By Andrew Wroblewski
A Connecticut environmentalist leading a lawsuit against the state Department of Environmental Conservation and National Grid demanding action on a long-expired Northport Power Station permit called the DEC’s efforts to move the process along “lackadaisical” and an “embarrassment” Wednesday.
Terry Backer, of Soundkeeper Inc., said the agency’s lack of movement on the permit has led to billions of fish kills each year in the Long Island Sound due to obsolete technology.
A lawsuit filed in Nassau County Supreme Court Aug. 11 by Soundkeeper wants the court to compel the DEC to act on an expired State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. The permit expired in 2011 and is required under the federal Clean Water Act, the suit said.
DEC spokesman Tom Mailey said the agency “does not comment on pending litigation.”
In a statement emailed Wednesday by a National Grid spokeswoman Wendy Ladd, the utility said it operates the Northport plant in compliance with DEC regulations and has applied for a new cooling water permit. Since the permit is in the process of being renewed, the plant has been allowed to continue operating. The statement also says National Grid is working with the state DEC to study the impacts of its cooling water system and the effects it may have on aquatic life. The utility said it “has proposed a suite of technologies to reduce those impacts.”
Backer’s organization, however, claims that a new permit could require National Grid to replace the power plant’s outdated once-through cooling system, which draws water from nearby sources, uses it to cool the plant’s systems and circulates the warmer water back into the source. Since the Northport plant draws water from the Long Island Sound, it can also suck in organisms living in the water. According to the lawsuit, the plant was linked to about 8.5 billion fish kills in 2003, the latest figure available.
“It’s a giant fish-killing machine committing an act of theft,” Backer said Wednesday during a press conference held at Northport Soccer Park, directly adjacent to the power plant. “When permits are not issued and this plant runs daily, killing fish daily, it’s stealing them from us.”
A new permit could lead to a closed-cycle cooling system, which Soundkeeper’s attorney Reed Super said is shown to have lesser environmental impacts.
Super, an attorney at Super Law Group in Brooklyn, said after the press conference that there has been precedent for lawsuits similar to this one to put pressure on agencies to take action on expired permits.
Super speculated that, in order for National Grid to retrofit the Northport power plant with a closed cycle cooling system, it could cost tens of millions of dollars, if not more.
Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment has also taken notice of the expired Northport permit, but claims it’s not the only Long Island power plant operating with expired permits and outdated technology.
In an Aug. 25 letter to acting state DEC Commissioner Marc Gerstman, CCE Executive Director Adrienne Esposito said National Grid’s E.F. Barrett Power Station in Island Park also uses the once-through cooling system. CCE is compelling the state DEC to take action on permits for both power plants, with Barrett’s SPEDS permit expiring in 2009.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Esposito said “the Long Island Sound and the South Shore estuary are critical, economic and environmental assets. However, these power plants are literally sucking the life force right out of them.