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Is Mamaroneck Village's EPA Violation Symptomatic of a Greater Problem?

The Village of Mamaroneck is working on a remediation plan after they were issued an EPA violation in 2011.

 

Despite abnormally high levels of fecal coliform—a bacteria found in animal and human waste—discovered at various locations in and around Mamaroneck within the past few years, the verdict is still out as to whether the contaminated waters can be attributed to stormwater runoff, illegal sewer line hook-ups or even leaky sewer pipes, leading residents to wonder: Is it safe to swim in the Sound?

Although fecal coliform by itself is not harmful according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a higher than average reading can indicate the presence of disease causing bacteria or viruses such as E. Coli, which are harmful if swallowed while swimming or consumed through eating shellfish from a contaminated area.

The most recent trouble began in September, 2010 when the Division of Enforcement and Compliance Assistance (DECA)—at the request of the Division of Environmental Planning and Protection (DEEP)—made two onsite inspections to 11 locations (listed in the table below) as part of their review of the village’s Stormwater Management Program (SWMP) annual report, said Dan Sarnoff, assistant village manager in the Village of Mamaroneck (VOM).  Please click to the right of this article for all supporting documentation.

Location

  Description                                                

1

  Drain behind Lexus dealer on Boston Post Road

2

  Pryer Manor Road

3

  Fenbrook Subdivision to open lot detention basin

4

  Hampshire Golf Course, Hommocks Road

5

  East Creek Basin, Fenimore by I-95 Bridge

6

  Outfall – 729 Plaza St.

7

  Catch Basin at Union Street

8

  Catch basin at Union and Halstead Avenues

9

  Catch basin at 500 Halstead Ave.

10

  Confluence of Mamaroneck River and Harbor

11

  Confluence of Sheldrake and Mamaroneck Rivers

Location#   Total Coliforms         Fecal Coliforms

1                   77,000                         30,000

2                170,000                         80,000

3                   24,000                         13,000

4                   50,000                         30,000

5                   80,000                       80,000

10                 50,000                         24,000

11               220,000                        30,000

 

The SWMP, among other things, aims to address the runoff from storms, which can be a mechanism for transporting pollutants like garbage and excrement to large bodies of water, threatening beaches and drinking water alike. 

Back in 2007, the EPA documented evidence of discharges from sanitary sewers in the VOM, however, they delayed further enforcement until 2010, when follow-up tests were performed. 

But it was the result of wet water samplings (after heavy rains) at outfalls and catch basins in seven locations (listed above) that exceeded the NY Water Quality Standard of 10,000 MPN/100 ML for total coliform and 2,000 MPN/100 ML for fecal coliform in 2010, that gave the agency pause.

In March of 2011, the EPA slapped the village with an official violation of the Clean Water Act—a 1972 law that establishes quality standards for surface waters and regulates the discharge of pollutants into the water—based on the Septemeber findings.

The violation cited the village, among other things, for not being in compliance with their municipal separate storm sewer system—that collects and conveys stormwater and pollutants to surface waters—MS4 permit. According to the violation, the village also missed their January, 2008 deadline for implementation of a comprehensive illicit discharge detection and elimination program, a required component of the SWMP.

Further, since the VOM discharges stormwater into one or more bodies of water that have a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)—a predetermined amount of pollutant that can enter a body of water before it exceeds water quality standards—they are required to meet a more stringent set of requirements, particularly since Mamaroneck Harbor had previously been designated as an “impaired water body” for pathogens and floatables.

Although the cause of the consistently high bacteria counts continues to elude both village and state, one theory, stated in the violation says, “water quality standards were exceeded at all locations, supporting evidence that there is a high potential for illicit sanitary connections to storm sewers which discharge into Mamaroneck Harbor.”

Other residents have their own theories about what’s causing the high levels.

According to Katherine Desmond, former chair of the VOM Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Water Quality from 2001-04, the problem may have more to do with the state of the village’s sanitary sewer system than anything else. 

“Pipes are leaking all over the village,” she said, referring to a growing number of defects in sewer pipes needing repairs.

Cracked or broken pipes can cause rainwater or inflow from illegal sanitary pipe hook-ups to leak in, thereby overwhelming the system that they both flow into. Contamination between sanitary waste pipes and stormwater pipes can also cause an overflow of bacteria laden, untreated stormwater into streams, rivers and neighborhoods.

“The contamination is not coming from upstream,” said Desmond, adding, “The water in the Sheldrake River is ‘swimmable’ before it flows into the village.”

