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Murky waters: State goes after Beach Haven for Coney creek sewage spill but won’t commit funds to clean it

Clean up: Charles Denson and Pamela Pettyjohn are pushing the state to consider Coney Island Creek as a superfund site.
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It’s more than poop that’s clouding the waters in Coney Island Creek.

The state is moving to collect the penalties imposed on Beach Haven Apartments for dumping 200,000 gallons of raw sewage a day into the waterway — possibly for years — after the fecal flow was revealed last October. But the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation is keeping mum on details of its action against the Gravesend complex, and will not even promise that funds from a settlement will go towards cleaning up the creek, according to members of Community Board 13.

“Beach Haven dumped sewage into our creek and money from a settlement should go back into our community and cleaning up the creek,” said Coney Islander Jeffrey Sanoff, chairman of Community Board 13’s environment and sanitation committee. “They wouldn’t commit to money coming back to us and it’s not fair — if Beach Haven pays fines, it should come back here.”

The state is perusing Beach Haven outside of the state court system through a so-called “administra­tive enforcement action,” state reps told locals at a CB13 environment and sanitation committee meeting on Jan. 30. Through that procedure, the state and Beach Haven aim to negotiate an “administra­tive consent order” — essentially a settlement for the illicit dumping, according to a spokeswoman with the Department of Environmental Conservation.

But the state says terms of the dealings are privileged while negotiations are underway, and officials were vague on wether or not money from a possible settlement would go into the state’s general fund or toward putting the creek on the mend, according to locals at the meeting. And the lack of transparency is troubling, said an environmental activist.

“A lot more clarity is needed here,” said Coney Islander Pamela Pettyjohn. “The wrong people are coming to the meeting. You have these public relations people and you don’t have the experts. So the technical or legal answers we want — they don’t know or are not going to give.”

On Sept. 7, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection discovered that workers from Beach Haven Apartments diverted sewage from clogged pipes into a storm drain that spills into the creek, according to e-mails between regulators and environmental advocates at NYC Water Trail Association.

The waterway is frequented by borough students who often wade into the fetid waters during city-run educational programs, and is a popular spot for baptisms — which made the revelation particularly disturbing. And locals want to ensure Coney Island gets its due, said one community leader.

“We just want to make sure that the community needs don’t get lost in the process,” said Coney Islander Eddie Mark, district manager of CB13.

It the state can’t settle with Beach Haven out of court the matter will be referred to an Administrative Law Judge.

Beach Haven Apartments could not be reached for comment.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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