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Bob Banfelder

Bob is an award-winning crime-thriller novelist and outdoors writer. "The Fishing Smart Anywhere Handbook for Salt Water & Fresh Water" is endorsed by Lefty Kreh and Angelo Peluso~online at Amazon.

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August 02, 2016

In Summery & Summary

by Bob Banfelder

Today's piece concludes the coverage of the toxic plume discovered in the upper reaches of the Peconic River (Calverton/Manorville area), dating back to 2009. Additionally, I'll finish up addressing the more recent coliform (fecal) and other bacterial contamination found in the lower reaches of the Peconic River in Riverhead. The major contributing culprit is the antiquated Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant, awaiting an upgrade. Any day, now; any day, officials keep telling us. The result of the plant having dumped raw sewage and partially treated sewage into the Peconic River over a period of years has resulted in high nitrogen levels, low dissolved oxygen levels, turtle and fish die-offs, the closing of recreational shellfish harvesting areas, and the cancellations of public activities by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. Let's first take a look back in time to the concluding article that I wrote for Red Room, concerning the upper reaches of the Peconic River.


June 10, 2014

Well, it has been 5 years, 2 months, and 9 days since I began reporting on the toxic plume discovered in the Peconic River, located at the headwaters in Calverton. It has been 3 years, 5 months, and 9 days since I last reported that the United States Navy had finally begun testing as to how they might treat Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). So where are we today, June 10th, 2014?

Installed only in October 2013, we now have a $4.6 million treatment facility pumping toxic groundwater in an attempt to remove the contamination bestowed upon us by the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant at the former Grumman Corporation Calverton site where the company built, tested and cleaned its aircraft. The contaminating culprits were jet fuel and chlorinated solvents, especially the latter. However, the plume is still traveling from the site and onto private land as well as county parkland, stated the Riverhead News–Review in an April 17th, 2014 front page article. The remediation system is going to "be in operation for at least another two to four years—assuming all goes as planned," scribes staff writer Tim Gannon in his piece. Actually, it's going to be another two to four years, minimum.

You'll recall the fact that the toxic chemicals found in the Peconic River were as high as two hundred (200) times New York State's allowable drinking water standards. You'll also recall the United States Navy initially refusing to do anything about this deplorable situation, claiming that these Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) would simply go away through "natural attenuation," said Navy spokeswoman, Lieutenant j.g. Laura Stegherr, who had later reinforced the Navy's position by stating, "The Calverton site does not present a health or safety risk." The lieutenant j.g. added, "Current sampling shows the concentration of volatile organic compounds detected in the Peconic River is lower than appreciable values and ecological values. Additionally," she continued, "concentration levels in groundwater have remained steady or decreased over time . . . ." All of these statements are blatant lies.

Prevarication and procrastination by the United States Navy had and have many of us still wondering if this final treatment facility approach is a ‘too little too late' situation. We, of course, certainly hope not. Nineteen pounds of the Volatile Organic Compounds have been removed from the groundwater thus far. Yet, because the plume shifts periodically, "scientists feel that the groundwater extraction wells have a capture zone that should still be large enough to capture the plume," said consultant Dave Brayack of Tetra Tech EC, Inc., a company that provides a full range of consulting, engineering, remediation, renewable energy, and construction services worldwide. Brayack, quoting scientists' words like feel and should give me pause and make me wonder. However, in all fairness, state and Suffolk County officials seem satisfied that the cleanup of the toxic plume is going well. We'll just have to wait and see what happens over the next several years. "There's always a possibility it [the plume] could do something we've never seen in the past," said Brayack.

What makes me leery is the fact that it's the Naval Facilities Engineering Command that is heading up this toxic cleanup, the very department that initially denied that the Calverton site does not present a health or safety risk. Isn't that a lot like the fox overseeing the henhouse?

Again, stay tuned for SNAFUs that are certain to rear their ugly heads over the course of several years. I'll only disappear from reporting this horrendous debacle through "natural attenuation."


Returning to the moment and addressing the lower region of the Peconic River, specifically the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant [officially referred to as the Riverhead Wastewater Treatment Plant], we are still waiting in earnest for the upgrade to be fully functional . . . and waiting . . . and waiting. The work began in April of 2014. It's been one delay after another. The upgraded facility was to have been completed back in April of this year. Residents are now told that the new completion date will be at the end of August. Should we the people hold our breaths, noses, and keep our patience in check?

What is positively unsettling to Donna and me is that within the 2014, 2015, and 2016 recreational seasons here in Riverhead, we have watched folks kayaking, canoeing, sculling, paddle boarding, jet skiing, and fishing on the Peconic River; also, swimming and even clamming in these waters. Many people are not aware of the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant's failures to function properly, especially visitors on vacation who immerse themselves in these activities. Until such periods of time that the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant is operating satisfactorily and the river's water quality meets acceptable standards, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services had advised (via an occasional mention in a local publication) people to stay out of the Peconic River east of Grangebel Park (the tidal section of the river). I'll excerpt from one publication, our RiverheadLocal:

"Peconic River contaminated in downtown Riverhead by sewage discharge; county officials issue advisory: avoid contact with river water downtown. If contact does occur, rinse off with clean water immediately. Seek medical attention if after exposure you experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, allergic reactions, breathing difficulties or skin, eye or throat irritation." It's interesting to note that the publication date was December 15th, 2015, not exactly the height of the recreational summer season.

