Sewage source still a mystery at Glen Cove beach


State and county officials are renewing their effort to solve the mystery of sewage contamination at Crescent Beach in Glen Cove, which has been closed for nine years because no one is precisely sure where the sewage is coming from.

The hope is to find its source, shut it down and eventually reopen the beach to the public. Crescent Beach borders Hempstead Bay, just north of Sea Cliff.

Since last fall, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, in partnership with Nassau County and the City of Glen Cove, has been working to identify the contamination source. A draft study released in September found that 10 sewage outfall pipes were the likely culprits, though the study was not definitive.

The study named two, the Katz and Schein estates. Saul Katz is president of the New York Mets, and Marvin Schein is an art collector who, since the beach was closed in 2009, has been fined by both the state and the county for discharging sewage from his property.

The study noted that bacteria levels from one outfall were notably lower after Katz’s system was shut off. Two other pipes near the Schein estate showed fecal coliform levels more than four times higher than the state standard.

On Feb. 3, the Nassau County attorney’s office told County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton that county money earmarked to address the problem could cover the cost of using cameras in the offending pipes to determine who, besides Katz and Schein, owns them. “It’s a mystery,” DeRiggi-Whitton said.

The DEC sent out eight letters to nearby homeowners on Dec. 13 seeking information that could help identify the sources of the problem. Only one of those requests has not had a response, but DEC has scheduled a field visit with that property owner.

“Until we can prove where these pipes are coming from,” DeRiggi-Whitton told the Herald Gazette, “it’ll be hard to determine” who should be responsible for fixing them. She said she hoped the cameras would provide the necessary evidence.

Glen Cove city spokeswoman Lisa Travatello said that until the investigation was complete, the nature of the fixes wouldn’t be certain, although DeRiggi-Whitton said that simply capping the outfalls could lead to leaks elsewhere, and that the most likely and cheapest solution would be to reroute the pipes to terminate in a more appropriate and environmentally friendly location.

D&B engineers, the firm that did the study last year and will deploy the cameras, will wait until the weather warms up before doing so. DeRiggi-Whitton said that the firm should be able to get the work done next month, and she hopes the beaches can be open this summer.

She added that the DEC has told her that whatever contamination remains on the beach after the illegal deposits cease should be cleared out after a few bouts of rain.

Chapter 225 of city code requires residents using cesspools to submit biannual certifications to the city that the cesspools are operating properly. Sea Cliff Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy said, however, that he believes former Glen Cove Mayor Reginald Spinello ignored the contamination at Crescent Beach. “Glen Cove and Sea Cliff share the same body of water, and any efforts to reduce the source of the contaminants, the village is in full support of,” Kennedy said. “It’s nice to hear the county is participating in the process and offering assistance in identifying the source of the polluters.”

While in the area, the Herald Gazette spoke to two 13-year-old girls who did not want to be identified. They emerged riding bicycles from the marshland on the other side of the black gate from which the effluent-laced stream flows. Setting their bikes up on kickstands, the girls washed their hands in the stream. Asked whether they knew where it came from, they said they did, but that it looked clean enough. One added that when she brought her dog to the beach over the summer, he had to be kept on a leash so he wouldn’t drink the water.

Joan Harrison, a Glen Cove resident who said she enjoys walking on Crescent Beach, added that she and others she talks to are surprised that it has taken so long to determine the source of the contamination. “This is the only part of Glen Cove that’s not sewers,” she said, pointing to an area above the beach that she identified as North Country Colony. “Everybody in town has known that it’s properties here polluting this beach all this time.”

Harrison also said she was also surprised that so much time and money had been spent on “all these studies and surveys.” “Well, anyone from here could have told you that’s where the pollution was coming from,” she said, wondering out loud why the process has taken nine years. “Maybe it’s because these people don’t want anybody on their beach.”

Alyssa Seidman contributed to this story.