cedar Creek. Construction would begin in mid-2019 and take two to three years to complete.
As of June 30, Nassau County Deputy Executive Rob Walker said, 83 percent of the pipe had been studied. He said that the remaining 17 percent does not need examining. “The engineers did enough to know that the structural integrity is there,” he said. “So why waste more time and money?” Walker noted that engineers could also continue the study during the design process.
Walker said that the county has secured a grant of about $40 million to cover the design phase of the project. He expressed confidence that federal and state money would cover the entire scope of it, even if the funds have not yet been acquired. “We have most of the money in place,” he said.
The project has been estimated to cost between $300 million and $350 million, but Schneider cautioned that the number could change. Although the inspection of the aqueduct was a big step, he said, there are still financial hurdles to clear.
“This is not a done deal,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “It’s just progress. Now it’s a real option, when before it was just an idea.”
The Bay Park plant discharges 50 million gallons of sewage per day into the Western Bays, according to Esposito. Phil Franco, president of the Seaford Harbor Civic Association and co-chairman of the Cedar Creek Oversight Committee, said that he is concerned about how the extra pressure will impact the Cedar Creek ocean outfall.
“The condition of our outfall pipe is the number one issue,” he said. “This pipe is almost 40 years old already. We’d like [the county] to do tests with dye to see if anything shows up in our bay. We don’t want the Western Bays to suffer, but we also want our bay to be protected.”
The ocean outfall pipe is 2½ miles from the shore at Jones Beach. The additional treated wastewater, or effluent, from Bay Park would be limited to a maximum of 75 million gallons per day, according to Mary Studdert, a spokeswoman for the county DPW. Any additional treated sewage would be discharged through the existing Bay Park outfall, she said.
Studdert said that officials periodically inspect the outfall pipe’s distribution chamber and diffusers in the Atlantic Ocean, and there have not been any leaks in the past decade.
Franco suggested that county leaders test the ocean outfall pipe to determine what would happen during large storms, when flow through the pipe system would increase. The 10 residents at last week’s meeting of the Cedar Creek Oversight Committee agreed, saying they had more questions about the project.
Mike Martino, community affairs director for Suez — a private company hired to operate both plants — said that the county makes decisions about the project. He told Walker that Wantagh and Seaford residents wanted a community meeting. Both Walker and Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhoads said that a forum would be held after leaders examine the aqueduct study.
“The idea is promising in theory, but we had to do the study so we can see if theory can be put into practice in a way that’s environmentally safe and would be cost-effective for us to do,” Rhoads said. “There is no question that the opportunity to be able to stop the pollution in the Western Bays is a noble and worthy goal. We have to have more of the details to be able to find out if this would be an effective plan.”
The study of the 9.5-mile pipeline began on March 15 in Freeport, west of Sunrise Highway’s Meadowbrook Parkway exit ramp. Aecom USA Inc. conducted the study, which included documenting the condition of the steel, rivets, joints, connections, valve chambers and manholes, surveying the interior and exterior of the aqueduct and noting visible damage to the pipeline.
Esposito said that even if the 17 percent of the pipe that was not studied proves to have issues, engineers could patch and repair it. She said she was optimistic that the bays would be restored and become a vibrant water body again.
“We’ve worked together for 15 years,” she said. “It’s really been a long time. … It’s time for some good news for the bay. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”