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Sit, don’t swim, in Little Neck Bay

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Douglaston residents hoping for a swim at the Douglas Dock have been turned away recently due to a high level of bacteria in the water, but dock employees hope the beach will reopen soon.

The construction of a nearby sewage facility could prevent such closures from happening in the future.

The dock, which officially opened for swimming June 28, has been closed for most of the summer season so far, said Marianne Cooney, the Douglas Dock dockmaster.

Officials from the city Department of Health test the beach water about every week and determine if it is clean enough for swimming, Cooney said. The most recent tests showed low levels of bacteria; however, the monthly average for bacteria was still too high, she said.

An official told Cooney that one more good reading, expected to take place this week, could bring the average low enough to reopen the beach. The Douglaston beach was the only beach to be listed as closed on the agency's Web site earlier this week.

DOH officials could not be reached for comment.

A city beach can be closed for a number of reasons, according the DOH Web site, including water samples with a high level of bacteria.

Cooney maintained the water was testing better than it had last year and suspected this was because there has been little rain so far this summer.

"The weather has been great, so we're looking forward to getting a good reading," she said.

Stormy weather leads to closed beaches because excess rainwater in city sewer systems cause sanitary sewage from homes to flow into nearby waters, such as Little Neck Bay, said Walter Mugdan, the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee president.

The city uses a sewer system that combines rainwater and home sewage and purposely empties into larger bodies of water when it rains heavily so as not to back up pipelines, said Mugdan, who also serves as a senior executive with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

To combat this problem, the city is building a number of facilities that will have underground tanks to hold and treat the rainwater and sewage that normally is dumped into waterways, Mugdan explained.

The tanks are a project undertaken by the city Department of Environmental Protection. The agency could not respond to requests for comment by press time.

One of these holding tanks is being built near Alley Pond Environmental Center and will help with the level of bacteria in Little Neck Bay and the water at Douglas Dock.

"There's no doubt it will help. The question is whether it will cure it," Mugdan said, adding that the facility is slated to open next year.

Until then, swimmers at Douglas Dock will have to wait for the next clear reading from the DOH.

Cooney said some residents come to the dock, only open to members of the Douglas Manor Association, to dip their feet or go for a quick swim despite the beach closing.

These swimmers are asked to sign a waiver and a lifeguard is always on duty during swimming hours, she said.

Cooney said she understands how it can be disappointing for some residents hoping for a swim, especially for longtime residents used to swimming at the beach throughout the summer.

"You have this beautiful view and you think you'll be able to go for a swim and then you can't," she said.

Reach reporter Katy Gagnon by e-mail at kgagnon@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300 Ext 174.

Posted 6:39 pm, October 10, 2011
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