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Post date: April 15 2005

Court Backs State Plan For Water Quality Improvements In Long Island Sound And Jamaica Bay

Attorney General Spitzer and Acting Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Denise Sheehan today announced a court decision that will substantially improve water quality in Long Island Sound and Jamaica Bay.

The decision from state Supreme Court in Manhattan requires that New York City comply with a previously agreed upon plan to significantly reduce harmful nitrogen discharges into Long Island Sound and Jamaica Bay by making upgrades to five large sewage treatment plants.

Conventionally treated sewage discharges are high in nitrogen, which acts as a fertilizer in aquatic environments, resulting in the rapid growth of algae. Large-scale algae growth uses up available oxygen in the water, creating an oxygen-starved environment that can kill or drive off marine life.

As part of a negotiation to resolve thousands of days of violations at these sewage treatment plants and in order to meet a regional plan to reduce nitrogen discharges, the city and the state entered into a binding consent order in April 2002 under which the city committed to improve nitrogen removal at five of its sewage treatment plants over a 12-year period. In February 2004, however, the city sought major changes to the agreement and abandoned its commitments. The state then imposed penalties against the city for failing to implement the agreement. The sewage treatment plants covered by this agreement are the Wards Island, Bowery Bay, Tallman Island, and Hunts Point plants – discharging into the East River which ultimately flows into Long Island Sound – and the 26th Ward plant that discharges into Jamaica Bay.

In addition to ruling that the state properly rejected the city’s revised plans, the court granted the state’s counterclaim for penalties that amount to some $13.9 million and ordered that the money be deposited into an escrow account. The money will be returned to the city if it returns to compliance with the terms of the agreement, and meets the final construction deadlines established in the original agreement.

In accordance with the original agreement, the city submitted detailed plans in December 2002 to upgrade its sewage treatment plants so they could meet nitrogen removal requirements. In June 2003, the DEC approved those plans, which established a 12-year upgrade schedule for the five sewage treatment plants. The city proposed a scaled-back plan in February 2004, claiming it had underestimated the cost of implementing the original, approved plan. DEC engineers concluded that the revised plan, however, offered less environmental benefit than the original plan and that the city would fail to meet the nitrogen reduction requirements mandated under federal law.

The upgrade agreement is central to reducing nitrogen discharges in order to satisfy a joint federal and state effort to clean up Long Island Sound. Under federal law, nitrogen discharges must be reduced by 58.5% by 2014

The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Gershon, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Gordon Johnson of the Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau. DEC attorneys Scott Crisafulli and Michael Altieri, and DEC engineers Joseph DiMura, Gary Kline and Robert Elburn assisted in the litigation.