As part of their remediation plan in connection with the violation, the VOM is required to submit an illegal detection and elimination plan identifying pollutants in the storm sewer system tributary; an engineering plan for corrective measures to be taken and, following the corrective measures, additional sampling within six months of completion.

In May of 2011, the VOM contracted with a company they had used previously for similar water sampling tasks, the Tarrytown-based firm Dolph Rotfeld Engineering, P.C.

But, in February of 2012, the firm pulled out of their agreement with the village, delaying mitigation further, due to, “ill informed comments made about us on a very wide basis…the risk to our valuable reputation is not worth taking and is distracting to our mission.”  The village requested an additional 90 days in order to find another engineering firm.

On May 14, 2012, the village selected White Plains-based Malcolm Pirnie as a replacement and, according to their Request For Proposal (RFP)—obtained from the EPA via a FOIA request—their plan of action to identify the source of fecal contamination includes performing video inspections of sewer lines, smoke and dye testing, among other things. Their fee for coming up with the plan and helping the village to implement it is $27,200.

But it wasn’t only the VOM where there was suspected contamination.

In May of 2012, the EPA opted to re-test locations near Hommocks Road and the —an area that sits right on the border of the Village and Town of Mamaroneck—for potential duck and goose waste that was believed to be fouling the nearby water.

The same area had been tested in October, 2011, and, according to a report obtained from the EPA, showed the presence of both gull and human fecal matter, with levels ranging from 700 to 24,000 MPN/100 ML.  The 2012 results showed significantly lower levels as follows:

Fenbrook Lane (down stream of culvert)  300 MPN /100 ML

Kolbert Street (down stream of bridge)    130 MPN/100 ML

Kobert & Salem Drive (center of brook)    300 MPN/100 ML

Adrian Circle (upstream of culvert)            80 MPN/100 ML

Griffen Avenue (down stream of culvert)    90 MPN/100 ML

However, a re-test of the Fenbrook subdivision (an original location for stormwater discharge sampling by DEEP) showed higher levels of fecal coliform than previous tests with 8,000 mpn/100 ML, and total coliform 50,000 mpn/100 ML as recent as May 9, 2012.

“The coliform levels for Fenbrook currently exceed ambient water quality standards. Meeting these standards would likely reduce the risk of illness from disease causing organisms,” said John Martin, a press officer for the EPA in response to questioning whether the current levels were harmful to public health.

With a hefty fine up to $37,500 per day per violation, the village is motivated to continue their compliance with the terms of the EPA citation. Their next quarterly report is due at the end of August.  So far, “Mamaroneck is currently in compliance with the requirements of the order we issued and making progress towards addressing the Clean Water Act violations as required,” said EPA Press Officer Elias Rodriguez.  

But, for others, the situation may take longer to right.

“It's an unacceptable condition for a civilized society to allow sewage to run free,” said Desmond.

 

Editor's Note: A sentence clarifying the duties Malcolm Pirnie will perform for a $27,200 fee was added to the original version of this article.

