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DEP: Our bad on Owls Head - City agency admits shortcomings in fixing foul odor from plant

When the January Community Board 10 meeting convened, there were two new attendees – representatives of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The pair, Lillie Farrell, the director of community outreach, and Vincent Sapienza, assistant commissioner of the Bureau of Wastewater Treatment, came to the meeting as part of an effort by DEP to increase communication between the agency and the community. The presence of agency representatives at the monthly meetings had been requested, in December, at a town hall on the problems at the Owls Head Water Treatment Plant. At that town hall, DEP representatives had acknowledged long-standing shortcomings in their handling of the operation of the plant and the smells that have fouled the community’s air. Of all of DEP’s 14 wastewater treatment facilities, the Owls Head plant has recorded the most complaints. Speaking before the group gathered in the community room at Shore Hill, 9000 Shore Road, for CB 10’s January meeting, Sapienza explained the agency’s most recent steps in its efforts to reduce the odors emanating from the plant. “There has been some progress, but we still have a lot more to do,” Sapienza told the crowd. In mid-January, said Sapienza, the agency got bids back for the large project planned for the plant — the extension of the facility’s grit and scum building. This will enable tanks stored in the open air, to be enclosed. While the project had been budgeted at $30 million, Sapienza said that, “Bids were actually a little bit higher than we anticipated,” at about $39 million. “We hope that’s one of the projects that will help to reduce some of the odors at the plant.” In addition, Sapienza said, in response to the results of an odor study done by a consultant, Malcolm Pirnie, DEP is in the process of covering the plant’s primary tank launders, “The most odorous part of the plant.” Sapienza said that the goal was to get the launders covered by springtime, when people start to open their windows. Also, said Sapienza, Malcolm Pirnie will be involved, at the plant, in ongoing, “collection of odors, to determine what other parts of the plant need to be covered.” The agency is also working to restore the odor-control system that was shut down after the 2003 blackout, said Sapienza. “Hopefully, by March, we’ll have that whole system back in service,” Sapienza reported. Asked by someone in the crowd about health issues related to the plant, Sapienza said that the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) would be, “Looking at what health impacts there might be from these odors.” With all that DEP appears to have done in the past couple of months, City Councilmember Vincent Gentile is asking for more. Contending that DEP had, “Failed in their commitment to the Bay Ridge community,” he dashed off letters to both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and DOHMH Commissioner Thomas Frieden, last month, asking for increased action. To the mayor, Gentile pointed out that the work at the plant had been delayed, “Due, in part, to DEP having fallen off its initial schedule.” For that reason, Gentile said, the agency should, “Ensure priority is given to this project by ensuring the time table is followed, that work delay penalties and clauses are written into the contract, and the possibility be considered of having more than one contractor do several parts of the project at the same time.” To Frieden, Gentile noted, “We are concerned about not only the odor at the plant, but also the potential health hazard to which we have been exposed for years. “Our community,” Gentile continued, “already has the largest rate of breast cancer in New York State, and so I am respectfully requesting that the Department of Health conduct a complete investigation into the possible health issues that have been created because of the odor problem, including air quality tests, and soil samples within a half mile radius from the water line of the plant in all three directions.”

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