Mayor brings cookies, DEP oversight over

Mayor brings cookies, DEP oversight over

The DEP no longer stands for Double Extra Probation.

While delivering cookies to Department of Environmental Protection employees on Christmas morning, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that DEP’s Federal probation and monitoring period has ended after a US District Court Judge’s recent decision.

“In recognition of eight years of hard work improving protection of the city’s water quality and our workplace safety practices, Federal officials are ending court oversight of DEP,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “New Yorkers can be confident we continue to enjoy the best drinking water in the country. But this isn’t the end of our work, it’s a new beginning and an opportunity to continue the progress we have made in setting the gold standard for water protection and employee safety.”

The agency came under Federal oversight in 2001 after federal investigators determined that the environmental agency’s operations violated the Clean Water Act, due to the presence of small discharges of mercury and other unsafe practices at a reservoir in upstate New York. With a Federal monitor supervising its procedures, the DEP has overhauled its procedures with close to $160 million in capital improvements and safety program investments, in addition to 500 new staff since 2001. The current 6,000 DEP employees also receive general safety training, with several hundred receiving more specialized training in confined space entry, “hot work,” and electrical safety.

“The DEP has used its time under Federal supervision to build a comprehensive health and safety program that has transformed the agency,” said Acting DEP Commissioner Steven W. Lawitts. “Thanks to the dedicated efforts of thousands of DEP employees, we have addressed more than 44,000 workplace conditions, and built the organization necessary to maintain and continue to improve water quality controls, and workplace health and safety going forward.”

Mayor Bloomberg congratulated DEP officials and employees at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant this week, where Plant Manager Jimmy Pynn led him on a tour of the $5 billion facility. The plant, which treats 230 million gallons of wastewater per day, is expected to be fully upgraded by 2013.

“If you need to flush your toilet (during the holidays) it is going to work because of the people here,” said Mayor Bloomberg.

Pynn led Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s press corps through several rooms in the sewage plant, from the new Visitors’ Center to the top of the egg-shaped digesters.

One of the guests who joined the tour was incoming DEP Commissioner and former mayoral aide Caswell Holloway, who has been partly responsible for formulating the city’s response to the EPA’s Superfund recommendation for nearby Newtown Creek. The city’s chief concerns include working with the EPA to ensure that any environmental remediation does not delay DEP construction projects along the Creek or add crippling fiduciary responsibilities for the site’s clean up.

On the tour, Holloway expressed confidence that the sewage plant’s construction would continue smoothly and the DEP would collaborate with the EPA on the creek’s future remediation, particularly now that the probation had been lifted.

At the end of the tour, the mayor offered his own words of encouragement: “Cass, don’t screw it up.”