Harold R. August 22, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Stefani, Thank you for doing this article, I think the answer to the title is "yes". Two things, the article says that the contract the town entered into is a "plan of action to identify the source of fecal contamination includes performing video inspections of sewer lines, smoke and dye testing, among other things, for a fee of $27,200." The first page of the proposal says that the 27k only includes coming up with the plan, NONE of the testing. Back on your last article about this I asked you this question in response to this statement from the manager about goose and dog poop. "They have estimated that a lot of the run-off down into the rivers is contributing to this, in their words this includes a lot of run-off from golf courses and other goose-frequented areas including Harbor Island Park and Columbus Park. I would have to say that dog waste in parks and along streets also plays into this, because the street-wash washes into the curbs, runs into catch-basins, and all of it washes out through the storm-drains into the rivers and such." I asked if you would "ask the Manager who "They" are in the beginning of the quote above. I have never seem any kind of data to support that statement. I would be interested to know what it is. thanks" You responded that you thought the "they" was the Department of Health but would find out. Did you ever get any kind of study or data that backs up the managers statement?
Stefani Kim August 22, 2012 at 04:19 AM
Hi Harold, Yes, in reference to your question about who "they" are, it refers to a conversation the village manager said he had with the Department of Health. So "they" refers to the DOH, at least according to the village manager of the VOM. My understanding is that they are making an educated guess as to why the levels are so high, but do not have scientific data or a specific study to back it up. Part of what Malcolm Pirnie is tasked with is finding the source of the problem (s) leading to the high fecal coliform counts, but it's a complex problem. You're correct about the $27,200—I'll reword the sentence to clarify that. Best, Stefani
Harold R. August 22, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Thanks Stefani, I got from the last article that the "goose poop" theory was given credence because the manager said it came from the Department of Health but I just want it to be clear that you were not able to get that verified through any studies, data or conversations you have had with Department of Health. From this article it seems likely this canard was ginned up by the engineer Rotfeld before he had to resign. I wonder what the story with that was. The managers statement fits the definition of truthiness "The quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts." It may be funny on the Colbert Report but is bad when it is used to make decisions about how to spend peoples money trying to protect the environment. The reality is that all of our county's century old sewer system is well beyond life expectancy, decrepit and breaking down. When municipalities fail to acknowledge that reality and instead want to spend money on DNA testing to determine whose poop it is, that is a failing of government to act responsibly. As Katherine Desmond correctly pointed out “It's an unacceptable condition for a civilized society to allow sewage to run free,” .
Doreen Roney August 23, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Harold R., I seem to recall the manager publicly stating at a BOT meeting that the first engineer resigned due to resident's comments this past spring. I agree with Katherine Desmond's and your statements about the sewer issues 100%. On the topic of "When municipalities fail to acknowledge that reality and instead want to spend money on DNA testing to determine whose poop it is" I think I have a few clues. As I see it, all anyone needs to do is READ the I&I and IMA quarterly reports to see one symptom of the problem. In my opinion another major symptom of the problem is failure to provide LWRP/consistency education (which the Dept of State provides for FREE) to decision making village officials (and the public) and stringently enforce the LWRP and village laws that were developed to prevent further issues with water quality(too much coliform bacteria- EPA violation) and water quantity (flooding.) This spring I and others asked the BOT what was being done about this on the MS4 report and the mayor wouldn't allow any dialog. This past fall I shared a video (which I will post again above) taken on 9-8-11 which shows a sewer surcharging due to flooding on Fenimore Rd in the village with village officials at a BOT meeting and just another failure to acknowledge happened. Any correlation here? I guess it's more important to have costly consultants to pay for, and DNA testing than dealing with public health issues brought to their attention by the concerned public.
Doreen Roney August 23, 2012 at 04:53 AM
Since I'm having difficulty uploading the 9-8- 11sewer surcharge on Fenimore Rd video to this article, it appeared on patch previously in this article- http://larchmont.patch.com/articles/public-requests-a-more-readable-waterfront-revitalization-plan-in-mamaroneck-village#video-8331128
Stefani Kim August 23, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Hi Doreen, The video has been added to the story and can be accessed by clicking to the right of the article under "Videos." Best, Stefani
Harold R. August 23, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Wow! That is quite a video thanks for adding it. Are you sure that is a sanitary sewer gushing up like that and not a storm sewer?
Doreen Roney August 25, 2012 at 03:28 AM
The answer to your question has much history below: In early 2012 the mayor's response to the video was that the village was aware of this issue and there is a need for a backflow valve in this area because when it floods the sewer treatment plant can't handle the increase in volume so it backs up. A neighboring resident obtained a letter from a P.E. / the Director of Westchester County Department of Environmental Facilities Division of Solid Waste Wastewater Treatment Water Agency stating that "this department can express no opinion of the need for a '...backflow valve' because it has not been contacted by the village and has insufficient information to understand the supposed need or how County facilities would be involved or impacted. However this department can state categorically that no County wastewater facilities, including the Mamaroneck Wastewater Treatment plant or County sewer facilities located in the immediate area of the subject manhole, contributed in any way to the manhole overflowing on Sept. 8, 2011. Moreover, the more general claim that surface stream "flooding" on Sept. 8, 2011 resulted in wastewater flows that the Mamaroneck Wastewater Sewer Treatment plant could not 'handle', so as to cause sanitary sewer overflows in the village, is simply not the case."
Doreen Roney August 25, 2012 at 03:35 AM
Stefani, Did you receive any water quality sampling data from the EPA for the Mamaroneck river in Harrison or White Plains, and for the Sheldrake up on the border of New Rochelle and Scarsdale? BTW that's our watershed- see page 10 of the LWRP- http://docs.dos.ny.gov/communitieswaterfronts/LWRP/Village%20of%20Mamaroneck%20Final%20LWRP.pdf

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