Fixing the sewers that are the main reason Westchester’s Long Island Sound beaches close so often is an expensive proposition. That’s why we strongly agreed with a recent editorial in the New York Times that urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to increase the state’s Environmental Protection Fund this year to $200 million, from his proposed $157 million. Here’s part of what the editorial said: “Over all, … total state spending on energy and the environment would decline in the governor’s new budget just as the needs of his state are growing…. “Environmentalists have asked the governor to increase the state environmental fund to $200 million — a reasonable and achievable objective. … “…the money is there. It’s not asking too much of Mr. Cuomo to use some of it for these very basic needs.” Save the Sound responded with a letter to the editor by Leah Lopez Schmalz, our director of legislative and legal affairs, which the Times published on Saturday:
‘Shortchanging New York’s Environment’ (editorial, March 8) is right on the money. Among many urgent environmental needs are decrepit sewer pipes leaking sewage during rainstorms, a particularly dire problem in older Long Island Sound communities like Port Chester, Mamaroneck and New Rochelle.
Most of the sewers in Westchester communities date from the early 20th century. They’re cracked by age and tree roots; whole sections have collapsed. This lets storm water infiltrate pipes and eject sewage before reaching treatment plants.
Sewage-laden storm water then flows into local waterways toward the Sound’s harbors and beaches. As a result, the county health department bans swimming at 10 beaches each time it rains over a half-inch within 24 hours, preventing Westchester residents from waters that the Clean Water Act mandates should be swimmable and fishable.
Mamaroneck recently spent $3 million to repair just five miles of aging sewers. Multiply that by the hundreds of miles of sewers needing repair, and it’s clear that municipalities need state assistance. It’s unconscionable that sewage contaminates our beaches when money exists to fix the problem.
We support the effort by New York’s environmental community to persuade Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to increase funding for the Environmental Protection Fund to $200 million.
Mamaroneck Village is only one community of a dozen in Westchester that will likely need to repair sewers in order to keep bacteria and other disease-causing organisms out of the Sound’s tributaries and the Sound itself. (The dozen are Rye Brook, Port Chester, Rye, Harrison, White Plains, Scarsdale, Mamaroneck village, Mamaroneck town, Larchmont, New Rochelle, Pelham, and Pelham Manor.) It’s unacceptable that Westchester residents are denied the use of their local beaches just because it rains. Local communities need all the help they can get to undertake this large and critical environmental remediation project. Making the issue even more urgent is the fact that sewage leaks into Long Island Sound have been a problem in this area for years, as a New York Times article from 2001 highlights. But there is a strong effort to provide more funds to protect New York’s environment. Legislators have written sign-on letters, environmentalists have advocated, and you can help too! Please send a note to Governor Cuomo and your New York Senate and Assembly members thanking them for their work thus far to increase the EPF and urging them to come to final agreement to increase the Fund. For more information, about the EPF and what’s happening Albany, check out this guest post by TNC’s Jessica Ottney Mahar. — Posted by Tom Andersen, New York Program and Communications Coordinator
UPDATE: The budget passed on March 31st in Albany grows the Environmental Protection Fund to $162 million. While less than the $200 million advocated for by environmental groups including Save the Sound, it goes beyond the $157 million proposed originally and will help New York address many environmental problems. We are, however, concerned that the EPF does not provide direct funds for Long Island Sound, such as desperately-needed repairs to miles of inadequate sewer infrastructure.
Thanks to everyone for your advocacy on behalf of Long Island Sound—it’s very important that we continued progress towards a full restoration of the EPF.