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Sep 18, 2012 5:36 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Peconic Baykeeper Wants DEC To Enforce Permits Issued To Sewage Treatment Plants

Sep 19, 2012 10:43 AM

A legal petition has been filed with the State Department of Environmental Conservation demanding that it reduce the amount of nitrogen filtering into local waters by enforcing more than 1,000 active permits issued to sewage treatment plants and various septic systems throughout Suffolk County.

The petition, which was submitted to Albany on Monday, was filed by the Peconic Baykeeper, a not-for-profit group dedicated to the protection and improvement of the ecosystems of the Peconic and South Shore estuaries. The petition, which is not a lawsuit, was announced at a press conference at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge on Tuesday morning.

The document urges the DEC to decrease the amount of nitrogen being allowed to enter the water by demanding that the state agency enforce stricter guidelines on approximately 1,338 active permits that it has issued.

“We are introducing a legal initiative to move the State of New York to do their job,” Peconic Baykeeper President Kevin McAllister said at the press conference. “They need to ratchet down these standards and ensure some policing.”

According to Mr. McAllister, the DEC has granted the permits to sewage treatment plants and similar facilities that treat more than 1,000 gallons of waste at a time under the Clean Water Act, which regulates what can and cannot be discharged into surface water. The DEC, however, has not been enforcing the regulations of the federal law after granting the permits, the petition alleges.

“It is time to do your job,” he said of the DEC. “It is time to do a better job because, quite frankly—and I am not trying to assign blame here—we are failing each other.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Lori Severino, a press officer for the DEC, wrote in an email that there is not enough data to confirm how much nitrogen is in Peconic Bay, one of the bodies of water targeted by Mr. McAllister. She also declined to comment on the petition, explaining that the agency received it on Monday and has not had enough time to review it.

“DEC does not have the empirical evidence to show what impacts on-site septic systems have on the nitrogen levels in the Peconic Bay,” Ms. Severino wrote. “That said, DEC takes both petitions and wastewater treatment issues very seriously but cannot comment on any specifics of the petition as it was just received and will be undergoing thorough review before comment.”

On Tuesday, the attorney representing the Peconic Baykeeper, Reed Super of Super Law Group LLC, a law firm with offices in Manhattan, said the organization is asking the DEC to modify its regulations for three types of septic plants and sewage treatment systems. Specifically, they want tighter regulations for those facilities that discharge treated waste directly into groundwater that can easily reach surface water; those that discharge waste near nitrogen-impaired surface waters; and those that discharge waste into groundwater that already has excessive nitrogen levels.

“This is a legal initiative we are starting now, because the time is now,” Mr. Super said.

Also at the press conference, Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine addressed the 50 people in attendance and announced that he has submitted a bill to the legislature that will hold sewage treatment plants accountable for errors that lead to the release of untreated or under-treated waste. If adopted as law, any sewage treatment plant that violates the Clean Water Act will have to post their error on the county’s website and immediately outline a plan for remediation, also on the website.

Mr. Romaine said he remains hopeful that with this type of accountability, the plants will be more careful with their waste. “There is a tipping point,” Mr. Romaine said. “We are at that point.”

According to Mr. McAllister, his group will now play the waiting game. He said because a petition was filed with the DEC, the state agency must formalize a response, but there is no time line for when a response must be submitted. Eventually, Mr. McAllister said, if a response has not been filed, or the Peconic Baykeeper does not like the response, his organization would consider legal action.

Last week, Mr. McAllister shared a draft version of his New York State 2012 Impaired Waters list, a document that includes the bodies of water that do not meet the state’s water quality standards. The new list includes some familiar names—Flanders, Moniebogue, Quantuck and Shinnecock bays, as well as Old Town Pond and North Sea Harbor—in Southampton Town, and some new ones, like Little and Big Fresh ponds, and Mill and Seven ponds. The list also includes the Long Island Sound.

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Maybe we can start to monitor what the boat Hampton Bays Boat dealers dump diectly into the bay. I have seen it first hand its out of control.
By 27dan (2771), Southampton on Sep 19, 12 12:13 PM
As Skip Tollefsen pointed out some years ago there used to me many many duck farms all along the waterfronts of the East End, and they dumped tremendous amounts of nitrogen into the bays, and we never had brown tides until after they went out of business. Got to wonder whether reducing the nitrogen is going to address the reduction in the fisheries population.
By Funbeer (269), Southampton on Sep 19, 12 12:16 PM
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