Sunrise Highway aqueduct study moves forward

County hopes pipeline could transport treated sewage from Bay Park to Cedar Creek ocean outfall

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Nassau County officials remain optimistic that a 110-year-old aqueduct running underneath Sunrise Highway can 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.

About 7,500 feet of the aqueduct — 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 — have been inspected by Aecom USA Inc, under contract with the Nassau County Department of Public Works. The second phase of the study began on Easter and will close portions of Route 27 from Lynbrook to Wantagh this spring.

The Bay Park plant currently discharges treated wastewater into Reynolds Channel from a cement pipe north of the Long Beach fishing pier. County Executive Ed Mangano said that the repurposing of the Sunrise Highway aqueduct would become part of a clean-water initiative to reduce nitrogen in the Western Bays.

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, he said, it robs the saltwater of dissolved oxygen, killing marine life.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said that 85 percent of the nitrogen going into the Western Bays comes directly from the South Shore Water Reclamation Facility. Her organization, along with groups like Operation SPLASH, previously lobbied for funding to construct an ocean outfall pipe at Bay Park, but was unable to secure the more than $550 million needed for the project.

Mangano announced the aqueduct plan, which he estimates would cost $360 million, last May. The $2.4 million study of the pipeline began on March 15 in Freeport, just west of the Meadowbrook Parkway exit ramp.

Mangano said that the initial inspection indicated that the aqueduct is in good physical condition and that the pipe has maintained its shape. “If proven usable, the reutilization of this pipeline will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars while also improving water quality in Reynolds Channel, Hewlett Bay, Brosewere Bay and the Rockaways,” he added.

In a statement released to the Herald, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation officials said they were encouraged by the initial results of the county’s engineering assessment of the aqueduct. “The Cedar Creek alternative will result in approximately ‎$200 million in cost savings and accelerate implementation by approximately two years,” they said, “which will greatly reduce nitrogen pollution of the Western Bays and dramatically improve water quality and habitat.”

The study will continue along 9.5 miles of Sunrise Highway. During the inspection and assessment, two lanes of eastbound traffic will be partially closed. To minimize the impact, Mangano said that the majority of the work would be done in stages on shorter sections of the roadway between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. This week, night construction is scheduled through Thursday in the eastbound direction, starting in Lynbrook. At least one travel lane will remain open. 

Crews will document the condition of the steel, rivets, joints, connections, valve chambers and manholes. The study will also include the creation of a topographical survey of the manholes; a visual survey of the exterior and interior of the aqueduct; reports of all visible damage and structural damage of the pipeline, complete with photo and video records; and “performing any other testing or inspections that will aid in the determination of the friction factor of the pipeline and its capacity for pressurization,” according to the county.

All findings and conclusions will be summarized in a report that will help county leaders to determine their next action. Legislator Steve Rhoads, a Republican from Bellmore who represents Wantagh and Seaford, said officials hope the study is completed by the end of June.

Rhoads said that, at public forums about the aqueduct plan, his constituents have raised concerns about the pipeline being damaged when Long Island Rail Road stations along the Babylon branch were elevated in the 1950s and ‘60s. He noted that county leaders are doing due diligence and inspecting the aqueduct.

“This way, we’ll know whether or not this plan can move forward,” Rhoads explained. “This plan presented us with an attractive option to solve a critical problem at a fraction of the cost. If we can solve this problem, the Western Bays will have the ability to regenerate themselves, and residents can use them again in ways that nature intended.”

Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Mangano, said that if the inspection determines that the aqueduct is usable, the county will hire a consulting engineering firm to help design new facilities to pump treated effluent from Bay Park to the Cedar Creek ocean outfall pipe. The county would need to build new pumping stations at Bay Park and Cedar Creek, as well as two underground pipes that would connect the aqueduct to each plant.

Completing the design of the new facilities and obtaining required environmental approvals could take a year or more, Nevin said. Construction could begin as early as the end of 2018 or as late as mid-2019, and is anticipated to take up to three years.

County officials are exploring additional funding sources for the project. So far, Nevin said, they have obtained a $5 million grant from the state DEC and $41.7 million from New York State Environmental Facilities Corp Storm Mitigation Loan Program, and have applied for $150 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Esposito expressed cautious optimism. “It’s almost surreal,” she said. “We’ve been fighting this issue for over a decade, and now to see the light at the end of the tunnel is just — we’re ecstatic. We’re holding our breath. We can’t wait for them to finish.”