Pooped out: Sewage still filling Coney creek, locals say

Scat-urated! Locals fear more sewage dumping in Coney creek
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

Illegal sewage hookups must still be pumping poop into Coney Island Creek even a year and a half after the state caught an a nearby apartment complex dumping up to 200,000 gallons of raw sewage into the creek every day, according to local environmental advocates who test the waters for bacteria.

“I’m sure there are more illegal hookups,” said Rob Buchanan of the Water Trail Association.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a $400,000 fine last month to the Beach Haven apartment complex for illegal dumping, which the management says was accidental and the state said ended in September 2016. But the consistently high levels of fecal bacteria that Buchanan’s group detected in the creek last summer suggest that other illegal sewage discharges — intentional or not — continue to foul the waters and require aggressive action, he said.

“There may even be [illegal hookups] that happened accidentally, like they’re claiming in the Beach Haven case,” said Buchanan. “But I think there needs to be a thorough program of inspection, block-by-block, and lots of further investigation.”

The Water Trail Association’s weekly tests of the water near the storm drain at West 21st Street showed levels of a fecal bacteria well over the state standard for swimmable waters on 13 out of 16 weeks between June and September last year — with two tests even showing levels of the poop 14 times the state standard.

“The high levels of bacteria are a reflection of the amount of sewage pollution,” Buchanan said. “The point is it’s well beyond the level of swimmability under the law. It’s too dirty, and the city needs to work to do its best to reduce those numbers.”

Heavy rains can sometimes overwhelm the city’s water-treatment infrastructure and cause sewers to overflow into the storm-drain system, but Buchanan said his group detected elevated bacteria levels even in dry weather. So the raw sewage must be coming from illegal discharges either from intentional diversion, or even antiquated hookups dating back to before the city’s modern water-treatment system, according to another local environmental advocate.

“Someone could be living in a home for half a century and have no idea that their sanitary line is incorrectly hooked up to a storm water line,” said Ida Sanoff, the executive director of the Natural Resources Protective Association.

The local district manager said the community board is aware of the problem, but acknowledged that it can’t be solved overnight.

“There are illegal outfalls. It’s just that we don’t know where they’re coming from, but it takes time to investigate,” said Eddie Mark.

The city’s Department of Environmental Protection plans to dedicate more resources to monitor the creek as part of its forthcoming city Stormwater Management Program, according to a spokeswoman, who said the agency is also investigating additional illicit discharges. The agency did not respond to an inquiry about how many sewage discharges it has found in Coney Island since Beach Haven’s allegedly stopped in Sept. 2016.

Sanoff said the city should speed up the process by hiring more inspectors.

“There could certainly be more illegal hookups in Coney — but tracking them down is a very slow task,” said Ida Sanoff. “If the Department of Environmental Protection had more staff assigned to tracking down illegal hookups, it would make the track-down process go a lot faster.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said the $400,000 fine from Beach Haven will go to groups working to clean up the creek, but not to fund more inspectors.

Keeping the creek free of feces will be a costly, long-term proposition, said Buchanan, but would be worth it.

“The bottom line is they probably have to spend more money on keeping a place like Coney creek clean, which is important to people,” Buchanan said.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.