SCHUMER TO REVEAL: NAVY STONEWALLING ON SOUTH FARMINGDALE WATER TREATMENT PLANT FUNDS COULD SEND LOCAL RESIDENTS' WATER BILLS THROUGH THE ROOF
Despite Years-Old Agreement, Navy Now Refusing to Cover Significant Cost of New Water Treatment Facility to Clean Up Water Sources Near Weapons Depot in Bethpage
New Treatment Facility Could Cost Water District Tens of Millions of Dollars Without Full and Immediate Payment From Navy - Could Cause 45,000 Customers' Water Rates to Skyrocket More than 50 Percent, Increasing Bills by H
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Joined by officials from the South Farmingdale Water District (SFWD), U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today revealed that, despite a long standing agreement, the United States Navy is refusing to cover the full cost of building a new water treatment facility needed to clean up potential contamination of water sources caused by the Navy's weapons depot in Bethpage. Schumer and local water district officials today said that if the Navy continues to refuse to pay the full cost, the Water District would have to take out bonds themselves to cover the costs, forcing the district to increase water rates on nearly 45,000 customers across Farmingdale, Bethpage, North Massapequa, and Seaford by as much as 55 percent. The total cost of building the new treatment plant is estimated at $21 million. Schumer announced that he is personally intervening to pressure the Navy to pay up. The District has been negotiation with the Navy and the Department of Justice to get full payment for nearly a decade. Despite receiving assurances from the U.S. Department of Justice in November 2007 that funds would be released in a matter of weeks, the District has yet to see a single payment from the Navy.
"With times already so tough, the last thing local residents need is a massive spike in their water bills simply because the Navy and Justice Department are dragging their feet," Schumer said. "The Navy must live up to its responsibilities and pay for these vital systems to ensure that the drinking water is safe and affordable for the entire South Farmingdale area."
The United States Navy operated an old Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Bethpage, New York for several decades, and the Navy admits that these operations resulted in soil and significant groundwater contamination containing volatile organic compounds. The South Farmingdale Water District was approached in November 2000 by the United States Navy about a widespread groundwater contamination plume. The plume, flowing in a southerly direction toward several well fields that supply local residents with tap water, is 12,100 feet long, 9,600 feet wide and 580 feet deep. The Navy developed a water contingency plan in connection with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that resulted in the Navy constructing outpost monitoring wells to signal if contamination approached the water district's plants.
The Navy agreed that if contamination from their site was identified in the outpost monitoring wells that they would pay for all future costs that the water suppliers would incur for the required treatment facilities or abandonment and replacement of the respective wells. By 2004, the plume had already traveled faster than the Navy had predicted. The outpost monitoring wells indicated that two plants were impacted by contamination from the naval plant site at levels above the trigger values agreed to by the Navy, DEC, and the water district.
The SFWD has been pursuing a settlement with the Navy for nearly five years. Although the Navy has been in general accord with the necessary treatment facilities, the Navy and U.S. Department of Justice have been slow to move on final resolution and execution of the settlement agreement.
This concerns the officials at SFWD because the contaminants are "knocking on our door," in the words of Business Manager Len Constantinopoli.
In the interim, the SFWD Board of Commissioners have continued to express their concern that one or more of the District's wells may be impacted before it can design and construct the treatment facilities that all parties have agreed are necessary, despite the fact that currently, all water served by the District is safe to drink.
"After today, I'm confident the Navy and Justice Department will hear our message loud and clear: any more bureaucratic footdragging will mean real dollars and cents to people across South Farmingdale and North Massapequa," Schumer said. "We can ill afford to let 45,000 Long Islanders suffer at the hands of some bureaucrats in Washington."
The water treatment systems proposed would provide the same quality of water consumers enjoy today, but action has to take place as soon as possible. The District cannot defer the construction of treatment facilities indefinitely, waiting for the United States Navy to provide the funds needed to meet this critical need.
While the SFWD Board of Commissioners intends to work diligently with Senator Schumer's office to expedite the final agreement with the U.S. Navy, two plans of action have been put into effect by the District to protect its water supply and to shield its consumers from paying for the treatment facility.
First, SFWD has been approved to bond up to $18 million to begin design and construction of the necessary treatment facilities. If the treatment facilities are not constructed in time, there is the potential that SFWD would need to close down or restrict wells at Plant Nos. 1 and 3. The four wells at these two sites provide nearly 40% of the District's well capacity, which are needed to meet existing water supply and fire flow demands. The loss of any of these wells could adversely impact SFWD's ability to meet peak and emergency pumping requirements, thereby impacting the ability to deliver an adequate water supply to its 45,000 consumers. While the District would prefer to have the money in hand from the Navy prior to building the treatment facilities, it can no longer tolerate any further delays and will soon need to proceed with the project. All proceeds associated with the capital cost portion of the settlement will be used to pay for treatment, thereby minimizing any cost burden on its taxpayers.
Second, the District met with civic associations and asked for their help. These communityminded groups provided a tremendous amount of support and positive action that has helped augment SFWD efforts during these proceedings.
Schumer was joined by S. Farmingdale Water District Commissioners John Hirt, Ralph Atoria and Gary Brosnan, Business Manager Len Constantinopoli, Superintendent Charles Prucha, and representatives from the District's environmental consulting team, the H2M company.
Schumer today asked the Navy to expedite these negotiations, and to report back to me immediately on when they can promise to reach a final agreement with the South Farmingdale Water District. Schumer will also urge the Navy to pay the full amount that the water district estimates the treatment plant will cost. Finally, Schumer is asking the Department of Justice, which provides legal counsel for the Navy on this issue, to do its part to move quickly so that this issue can be resolved immediately. Schumer wrote, "The contamination caused by the Navy isn't going to wait while negotiations drag on and on, and so we simply cannot afford to delay any longer on the construction of this necessary treatment plant."