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A Sewer Pipe To Nowhere

September 2004

You may have noticed the construction activity taking place near Northern Boulevard just east of the Cross Island Parkway, across from the Alley Pond Environmental Center. No, this isn�t another case of rampant over-development, with housing or commercial construction going into our parkland. What is being built is a huge sewer pipe that goes ... nowhere.

Why would New York City spend millions of dollars to build a huge sewer pipe that doesn�t go anywhere? Because it�s the best way to continue the job of cleaning up Little Neck Bay and the rest of the water surrounding the City.

Years ago New York, like many older cities, built combined sewers. That means the same pipes that carry sanitary sewage from buildings also carry storm water from the streets when it rains. (In newer systems, sanitary and storm sewer pipes are separated.) The problem with combined sewers is that when it rains heavily, the pipes � and, more importantly, the treatment plant at the end of those pipes � can�t handle the extra load. So the system has overflow points where the excess storm water and sewage mixture gets diverted into (you guessed it) the bays and inlets all around the City.

There is a combined sewer overflow (CSO) that empties into Little Neck Bay. It is located near the Alley Pond Environmental Center, where Northern Boulevard crosses Alley Creek. Whenever it rains heavily we go back to the bad old days, with raw sewage pouring into our Bay.

Separating the sanitary and storm sewer systems would be incredibly expensive and disruptive. It makes more sense to build extra storage capacity into the system before the pipes reach the treatment plant. When it rains the excess water and sewage gets stored instead of going into the Bay. When the rain stops, the stored material is pumped back into the pipes and on to the treatment plant over the course of several days.

Fortunately, a project is underway to provide the Little Neck Bay CSO with one of these temporary storage facilities. A large-diameter pipe will be installed under and adjacent to Northern Boulevard, between Alley Creek and the Cross Island Parkway. The pipe will go nowhere, but it will have a very large capacity � over 3 million gallons. This is enough to hold the excess water that can be expected from all but the biggest rain storms. Even during those very heavy storms, much less sewage will end up in our Bay; and whatever does get discharged will first receive some minimal treatment.

The construction is scheduled to be completed in mid-2005, and will involve some disruption of traffic on Northern Boulevard.

The contract calls for a complete restoration of the construction area, which will be returned to park land. Native trees and shrubs will be planted when the work is done. And while none of us can be happy about the mess being made while construction goes on, the project is overall a very good one for the environment.

 

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