City and State officials announced a landmark agreement this week, which they believe will hasten the upgrade of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and will bring the plant into compliance with requirements mandated by the federal Clean Water Act. Officials believe the agreement substantively addresses Wastewater Treatment facilities, which are a critical public health issue. The agreement also provides $10 million for community environmental benefit projects – the largest such allocation in state history.
“My Greenpoint community has waited a long time for a sign of progress on this issue, and we finally have one,” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol. “The plant will be improved. The state and city environmental agencies, working with effective environmental agencies and organizations, will be investing in important efforts to improve our communities. Education, enhanced natural resources, and vehicle engine retrofits offer measurable benefits for us all.”
As part of the plan, the city will hire an independent contractor to conduct audits for the wastewater treatment plants and the CSO (combined sewer overflow) facilities. The city will correct any violations discovered during the audits, without being subject to penalties.
CSO facilities handle a mixture of storm water and domestic waste when the flow capacity of a sewer system is overwhelmed during rainstorms. Unlike previous systems, a CSO facility treats solid waste before releasing it into the water during a severe storm resulting in the near elimination of raw sewage flowing into the body of water.
“This agreement represents a major step forward in the city’s efforts to assure that the Newtown Creek Plant continues to serve the public appropriately while it’s upgraded to comply with current wastewater treatment standards,” said Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo of the New York City Law Department. “The city also looks forward to working with the state in ensuring that its wastewater treatment construction upgrades proceed efficiently in the future — and in compliance with all environmental requirements.”
Both the state and the city believe the initiative represents a proactive approach to future compliance and will result in significant benefits to the environment and local communities.
“This agreement is a new day in the relationship between the state and the city,” said DEC General Counsel Alison Crocker. “I look forward to the more productive, efficient, and proactive relationship with the city that this agreement will bring. Protocols for a comprehensive audit, for permitting processes, and for construction management will allow our agencies to work together to prevent problems before they arise.”
The four major components of the agreement are:
• Assuring that the city’s upgrade of the Newtown Creek plant – the largest wastewater treatment plant in the state – will continue under a strict set of deadlines
• Committing New York City to completing a comprehensive environmental audit to assure compliance with environmental laws at its 14 in-city sewage treatment plants and its four largest combined sewer overflow (CSO) facilities, and to identify and correct any violations discovered during this audit
• Ensuring compliance by putting into escrow proceeds from a $27.4 million judgment against New York City for violations at the Newtown Creek plant. The penalty will be returned if the city meets certain construction milestones for the plant upgrade. The settlement also outlines an additional $16 million in penalties if requirements of the capital-management improvement program aren’t met
• Providing $10 million in local environmental benefits through a portfolio of projects
“Today’s agreement will not only fix problems at the Newtown Creek plant, but also change the long-standing cycle of violations-and-penalties at all of the city’s wastewater plants,” said NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis. “This is a significant breakthrough. After years of trying, the city and state have come together and agreed on a sensible, forward-looking solution to ensure cleaner water, better compliance and healthier neighborhoods.”
“We are extremely pleased to have reached an agreement with the state that will allow us to be in compliance – now and in the future — as we complete the important work on the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant,” said NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Acting Commissioner Steven Lawitts. “The many components of this agreement highlight the challenges that cities around the country face in building costly and complex, but critically important infrastructure.”
In addition to overseeing upgrading the plant, the city will fund a $10 million Environmental Benefit Project (EBP). The EBP funds will be administered through the City Parks Foundation, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and the Hudson River Foundation.
Many community residents are appalled at the choice of these three administrators, none of which are based in Greenpoint, or even Brooklyn, for that matter. Information for a public hearing regarding use of the EBP funds is not yet available.
These organizations will develop a portfolio of neighborhood projects, with input from community groups in and around the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, to install green infrastructure, create or improve open space, public parks and waterfront access, create ecological stewardship and education programs, retrofit diesel buses and trucks and implement energy efficiency programs in low-income housing.
The terms of the settlement are subject to approval by New York City Comptroller, Bill Thompson.