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Delay’s foul stench - Mayor on the hook for cleanup

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Leave it to a Ridgite to come up with a heretofore unexpressed reason for Mayor Michael Bloomberg to change his position on term limits.

“The mayor promised us that the work would be done on the Owls Head water treatment plant before he left office,” noted area resident Allen Bortnick during a town hall meeting on the subject organized by State Senator Marty Golden and held at Xaverian High School, 7100 Shore Road. “Is that why he’s looking for a third term?”

Improvements to the facility – which often doesn’t pass the smell test according to those who live in its vicinity – are now not supposed to be complete before January, 2011, despite a promise made by the mayor during a town hall held in Dyker Heights two years ago that problems at the plant would be solved during his tenure, originally expected to end in January, 2009.

Representatives of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), who spoke at the town hall had to fend off not only Bortnick’s somewhat hyperbolic remark, but also the complaints of numerous residents who live within sniffing distance of the facility which, on the evening of the meeting, was distinctly odiferous.

“If you get a whiff of it,” noted Golden before he introduced the DEP representatives, “it’s not good.”

“It’s very difficult to run a waste water treatment plant and make it odor-free,” acknowledged Emily Lloyd, the DEP commissioner, who announced her resignation the day after the meeting to become chief operating officer of Trinity Church’s real estate operation.

While DEP reported a reduction in the number of complaints called in to 311 from 114 between May and September, 2007, to 50 between May and September, 2008, residents said that using 311 to report problems was a process that is frustrating at best and often useless.

Jane Kelly, who lives close to the plant, said that she “used to call whenever something like this happened,” but, “in the past year I only called once. I don’t think the number of calls was reduced because of great improvements. I think it was because we get discouraged.”

“You have a major problem with 311,” added Regina Farace. “When I call 311 and say there’s an odor form the Owls Heal treatment plant, they have not a clue. I made 365 complaints because I called everyday for a year and my complaints were not categorized or listed.”

“We’ve had that problem in other locations,” said Lloyd. “But, we were able to fix it with 311. If they have the proper script, they can take complaints. I don’t know why that hasn’t happened yet.”

“Over a year ago, at another meeting, the same thing was said,” rejoined Ric Dauria. “Shouldn’t that have been fixed already?”

The 311 system does sometimes work with respect to Owls Head, Golden’s staffers proved, making a call to 311 complaining about odors at the plant that was forwarded successfully to the plant. “The plant got the call,” Lloyd told the crowd after the experiment was announced.

Another issue was the public announcement system that has recently been in use. “I live on Senator Street,” said David Matthews, “and I can hear you guys. Jimmy, dial 300. Frankie, the switchboard. Instead of having three Shea Stadium speakers, can’t you have 100 small ones?”

The new PA system was put in because of concern that, in an emergency, not everyone in the plant would be able to hear announcements, explained Sapienza. However, because of the complaints, the plant has stopped using it till it can be retooled, said Owls Head Manager William Grandner.

To combat the odors, DEP has tried a combination of short-term fixes and long-term solutions, said Vincent Sapienza, an assistant commissioner for DEP.

The long-term solution for at least part of the ongoing odor problem is a 42-month-long, $39 million construction project now underway. The centerpiece of that project, which includes the replacement of mechanical and electrical equipment in the residuals building, is an extension to enclose tanks now open to the air. The project was delayed because the original contractor backed out, meaning that the agency had to go through the time-consuming bidding process a second time.

In addition, DEP has installed covers with carbon filtration units over some of the tanks, where odors were strongest. As Sapienza pointed out, “The closest process to the community is causing the most odors.” Those odors returned, however, over the summer, when one of the carbon filtration canisters failed.

The carbon canisters “are really good for a short period of time,” Sapienza said. However, he acknowledged, “Once they go, they go immediately. We are looking at a paired system so if one goes, we can quickly switch over to the other.”

The agency has also installed a new filtration system in one of the plant’s rooms, sealed windows in one building and put up a temporary building to house tanks that were previously open to the air. “It seems like we’re on the right track,” contended Sapienza, adding, “We’re not going to be happy till there are no complaints.

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