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$360 Million Upgrades Coming to Sewage Treatment Plants After 2011 Fire

By Dartunorro Clark | August 3, 2016 3:00pm
 New upgrades from the city will reduce formaldehyde levels are Riverbank State Park, the DEC said.
New upgrades from the city will reduce formaldehyde levels are Riverbank State Park, the DEC said.
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Facebook/Riverbank State Park

HARLEM — A sewage treatment plant badly damaged in a massive 2011 fire is among those benefiting from $360 million in renovations.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has reached an agreement with the city to upgrade its wastewater treatment plants, which would help prevent fires like the one at Harlem's North River Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The DEC said the money will upgrade the equipment at the North River and Bowery Bay wastewater treatment plants and several pumping stations by 2022.

The 2011 blaze was fed by fuel oil that the city had kept on hand to power the main sewage pump engines and blowers at the plant. As a result of the blaze, raw or partially treated sewage flowed into local waterways and led to the closure of several beaches.

“This ... resolves numerous issues, including the massive North River wastewater treatment plant fire and associated sewage spill into the Hudson River,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. 

“I am pleased with the city’s agreement to institute a system-wide program to better assess sewage treatment infrastructure to eliminate pollution risks before a breakdown…The end result will be cleaner water and air we all desire.”

The city has to pay a $150,000 fine “to settle past alleged offenses, which resulted from equipment being taken out of service for maintenance at several plants,” the DEC said.

The technology being installed will discontinue the use of fuel oil to run engines at the plant and several of the existing large fuel oil storage tanks will be demolished.

The plan includes upgrading pumps to run on electricity and install cleaner engines which run on natural gas.

The DEC said this will help reduce fumes in Riverbank State Park, which has been a major concern of local environmental groups and community boards, as DNAinfo previously reported.

“Testing shows that New York Harbor is cleaner today than it has been in more than a century, and we look forward to investing an additional $360 million to continue this important progress,” said DEP Acting Commissioner Vincent Sapienza. 

“The work will include the ongoing installation of new, cleaner burning cogeneration engines at the North River facility as well as upgrades to wastewater infrastructure across the city that is critical to protecting public health and the environment.”

Padmore John, chair of Manhattan Community Board 9, said the board has worked with the city to improve the plant and that decreasing the formaldehyde emissions and the use of electricity is key to the upgrades.  

“We thought that was very important and very helpful,” he said. “We have wholeheartedly given them our support for this initiative.

"We appreciate this and we’re happy to see that (they) have provided this funding.”

The new equipment will also allow the facilities to capture and treat twice their capacity during rain to reduce the amount of sewer overflows into receiving waters. 

The city is required to submit annually a plan to outline its wastewater “asset management” program, which helps to layout needed repairs, upgrades and maintenance to prevent possible breakdowns and pollution in the future, the DEC said.

The city is also required to bankroll an Environmental Benefit Project. The project is expected to construct a greenhouse and roll out an educational gardening program in Riverbank State Park, the DEC said.