NY State, City Agree on Wastewater Facilities Plan

New York State and New York City officials on Nov. 6 announced a landmark agreement that represents a crucial step forward for upgrading the city's Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and for ensuring compliance with environmental laws at all 14 of the city's wastewater treatments plants.

The agreement also provides $10 million for community environmental benefit projects -- the largest such allocation in state history.

The state and the city worked collaboratively to develop a forward-looking approach for addressing wastewater treatment facilities, a critical issue for public health and waterways. With the completion of the agreement, the state and city pave the way to make fundamental changes by:

•Assuring that the city's upgrade of the Newtown Creek plant - the largest wastewater treatment plant in the state -- will continue under a strict set of deadlines.

•Committing New York City to completing a comprehensive environmental audit to ensure compliance with environmental laws at its 14 in-city sewage treatment plants and its four largest combined sewer overflow (CSO) facilities, and to identify and correct any violations discovered during this audit. This is the first time such a protocol has been established between the city and the state for the in-city wastewater treatment plants.

•Ensuring compliance by putting into escrow proceeds from a $27.4 million judgment against New York City for violations at the Newtown Creek plant. The penalty will be returned if the city meets certain construction milestones for the plant upgrade. The settlement also outlines an additional $16 million in penalties if requirements of the capital-management improvement program aren't met.

•Providing $10 million in local environmental benefits through a portfolio of projects. This is the largest Environmental Benefit Project (EBP) in the state's history.

"Today's agreement will not only fix problems at the Newtown Creek plant, but also change the long-standing cycle of violations-and-penalties at all of the city's wastewater plants," said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis. "This is a significant breakthrough. After years of trying, the city and state have come together and agreed on a sensible, forward-looking solution to ensure cleaner water, better compliance, and healthier neighborhoods."

"This agreement represents a major step forward in the city's efforts to assure that the Newtown Creek Plant continues to serve the public appropriately while it's upgraded to comply with current wastewater treatment standards," said Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo of the New York City Law Department. "The city also looks forward to working with the state in ensuring that its wastewater treatment construction upgrades proceed efficiently in the future -- and in compliance with all environmental requirements."

As part of the plan, the city will hire an independent contractor to conduct audits for the wastewater treatment plants and the CSO facilities. The city will correct any violations discovered during the audits, without being subject to penalties.

The city will work closely with the state to ensure that critical capital wastewater projects are delivered effectively and efficiently. Both the state and the city believe these initiatives represent a proactive approach to future compliance and will result in significant benefits to the environment and local communities.

The city will fund a $10 million EBP project in which the City Parks Foundation, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and the Hudson River Foundation will develop a portfolio of neighborhood projects. The project may include installing green infrastructure; creating or improving open space, public parks and waterfront access; creating ecological stewardship and education programs; retrofitting diesel buses and trucks; and implementing energy efficiency programs in low-income housing.