$650 million plan aims to clean up Long Island Sound Sewage treatment plants to be upgraded over 15-year period


BAYVILLE, N.Y. -- In another effort to clean up Long Island Sound, federal and state environmental officials have adopted a 15-year, $650 million plan to upgrade sewage treatment plants along the New York and Connecticut shoreline.

The plan seeks to reduce nitrogen discharges that have been directly linked to a reduced level of dissolved oxygen in the sound, which harms fish, lobsters and shellfish and the small organisms they feed on.

The project was approved unanimously at a recent meeting of the Long Island Sound Policy Committee in Manhattan. The group also adopted a plan to reclaim and restore at least 2,000 acres and river miles of habitat along the shores of the sound over the next 10 years.

Part of larger plan

The two initiatives fulfill commitments outlined in a larger conservation and management plan for the sound that was adopted by state and federal agencies in 1994, based on an initial study begun in 1988 amid fears that the sound might be dying.

"Long Island Sound is tremendously valuable to all who live, work and vacation along its shores," said Jeanne M. Fox, an administrator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which is working in partnership with New York and Connecticut on the project. "Many depend on the sound for their livelihoods and others enjoy it for its tranquil beauty.

"These new actions should take us a long way toward healing the sound and ensuring its health for future generations," she said, noting that the sound's 1,200 square miles contributed $6 billion to the economies of New York and Connecticut.

Mary Mears, a spokeswoman for the EPA, said that New York and Connecticut had already received around $500 million in federal aid to upgrade its waste treatment plants. She said that much of the money had gone to New York City, where treatment plants in the Bronx and Queens contribute more than 36 percent of the sound's nitrogen.

Federal funding

"Federal funding for Long Island Sound projects for the next two years is already in place," Mears said. "Naturally, money for some of the projects will be coming from the states and local communities, and we expect to reach our $650 million goal in the next 15 years."

Much of New York's share is expected to be financed by the 1996 Clean Air Act, which included $200 million for Long Island Sound, officials said. How much local communities and taxpayers living in shoreline areas would have to contribute remained in doubt, officials said.

The nitrogen reduction plan is aimed at what environmentalists consider to be the sound's most serious problem, hypoxia. It occurs when nitrogen from sewage and storm water runoff from roadways, lawns, golf courses and farms fuel the growth of overabundant algae. When the algae die and decompose, the process depletes the oxygen, leaving an inadequate supply to support fish and other aquatic life.

The new plan calls for a 58.8 percent reduction in nitrogen, to be achieved largely through the upgrading of sewage treatment plants that contribute nearly two-thirds of the nitrogen that reaches the sound.

There are 70 such plants throughout the sound's watershed, most of them in New York City and Westchester, Mears said.

The habitat restoration plan, which will concentrate on more than 450 sites, is intended to complement the efforts to reduce nitrogen loads and improve dissolved oxygen levels in the sound. More than two-thirds of the sites are in tidal and inland wetland areas. Other areas include beaches and dunes, coastal and island forests, bays, harbors, cliffs and bluffs.

Pub Date: 3/01/98

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