At 5 p.m. on November 9, while walking my dog along Oakland Beach Avenue, I crossed the bridge over Blind Brook, looked down, and noticed that the streambed was plastered with a coating of dead, silver-colored fish — probably bunkers.
By Bill Lawyer
At 5 p.m. on November 9, while walking my dog along Oakland Beach Avenue, I crossed the bridge over Blind Brook, looked down, and noticed that the streambed was plastered with a coating of dead, silver-colored fish — probably bunkers. There must have been 50 to 100, mostly about one-foot long. I called the Rye Police to let them know, and the officer at the desk said he would “pass the message along.”
Incidents such as this are happening all along the western end of Long Island Sound. That’s why two non-profit agencies — Save The Sound and Soundkeeper, both dedicated to cleaning up the Sound — have filed a lawsuit in federal court against the City of Rye and ten other municipalities. Atlantic Clam Farms of Connecticut joined them in the suit.
Fish and other varieties of marine life in Long Island Sound are dying off for two basic reasons: drastic seasonal drops in the water’s oxygen level, and high levels of pollutants, particularly raw or only partially treated sewage.
As Tracy Brown, Director of STS Western Sound Programs stated, in explaining why they have filed the lawsuit, “We took action today [November 4] to sue 11 Westchester towns for decades of Clean Water Act violations. We had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. But the time to act is now.”
“We took action for decades of Clean Water Act violations. We had hoped it wouldn’t come to this.”
STS alleges that, “These communities, among the wealthiest in the nation, have failed to invest properly in their infrastructure, leading to decades-long sewage problems. Save the Sound hopes to bring stakeholders together to arrive at a unified, enforceable plan. Our goal is to reach a comprehensive, long-term solution.”
The other municipalities being sued are Rye Brook, Scarsdale, Harrison, Larchmont, Town of Mamaroneck, Village of Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Pelham Manor, Port Chester, and White Plains.
In their suit, STS specifically accused the City of Rye of discharging raw sewage from the sewage collection system without permits, discharging sewage via municipal separate stormwater systems, and violating permit limits regarding overflow at the Blind Brook treatment plant. Limits are exceeded in nearly any heavy rain event.
The STS suit calls for Rye and the other municipalities to do two things: “Fix leaking town and county pipes and fix leaking pipes that run from private homes and businesses into the public sewer system.”
In order to ensure that these are accomplished, STS demands that enforceable timelines be set for these repairs, and that plans with adequate funding be established to prevent future sewage overflow, through proper maintenance.
The suit calls for the court to award civil penalties of $37,500 per day per violation, for all violations of the Clean Water Act occurring after January 12, 2009; and they want the court to reimburse plaintiffs their costs — including reasonable investigative, attorney, witness, and consultant fees. Brown asserts that STS has collected extensive evidence to back up all their allegations.
The STS lawsuit was filed just two weeks after the US Environmental Protection Agency announced a new “Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan” (CCMP) for restoring and protecting the Long Island Sound.
A coalition of governmental and non-profit groups known as the Long Island Sound Study has set 20 targets to be achieved by 2035. Among these goals are: a 50% reduction of beach closures due to sewage pollution; a 28% reduced area of the Sound with unhealthy oxygen levels; improved water clarity; restored coastal wetlands; a 7,000-acre increase open space; and a 300 pounds per mile reduction in the amount of plastic marine debris in the Sound.
While Save The Sound is focusing on the failures of local municipalities to carry out their required water quality improvement responsibilities, the LI Sound Study’s report focuses on the improvements that have been made since their first management plan, in 1994.