Nassau County’s request for half a billion dollars to fund an ocean outfall pipe and de-nitrification system at Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant in East Rockaway was once again rejected by FEMA—a move that will most likely force the county to look elsewhere for the desired funding.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Regional Administrator Jerome Hatfield, responding to a letter from state officials asking for additional funding, said the request was deemed “ineligible because it doesn’t meet FEMA guidelines.” Hatfield, in a letter dated March 16, noted that FEMA has already agreed to pay $729 million for Superstorm Sandy-related repairs and mitigation stemming from the historic October 2012 storm.
The plant, which serves a half million county residents, was knocked off line when the storm flooded the plant under nine feet of water, causing treated and untreated sewage to spew into the streets, some homes and Reynolds Channel.
Since then, the county has successfully lobbied for federal funds to repair the plant, but has been unable to convince FEMA to approve $550 million for an outfall pipe that would extend into the Atlantic Ocean. Currently, effluent is discharged into Reynolds Channel, which connects to the Western Bays.
New York State in February committed $150 million to pay for the nitrogen removal system that had also been requested. That announcement came one day after outspoken county officials called on the state to act on an original promise to fund the project.
FEMA’s most recent rejection letter comes 10 months after the agency originally declined the state and county’s outfall pipe proposal.
While outlining several reasons why FEMA determined the project to be ineligible, Hatfield said agency personnel “found no damage to the existing outfall pipe” upon inspection following the epic storm.
“As there is no damage to the outfall pipe, the proposed project is not eligible for” hazard mitigation funding.
After receiving the letter, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens met with FEMA officials in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.
“FEMA presented its decision not to fund from the disaster assistance program and suggested the ocean outfall pipe may be eligible for other federal funding programs—which we are working with NYSDEC to identify and evaluate,” Brian Nevin, Mangano’s chief spokesman, said in an email.
“The county offered to participate in funding at a level to be determined during future funding discussions,” he added. Nevin did not specify what those federal funding options are.
The U.S Dept. of Housing and Urban Development has already dispersed Sandy-related funds to areas impacted by the hurricane.
“As such, it is up to a grantee, such as New York State, to determine the specific uses for their remaining funds,” a HUD spokesman said.
A state DEC spokesperson did not return a call for comment. A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has also been involved in lobbying for an outfall pipe, didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.
A source said other members of the state’s congressional delegation also met with FEMA this week to discuss the issue.
Both the county and state has argued for months that an outfall pipe would help improve the health of the Western Bays. Scientists have said that nitrogen from the effluent discharged into the bay is harmful to marshland that protect the shorelines from erosion.
“Everyone agrees the pipe needs to be built. FEMA has made it clear that they can’t provide the funding for it, so we have to find another solution,” Rice said in a statement, adding that her office will explore “every possible option” to secure the necessary funding.
In February, Nassau County Legislature Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) expressed a desire to hold hearings with regard to the outfall pipe. A date has yet to be announced.
“I am extremely disappointed in FEMA for denying Nassau our outfall pipe, and I will not take ‘no’ for an answer,” Gonsalves said in a statement through a spokeswoman. “I will continue to challenge our federal representatives to locate a source of funding for this desperately needed project because I will not give up on our waterways.”