Court Rules for Save the Sound in Sewage Case

As part of our effort to restore western Long Island Sound, we brought an action last fall to require that Great Neck’s sewage treatment plant comply with its nitrogen permit limits (excess nitrogen is a major factor in the dead zone that afflicts the western end of the Sound in summer). During the proceedings both Great Neck and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation filed a Motion to Dismiss our claims.

That effort was just summarily rejected by the Court. We now await their response to our demand that they stop these flagrant violations and, following that, the court’s ruling.

The appeal, of course, is part of our larger effort to heal Long Island Sound and in particular to end the long spells of low dissolved oxygen that often turn the western end of the Sound into a dead zone in summer. Your support allowed us to launch this program, and with this victory we are especially grateful.

Here’s the news release we just sent out…

MAMARONECK, NY — A judge has denied motions by the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to dismiss Save the Sound’s appeal of a DEC consent order that allows the sewage district to continue polluting Long Island Sound. Save the Sound is co-represented in the appeal by New York City-based Super Law Group.

“We’re very pleased that our appeal will go forward. Now we can ask the judge to stop this pollution of Long Island Sound,” said Leah Schmalz, director of legislative and legal affairs for Save the Sound. “The DEC’s decision to let Great Neck discharge more nitrogen violates the Clean Water Act and hurts the Sound’s health. We see the effects of nitrogen pollution every summer, as parts of western Long Island Sound lose nearly all their oxygen. We’re fast approaching the 2014 deadline to clean up this dead zone, and relaxing standards for sewage treatment plants won’t get us there. To have any hope of restoring the Sound’s waters on time, the DEC must enforce nitrogen limits, not give laggards a pass.”

The consent order, which the DEC signed with the treatment plant operators in May 2012, allows the Great Neck sewage district to dump more nitrogen than it had previously allowed. Great Neck’s current nitrogen limit under federal law is 238 pounds per day. In 2012, the Great Neck plant discharged, on average, over 500 pounds per day. The consent order increases the limit for total nitrogen to 653 pounds per day, more than two-and-a-half times what is allowable.

Save the Sound’s appeal contends that the order allows more nitrogen than is permitted by state and federal pollution limits for the Sound and violates the federal Clean Water Act prohibition against backsliding. It also argues that DEC entered into the consent order without the required public notice and public hearing. The appeal asks the judge to vacate the provision of the consent order that allows the backsliding and to declare that DEC cannot modify Great Neck’s nitrogen limits, now or in 2014.

The Great Neck treatment plant discharges directly into the portion of the Sound, between Nassau and Westchester counties, that is hardest hit by low levels of dissolved oxygen in summer. Like other treatment plants along the Sound in New York and Connecticut, the plants in both those counties are under orders to upgrade in order to remove nitrogen.

“Upgrading sewage treatment plants is an investment that protects public health, Long Island Sound’s ecosystem, and our shellfishing and tourism industries,” noted Schmalz. “We look forward to working with DEC, Great Neck and other communities to advocate for the funding they need for these upgrades and to ensure the Sound is protected for generations to come.”

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