New York City has been found liable for polluting
the Long Island Sound, from the weekend boating near the Throgs Neck Bridge (top), to the
Bayside Marina area were locals boat and fish (above) to the water racing by the shores of
The heavy rain that Queens residents are praying for
could mean a flow of raw sewage and street garbage for the waters we boat, fish and swim
in around the borough.
Mark Tedesco, director of the non-profit Long Island Sound
Keepers organization that monitors the health of the body of water, explained that the
Sound has two concerns. The first is the problem of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO) and the
second is a contamination problem called hypoxia which limits oxygen in the water and
strangles marine life.
Tedesco explained that although the Sound is much healthier
today than it was 25 years ago leading to so much more recreational water activity
in Queens that doesnt mean it is safe to make a steady diet out of fish
caught in the waters or clams dug up from the sandy beaches.
New York Citys sewers and road run-off drainage flow
together into its sewage treatment plants. Those plants then treat what was once dumped
into the ocean as sludge, shipping the solid by-products out for use as fertilizer and
releasing the liquid by-products into New York waterways. As for the sound, that equals
over 500 million gallons per day.
Tribune Photos By Ira Cohen
However, Tedesco explained and the Department of
Enviromental Protection that runs the plants confirmed, when the City has a heavy rain,
combined sewers send more to the treatments plants than can be handled and the overflow
must be released directly into the sound.
DEP Spokesperson Christina Manos added that the department
currently has a program underway to build CSO tanks that will catch the overflow for
treatment at a later date. One such tank should be completed in late 2001 in Flushing, she
added. However, none of the planned tanks in the $1.5 billion project to stop the overflow
are in place and operating at this time.
Hypoxia & Algae
Tedesco went on to explain that the citys discharge of nitrogen into the Sound is
causing the suffocating problem called hypoxia.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew J. Gershon, currently
involved in the lawsuit that claims the city has been dumping too much nitrogen and
breaking their permits, said hypoxia means that the waters oxygen level has dropped.
The nitrogen which is a fertilizer is in the
discharge from the treatment plants and has caused an abnormal increase in algae growth
and the algae is using up oxygen in the bottom-most, cooler layers of the Sounds
water. Though the top layers are churned and oxygenated by waves, the bottom layer is
continuing to lose oxygen creating what he called a "dead zone," where
"fish are driven out and other marine life leaves or is injured and killed" due
to lack of oxygen.
Suing New York City
While the States lawsuit against the City of New York for polluting the Long Island
Sound and Jamaica Bay has already led to a judgement against the city, the Sound Keepers
have a federal suit in progress which they hope will have the same results.
A State Supreme Court judge ruled in early July that the
city was liable for over 200 violations of their permits to discharge sewage plant waste
into the sound, explained Gershon. The violations involved eight City sewage treatment
plants. Four plants the Bowery Bay and Tallman Island plants in Queens, Hunts
Point plant in the Bronx, and the Wards Island plant in Manhattan discharge into
the upper East River and the Long Island Sound. The other four the Coney Island and
26th Ward plants in Brooklyn and the Jamaica Bay and Rockaway plants in Queens
discharge into Jamaica Bay.
This judgement of liability was a summary one, Gershon
explained to the Tribune this week following his latest court appearance on the
suit. He said that the deadline for discovery on the current charges is now set for late
summer or fall and a trial will be held in the winter. Gershon added that the States
Attorney Generals office believes the city is still currently sending discharges
into Jamaica Bay against their permits. The city had continued to do the same in the Long
Island Sound after the lawsuit was filed in March 1988, Gershon charged, however they are
now in compliance.
The Sound Keepers suit has not yet been heard in
court, Tedesco said, but they are hoping the judge will also make a summary ruling of the
citys liability. The goal, Gershon and Tedesco agreed, is to stop the city from
breaking their permits and force them to find funding for upgrading treatment facilities.
New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
Commissioner Joel A. Miele, Sr. issued the following statement as the official response to
the liable judgement against the city:
"We take our State permits very seriously. They set
our limits and conditions which are intended to protect our harbors and waterways,
something that is very important to us and is central to the DEPs mission as an
agency. We have reviewed the Supreme Court decision and believe it is in error. We have
met the requirements of our permits, and have consisently kept the State up to date on our
progress in reducing water pollution. Indeed, the City is spending unprecendented sums,
beyond what is required by law, to control not only nitrogen, but a whole range of
pollutants that are associated with sewage treatment. Our waterways have never been
cleaner. The city is truly a national leader in this regard, and its actions should be
praised, rather than being attacked in a lawsuit. We believe our conduct in this matter
has always been proper, and we intend to vigorously appeal."
Gershon said that the city faces fines of $25,000 per day
per violation if they are found guilty in the States case.
The Latest On Flushing Bay
The House of Representatives approved $925,000 last week for the clean-up of Flushing Bay.
The funding will allow the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study and develop ideas
for improving the water quality, including dredging alternatives, complete or partial
removal of a dyke, bank stabilization and the creation of tidal wetlands, according to
Congressman Joseph Crowley.
Crowley had fought to have the appropriation in the House
Energy and Water Appropriations Bill and President Bill Clintons budget for fiscal
Crowley maintained that the "House passage of this
funding enables the Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the study of Flushing
Bay, an important first step in developing a strategic plan to improve the water quality
of Flushing Bay. A cleaner Flushing Bay translates into a more livable city. The entire
ecosystem of the New York City region also benefits from these improvements."
To Eat Or Not To Eat
Tedesco said that the current conditions in the Long Island Sound do not pose a threat to
swimmers or boaters and praised the work that has been done to clean the Sound so far.
However, he added that the various contaminents dumped into the Sound over the citys
history and the current conditions in the Sound mean that eating a regular diet of fish
caught off Queens shores or eating raw clams from Queens beaches can make people ill. He
advised fishermen to check with the City Health Department for regular fishing advisories
and for the latest on the Sound, visit the Sound Keepers website at www.