July 29, 2013
Joye Brown of Newsday wrote “The stalemate is a continuation a long-running political fight between county Democrats and Republicans over borrowing, but the plant needs hundreds of millions of dollars more work than lawmakers have approved. It's long past time to get moving.”
Long Island Business News Columnist Martin Cantor agrees. “It’s one thing for the Democrats to serve as the loyal opposition to Republican County Executive Ed Mangano, who faces re-election this year, but it’s quite another to ignore the unintended consequences of their actions,” Cantor said. “They are putting at risk the public health of Nassau residents served by the sewage plant, the residents living in and around the Bay Park plant and the waters and environment surrounding the plant.”
On July 15 Democrats in the Nassau Legislature agreed to bonding only $262 million for Bay Park repairs, less than half of what is needed to fix the plant which was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy, sending raw sewage into hundreds of homes.
Both columns are printed below for your reading pleasure.
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We're closing in on the usual peak of storm season, and Nassau County lawmakers still can't agree on a plan to fix the decrepit Bay Park sewage treatment plant.
The stalemate is a continuation a long-running political fight between county Democrats and Republicans over borrowing, but the plant needs hundreds of millions of dollars more work than lawmakers have approved.
It's long past time to get moving.
But because we're also weeks away from the heat of re-election season for County Executive Edward Mangano and the entire county legislature, we're getting more posturing.
Recently, three Democratic lawmakers took to Facebook to defend themselves after a posting criticized their delegation -- listing every Democrat by name -- for blocking Mangano's effort to bond more than $700 million for sewer plant repairs.
It would have been better if lawmakers, Democrat and Republican alike, had called for public hearings on the state of the plant, what repairs were needed and where the county was going to find money to repair it.
Time to use their power
The legislature clearly has that power.
And lawmakers would have done well to make use of it after Mangano requested the largest-ever capital bonding in Nassau County history -- a total of about $1 billion, including for the sewage projects.
Where's that money going? Does the county have to borrow that much? Will the federal government, given that Bay Park sustained significant damage during superstorm Sandy, pay all of it back?
Mangano's aides have said that they intend to seek 90 percent federal reimbursement -- and the key word here is reimbursement, because the Federal Emergency Management Agency usually pays after work has been completed.
But the sense of urgency in dealing with Bay Park seems to be getting lost in the passion of politics.
On Friday, Democratic lawmakers circulated an email saying they intended to seek an advisory committee to oversee spending on repairs at Bay Park and other sewer matters.
Mangano went one better, zapping out a news release saying he had already ordered creation of a wastewater management committee himself.
Nassau does not need dueling committees, although there is value to having residents and experts involved.
What it needs is more effective governing.
Is there a better way than bonding to secure funding for Bay Park fixes? That question needs to be asked and explored.
And if bonding is the only way, what's the remediation plan? What's the schedule? When and if FEMA reimbursement comes through, will it be enough to retire the bonds, so that taxpayers won't have to pay the interest costs?
A hearing, or even a committee, could open up the process. But it will take Mangano and lawmakers to see it through.
The stakes are high.
Bay Park serves 40 percent of the county's homes and businesses -- properties that, by Suffolk County standards, are lucky enough to have access to a sewer system.
In Suffolk, economic development in too many municipalities is hamstrung because the majority of wastewater in the county flows to septic systems.
That makes Bay Park -- and Cedar Creek, Nassau County's other wastewater management plant -- significant and necessary resources for Nassau and Long Island.
Bay Park, which was built in the 1940s, was the most severely damaged wastewater system on the East Coast because of Sandy. In some communities, the system's failure turned toilets into geysers of untreated sewage.
The most recent spillage of partly treated sewage into Reynolds Channel was in the spring. County officials agree the plant is hanging on by a thread.
Instead of infighting, lawmakers ought to be debating key issues, specifically whether repairs ought to include extending the plant's outfall pipe beyond the long-burdened channel -- which never "flushed" the way the plant's builders believed it would -- into the Atlantic Ocean.
Storm season's around the corner.
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Governing works best when there is a political foundation for a functioning system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches.
Unfortunately, the Democratic minority in the Nassau County Legislature has transformed those checks and balances into obstructionism over $721.6 million in vital repairs to the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Hanging in the balance: the health of more than 520,000 Nassau County residents.
The Democrats in Mineola have already approved borrowing nearly $260 million of the total repair cost and are not denying the need for the remaining repairs. But they say they want to ensure the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse the majority of the funding before authorizing the remaining borrowing.
Never mind that the county expects 90 percent of the cost to be picked up by FEMA. Or that every other Long Island government is scrambling to storm-harden key municipal assets. Or that the Bay Park repairs need to be made whether the feds pick up the tab or not.
It’s one thing for the Democrats to serve as the loyal opposition to Republican County Executive Ed Mangano, who faces re-election this year, but it’s quite another to ignore the unintended consequences of their actions. They are putting at risk the public health of Nassau residents served by the sewage plant, the residents living in and around the Bay Park plant and the waters and environment surrounding the plant.
Public health has to trump politics.
Legislator David Denenberg, D-Merrick, is the rare Democrat who gets it. Denenberg joined with Republicans legislators in supporting the total $721.6 million in borrowing, which will pay to replace and elevate the plant’s electrical system and protect the plant’s exterior and separation tanks.
One thing the Democrats are right about is that oversight is needed when $721.6 million is being spent on a public works project. So Denenberg’s proposed compromise makes sense: Approve the funding and then conduct the oversight of individual sewer contracts.
It’s about time common sense prevails. This year’s hurricane season is already upon us.