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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of New York

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

United States Announces Settlement Of Safe Drinking Water Act Violations At New York State Parks

Robert L. Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Judith A. Enck, Regional Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2, announced today the filing of a complaint against the State of New York; New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (“OPRHP”); and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (“Commission”).  A Consent Judgment has been lodged to resolve the allegations in the complaint that Defendants failed to close Large Capacity Cesspools located in New York State parks in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.    

The complaint alleges that the Defendants violated the Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”) in their continued ownership and operation of 54 Large Capacity Cesspools (“Prohibited LCCs”) at various New York State parks for years beyond the SDWA regulatory deadline by which they were required to close them.  LCCs are cesspools that receive untreated sanitary waste, including human excreta, which have an open bottom or perforated sides, and have the capacity to serve 20 or more persons a day.  Such untreated waste is high in harmful nutrients, such as nitrogen, that can compromise ground and surface water quality.  Nutrient pollution of the ground and surface waters in and surrounding Suffolk County is a longstanding problem that threatens the area’s water quality and ecosystem.  

Congress enacted the SDWA to protect the nation’s drinking water sources, including the regulation of Large Capacity Cesspools to prevent them from contaminating underground sources of drinking water.  Under the SDWA regulations, owners and operators of LCCs were required to close them by April 5, 2005.  The Complaint alleges that Defendants failed to close the Prohibited LCCs by April 5, 2005, and that the Prohibited LCCs, primarily located at Defendants’ comfort stations, continued to operate after April 5, 2005.  The majority of the Prohibited LCCs are located in Defendants’ parks on Long Island. 

Many of our area’s public water systems rely on underground sources of water for their supply. Underground injection wells, including cesspools, pose a risk to the public because they can contaminate underground drinking water sources and the public water systems that use those sources.  Thirty-six of the Prohibited LCCs are above the Nassau/Suffolk County Sole Source Aquifer, which supplies most of the drinking water for the population of Long Island.  Nine of the Prohibited LCCs, which are located in Broome and Orange Counties, are above the Clinton Street-Ballpark and the Ramapo Sole Source Aquifers, which supply most of the drinking water for the populations of the Broome and Orange County areas.  

Under the Consent Judgment, Defendants will close the Prohibited LCCs or convert them to lawful non-LCC uses by July 2019.  The estimated cost of these measures is $8,800,000.  Most of the Long Island Prohibited LCCs will be closed by September 2017 and the remaining Prohibited LCCs on Long Island will be closed by September 2018.  Defendants have already implemented certain measures to achieve compliance with the SDWA, including closing six of the Prohibited LCCs and submitting closure plans for 29 of the remaining Prohibited LCCs.  The Consent Judgment also requires Defendants to pay a $150,000 civil penalty.

In addition, under the terms of the settlement, Defendants will undertake Supplemental Environmental Projects with a total estimated value of $1,020,000 that are intended to reduce the quantity of nutrients harmful to water quality, including nitrogen, from entering the local groundwater at seven of Defendants’ Long Island parks.  At Robert Moses State Park, Sunken Meadow State Park, Wildwood State Park, and Caumsett State Historic Park, Defendants will install urine separation systems that divert the collected urine to a wastewater treatment facility for treatment, rather than discharging it into the ground.  At Connetquot River State Park Preserve and Hallock State Park, Defendants will install nitrogen reducing technology for sanitary waste.  At Captree State Park, Defendants will: (1) install a constructed wetland for sanitary waste treatment to benefit the Main Comfort Station and Restaurant, (2) install green technology site improvements for stormwater treatment, and (3) retrofit the existing stormwater drainage facilities with a bioretention system.

“The United States brought this action to remedy long-standing violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act and to protect New York’s drinking water from harmful nutrient pollution that poses a risk both to public health and the natural environment,” said United States Attorney Capers.  “This office will continue to vigorously enforce violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act to protect the public from contamination of its water supply.”

"Public parks and water pollution don't go together," said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. "After years of being out of compliance with federal law, New York State will finally close the numerous cesspools found in state parks, helping protect groundwater from nitrogen and other pollutants."

The action is entitled United States v. State of New York, et al., Civil

Action No. 2:16-CV-6989 (Wexler, J.), (Shields, M.J.). Following a 30-day public comment period and review of any comments received, the United States will determine whether to move the Court to enter the consent judgment.

Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Silverman is in charge of the litigation, with assistance from Lauren Fischer, Assistant Regional Counsel, Water and General Law Branch, EPA Region 2, Nicole Kraft, Section Chief, Water Compliance Branch, EPA Region 2, and Lisa Kim Pelcyger, Environmental Engineer, Water Compliance Branch, EPA Region 2.

Updated December 21, 2016