Although bacteria levels at Crescent Beach have fallen considerably since several sources of the pollution were identified, solving the problem will require some serious work and funding, according to officials.
"The long-term solution is to sewer the area," said Mayor Ralph Suozzi.
That could cost around $7 million, estimated Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, who will discuss the issue at a meeting next week with the Long Island directors for the offices of Sen.'s Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. She said Congressman Steve Israel has pledged full support for any efforts to remedy the pollution.
The legislator said she wants the County to get involved because of the threat to the area's water table.
"It doesn't just affect that beach, it affects the whole environment," she said. "We just can't let it happen."
That means addressing the 70 or so homes in the area which still use septic tanks. Aging tanks have been blamed for high levels of bacteria found in human waste which have kept the beach closed to swimmers the past four summers.
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DeRiggi-Whitton used to live in that area, and recalled her own experience with that house's septic tank, which was made of brick and was full and leaking when she had it looked at during that time.
If that is the case with just a few other homes there, it means a complicated solution for the city. In the meantime, several major sources of pollutant discharge have been located and capped.
Suozzi said one of those was a pipe outfall not belonging to the city that was found in July. Testing using different color dyes down the drains of nearby homes to identify where the pipe connects could make for a temporary fix, he said. The capping of two other pipes helped bring down the levels of fecal coliforms dramatically since the septic system problem was discovered in 2009. Levels then were at 26,000 parts per million (ppm).
"We brought that down tremendously, we just haven't gotten it below the threshold," Suozzi said.
The standard level for such bacteria is 60 ppm. Certain areas of the stream and nearby, including the beach, recently tested at more than 1,300 ppm.
DeRiggi-Whitton said she hired one person full-time to research the problem and possible solutions. Money to build a sewer system for the area will need to be found through grants and other means, and once it is built residents will have to connect to it on their own dime, said Suozzi.
Crescent Beach is owned by the adjacent North Country Colony. The city is allowed access in exchange for road maintenance for the Colony through a 99-year agreement.
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