Westchester Accused|of Polluting the Sound


MANHATTAN (CN) – Failures by Westchester County to maintain its century-old sewer system have made the coastlines of the Long Island Sound unsafe for swimming and fishing, environmentalists say in a federal complaint.
     Home to 1,200 species of invertebrates, 170 species of fish, and dozens of species of migratory birds, the sound contributes $8.5 billion annually to the regional economy and has 9 million people living in its watershed, according to the Aug. 11 complaint.
     “But Long Island Sound is no longer a jewel,” the complaint from Connecticut Fund for the Environment states.
     Based in New Haven, the group frequently goes to court under the name Save the Sound to protect the tidal estuary of the Atlantic Ocean bordering the Nutmeng and Empire states.
     Save the Sound boasts of its extensive litigation in its website’s “water docket.” One suit stopped the natural gas company Broadwater from building a floating industrial liquid natural gas complex in the middle of the sound, and another series of cases ended in settlements with five industrial stormwater polluters in Connecticut.
     Save the Sound’s latest lawsuit blames the antiquated sewer systems of Westchester County, a suburb just north of New York City, for chronic pollution on the western coast of the sound.
     “A substantial source of pollution in the sound comes from cracked sanitary sewer pipes which are supposed to transport sanitary wastewater from homes, businesses, public toilet facilities, and other locations to wastewater treatment plants for removal of pollutants in order to make the water safe for discharge into the environment,” the complaint states. “However, during heavy rains, as a result of their deteriorated condition, these sewer pipes overfill with stormwater, which should flow through separate storm drains, causing sanitary sewage overflows or sewage discharges into the Sound.”

     A map of the Long Island depicted in the federal complaint beams bright red along its Westchester coast to signify it is the hardest hit by “hypoxia” – the scientific term for low dissolved oxygen concentrations in bottom waters.
     “Marine organisms need oxygen to live, and low concentrations can have serious adverse consequences for a marine ecosystem,” the group says.
     The Environmental Protection Agency has observed hypoxia in the area for the 90 percent or more of years studied between 1994 and 2014, according to the map.
     Local businesses, public health and quality of life suffer from the waters’ low shellfish harvests, depletion of fishing stocks, periodic beach closures, restrictions on recreational activities, floating debris, and pathogen and toxin contamination, the group says.
     Save the Sound notes that Westchester typically installed its sewer system when it built its roads, “in many cases more than 100 years ago.”
     But the group does not demand that Westchester leap into the future.
     “This case is not about new and advanced technologies,” the complaint states. “It is about insisting on basic inspection, maintenance, and upgrading of the sanitary sewer systems to meet mandated standards.”
     Save the Sound alleges three violations under the “citizen suit” provision of the Clean Water Act.
     It is represented by attorney Robert Kaplan of the firm Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer.
     Westchester County did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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