Clean water legislation fails to make it to Senate floor

A view of the bay and SHelter Island from Pepi's Restaurant in Southold, near Port of Egypt. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)
A view of the bay and SHelter Island from Pepi’s Restaurant in Southold, near Port of Egypt. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Despite the op/ed pieces, press conferences, television appearances and lobbying by county and state officials and environmentalists from across the region, 2014 may not be the year for clean water on Long Island.

The state Senate failed to act last week on sweeping legislation aimed at safeguarding Nassau and Suffolk county’s many bays and tributaries, Long Island Sound and groundwater aquifers.

Proposed by state Assemblyman Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) and state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), the Long Island Water Quality Control Act would have established a timeline for curbing nitrogen pollution flowing to ground and surface waters from hundreds of thousands of septic systems on Long Island. The measure’s critics said it left no source of funding in place to assist affected homeowners.

The bill was introduced in May by Mr. Sweeney and in June by Mr. LaValle and replaced a similar bill, the Long Island Water Pollution Control Act, which had been introduced in August 2013. Both lawmakers took time to address concerns with that earlier proposal and Mr. LaValle proposed his new bill just nine days before the end of the 2014 legislative session.

Despite resounding approval in the Democrat-controlled Assembly last Wednesday by a vote of 112 to 24, the bill ran out of momentum in the state Senate, never making it to the floor for a vote.

In an interview with The Suffolk Times Tuesday, Mr. LaValle said opposition to the bill “was too much to overcome,” though he added he was confident new legislation addressing water quality Long Island’s water quality issues would soon be in the works.

“My feeling is that we will be back in [a special] session between now and the end of the year and that Assemblyman Sweeney and I will continue to meet with all the people that we have been meeting with to get a bill that is agreed upon,” he said.

He said he has been working closely with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on the issue, hoping to secure additiona; funding to put toward any legislative measures.

During the last week of the legislative session, Mr. LaValle said he had received eight different letters from stakeholders — including those from the agricultural and building industries — raising concerns about the bill.

“The farmers are a very important constituency to us,” he said. “We did make a lot of changes for the farmers, particularly on the pesticide issue, but for whatever reason they felt that they couldn’t, at this time, support the bill.

But Mr. LaValle said the driving force behind the opposition was the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

If passed, the legislation would have mandated the state agency to act on a number of different policy and research requirements, according to the bill.

“While the DEC didn’t issue a memo that indicated that they were not supporters, when talking to DEC, staff said they were not supportive,” he said. “If you can’t get the DEC [on board] you’re really in trouble.”

When asked if the DEC’s limited funding resources had anything to do with its opposition, Mr. LaValle said, “That’s part of it, I’m sure.”