The Peconic Baykeeper and Long Island Soundkeeper organizations have filed lawsuits against Stony Brook Southampton, as well as five New York State parks, alleging that cesspools and septic systems at the waterfront facilities are polluting local waterways by leaking nitrogen.
According to a release issued this week, the lawsuits were filed on November 8 and 11 and identify Robert Moses, Heckscher, Belmont Lake, Sunken Meadow and Wildwood state parks, as well as the Southampton college campus, as facilities that are “polluting our estuaries and rivers with excess nitrogen and other pollutants without proper permits.” According to the release, the pollution violates the Clean Water, the Safe Drinking, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery acts.
Filed separately by the two organizations in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the lawsuits seek to force the closure of cesspools and upgrades of the septic systems at the facilities, at their own expense, to reduce the volume of harmful chemicals and nitrogen entering the water.
“New York State should be the flagship for responsible stewardship of Long Island’s waters—especially at our state parks, beaches, and Stony Brook’s Southampton campus—not just another polluter,” Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister said in the release.
According to the release, nitrogen can cause algal blooms that reduce dissolved oxygen levels and water clarity, release foul odors, damage aquatic vegetation, kill fish and produce toxic red and brown tides. The release states that there are more than 2,000 septic tanks on Long Island, with the largest ones at the five state parks and university campus. “Together, they have the capacity to discharge more than 279,000 gallons of septic waste daily,” the release states.
It also says the suit comes as no surprise to the university or the State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, considering that in July 2013, the Baykeeper notified them of an intent to sue if the problem was not addressed out of court. The notice caught the attention of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which in October ordered the state parks to pay a fine for failing to close their large-capacity cesspools and for other violations. The DEC has given the state parks three years to close the cesspools and make approximately $5 million worth of upgrades.
“Among the relief we are asking from the court, none is more important than getting these facilities to install denitrification technology to protect water quality,” said Reed Super, the attorney representing both the Peconic Baykeeper and the Long Island Soundkeeper organizations. Representatives at the media department at Stony Brook University, the flagship school for the Southampton campus, did not return calls seeking comment on Tuesday.