Monday, December 01, 2008

Westchester Gets An Extension to Meets Its Sound Clean Up Goal

New York State environmental regulators have given Westchester County an additional three years, until 2017, to finish upgrading its Long Island Sound sewage treatment plants to meet state and federal nitrogen removal goals.

Westchester contributes only a small fraction of the nitrogen that causes the Sound's hypoxia problem, but it discharges that nitrogen directly into the part of the Sound that is most heavily effected. And conditions were bad last summer. (The maps that show the extent of hypoxia in 2008 are not up yet on the Connecticut DEP website but you can see maps from earlier years here. Click on any of the August maps and look for the black area, indicating the worst hypoxia conditions -- it's the area off Westchester, Nassau and part of Fairfield county.)

Connecticut, New York and the US EPA, with the support of local governments throughout the region, set the nitrogen reduction goal in 1998. The county was an enthusiastic supporter of the Sound cleanup, until it realized how much it was going to cost -- about $235 million. Here's what the Journal News reported:

To make the local improvements, the county would need to borrow the money over 30 years and charge higher rates for the 38,414 households and 6,804 businesses across the four districts.

The bulk of the new rates would go into effect in 2014, with incremental increases starting in 2010.

County officials note that it could have been worse: The state negotiated a smaller project and extended the deadline for completion three years to 2017.

Under earlier terms of the requirement, Westchester would have been required to spend an additional $100 million for the renovations.

New York State granted New York City a three-year extension three years ago. Connecticut seemed to falter on its way to meeting the 2014 goal when state legislators and the governor for years neglected the state's clean water fund (I'm not sure if they're back on track, but it's worth pointing out that Connecticut's clean water fund does provide state money to local governments for the Sound cleanup, something that New York State does not do).

If you need background, it's here, here and here. And there's plenty more here, at the Long Island Sound Study website.

The three-year extension for Westchester came after long negotiations between the county administration and the state. The county Board of Legislators still must approve it. There's a public hearing on Monday, December 8.

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