Bethpage Water District To Receive Plume Settlement

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Northrop Grumman and U.S. Navy to pony up millions off Consent Judgment

Superintendent Michael Boufis (at the podium) announcing the multi-million dollar contamination settlement the Bethpage Water District will be receiving.
(Photo courtesy of the Bethpage Water District)

After decades of fighting to get the U.S. government and Northrup Grumman to contain and clean up Long Island’s largest contaminated groundwater plume, the Bethpage Water District (BWD) filed a proposed Consent Judgment to have the U.S. Navy and the Northrup Grumman Corporation pick up the tab to treat this four-mile long, two-mile wide and 900-foot deep source of groundwater contamination. The settlement will have the BWD receiving $20 million from the United States government and $29 million from Northrup Grumman to treat chemicals that leaked from the Naval Weapons Reserve Plant in Bethpage and the former Grumman site, removing financial burdens from taxpayers for this expensive treatment process.
The announcement was made by BWD Superintendent Michael Boufis at a press conference at Plant 6 that was attended by a number of other BWD officials, local politicians, residents and members of the Bethpage community from area businesses, firefighters and the school district. For Boufis, this latest development is validation for the extensive negotiations and oftentimes tough and heated discussions the BWD has engaged in with the Navy and Northrup Grumman over the years.

“This is how it’s supposed to work,” he said. “The Bethpage residents and the Bethpage Water District demanded that somebody be held accountable for the contamination and we prevailed. As part of the settlement, Northrup Grumman will be responsible for cleaning up the plume. This does not alleviate their responsibility.”

The Consent Judgment resolves all of BWD’s claims against the Navy and Northrop Grumman and it directs that the funds will pay a significant portion of the costs for the wellhead treatment systems at BWD Plants 5 and 6. Northrop Grumman will use Plant 4 to continue to do its part of the remediation of the plumes by operating Plant 4 and BWD will be able to use the funds to pay for Advanced Oxidation Process treatment for 1,4-dioxane at Plants 5 and 6, as well as develop a replacement well outside the plume for Plant 4.

Despite this progress, there is much to be done about a plume that can potentially affect more than 250,000 residents from Bethpage all the way down to Massapequa. With the source of contamination being pinpointed, Boufis explained how the money from this Consent Judgment will allow the BWD to continue upgrading its treatment systems, ensuring that both public health and ground water will be protected. But in the meantime, residents can expect the process to involve plenty of construction upheaval going forward.

“What you can look forward to is unfortunately a lot of construction happening,” Boufis explained. “There is a lot that needs to be dug up in Bethpage. They’re just starting in South Farmingdale and parts of Levittown. Unfortunately, the necessary part of this is to get infrastructure in place so this plume can be remediated. There’s a huge understanding of the plume, where I think it was lacking in the past. The main thing is that contractors will be building facilities to extract the water and then recharge it. This settlement does provide real relief to a budget strained by the enormous costs associated with removing contaminants found in the plumes.”

One of the main contaminants is TCE (trichloroethylene), a chemical compound used by the Navy and Grumman as a way to degrease machinery. It would not be until 2011 that the federal Environmental Protection Agency would classify it as a known carcinogen, decades after it had been regularly used and had time to become a significant environmental concern.

As to how this ruling might affect ratepayers, Boufis admits it is too soon to tell given the fact that the court still needs to review the filing and enter the judgment before BWD receives settlement funds according to payment terms laid out in the agreement. In the meantime, there are decades of work to be done going forward.
“Once the judge assigns the Consent Judgment, the clock will start ticking when we are funded,” he said. “At that point, we’ll will sit down and have a meeting with financial advisors to see how we’re going to allocate the money. There are many layers to the settlement and this is only one portion of it. We are still in litigation and there are also some other agreements that have to take place first moving forward with the potential to recover more money in the future. It’s a generational plume and while I think you will see the bulk of the mass knocked down in the next 20 to 30 years, it’s going to take hundreds of millions [of dollars] for a full clean-up that might take a century to complete. It’s anybody’s guess.”

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