It is also interesting to note that a scheduled ‘Riverhead Rocks' August 14th 2016 triathlon event is being presented by the Peconic Bay Medical Center. In past years, as part of the triathlon, we've seen these athletes swim right behind the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center in downtown Riverhead, heading east just past our home on the Peconic River—along the very watery path that the Suffolk County Department of Health Services had advised people to stay clear of until such time as the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant is functioning properly. As the plant is operating satisfactorily on an on-again-off again basis, we're warned by watchdog groups to take precautionary measures before recreating within boundary zones of the Peconic River. One group recommended that folks "check current water quality testing before entering any waterbody," suggesting that folks "sign up and receive alerts about the discharge of untreated sewage into local waterways via NY-Alert." Why wasn't there or aren't there signs presently along the Peconic River warning people about this health issue?

Oh, I get it! It's all about dollars and cents—not sense. It's about revenue. For a number of years, I've done all I could to inform folks about these serious concerns. Wait a minute! That's not entirely true. I have a buddy, Markus Gneist, who builds state-of-the-art surf boards [www.facebook. com/journeysurf/]. Surely, I could have Markus design and create a specialty board that I could lie flat (hidden) upon, exhibiting a menacing-looking pair of fabricated shark fins, thereby clearing the Peconic River of folks by yelling, "SHARK!" With good intentions foremost in mind, I don't think that's at all tantamount to yelling "FIRE!" inside a crowded theater. Ah, but then I'd first have to come in contact with the river water myself as it presently flushes to and fro from the antiquated Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant. Oh, well.

Let's hope that by the end of this month the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant upgrade will be completed, operating, and fully functional. Also, businesses that operate near or on the water, such as the Indian Island Golf Course in Riverhead, must be closely monitored. For example, in 2015 the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant started pumping wastewater into the golf course's irrigation system in order to reduce the use of fertilizers needed to keep the course green. Prior to that year, seasonally, tens of millions of gallons of partially treated wastewater, resulting in nitrogen overloading, was being dumped directly into the Peconic River. Currently, the irrigation approach is being done at night. If you fish the area at night, which Donna and I occasionally do, you'll occasionally catch a whiff of exactly what's going on—disgusting. Remember, the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant is still not up to speed. When the treatment plant upgrade is finally, fully functional, measures like these (not to mention addressing outdated home cesspool/septic systems) will hopefully alleviate the problem at one end of the Peconic River. I just hope that it's not too late for a successful cleanup at the other end; that is, the toxic Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) that have leached into the upper sections of the Peconic River and adjoining properties within the Calverton/Manorville areas in Suffolk County.

Notes: Still, to this date, August 2nd, 2016, the water clarity of the Peconic River east of Grangebel Park in Riverhead out to Reeves Bay and Flanders Bay remains dismal and disgusting. Donna and I have lived on the Peconic River for twenty-six years; we know what this body of water should look like . . . the treasure it once was.

It is also important to note that neither Governor Cuomo nor Joseph DiMura (Director of Bureau of Water Compliance for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) responded to the well-documented case I presented, which clearly showed that the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant did, indeed, dump raw sewage into the Peconic River. Not surprisingly, neither party accepted Donna's and my invitation to appear on our Cablevision show, Special Interests.

Final Note: As a reward referencing my work through the years in fighting for clean waters, KastKing, a provider of quality fishing products at affordable prices, sent me this personalized shirt. Too, my name is on the front of the shirt. I will wear it proudly. And, no—I'm not turning my back on you. :o) :o)

For next month, I'll be writing a two-part series on an affordable, quality portable boat (four models from which to choose).

Bob Banfelder

Award-Winning Crime-Thriller Novelist & Outdoors Writer
Member: Outdoors Writers Association of America
New York State Outdoor Writers Association
Long Island Outdoor Communicators Network
Cablevision TV Host Special Interests with Robert Banfelder & Donna Derasmo
Bi-monthly contributor to Nor'east Saltwater

August 01, 2016

It's Not Over 'Til It's Over

by Bob Banfelder

For today and tomorrow, I'm going to wind down reporting on the toxic pollution of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) discovered in the upper reaches of the Peconic River and area drinking wells. I've been recounting this matter for the past seven years—since January of this year for Nor'east Saltwater. I coupled this coverage to the more recent coliform (fecal) and other bacterial contamination found in the lower reaches of the Peconic River, low dissolved oxygen levels, high nitrogen levels—resulting in the closing of toxic shellfish grounds, turtle and fish die-offs, and the on-and-off again cancellations of public activities by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services. It's been a long haul, folks. Let's take a look back in time to another article that I wrote for Red Room, a once prestigious online literary magazine comprised of a community of writers.


August 7, 2010

Well, some Suffolk County officials as well as community members appear, at this point, satisfied that the United States Navy has finally begun testing as to how they might treat the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) contamination calamity at Calverton. On July 21st, 2010, I received a copy of an e-mail from a very savvy, no-nonsense community member of the Restoration Advisory Board, Jean Mannhaupt, concerning the Navy's endeavor to eventually clean up the toxic groundwater plume at Calverton.

In sum and substance, the e-mail stated that several members of the Restoration Advisory Board took a tour of the Calverton site with naval officials and their contractors who are undertaking the work. The team is conducting pump testing and has initiated their pilot study to determine if bioremediation is a viable cleanup technology. Bill Gunther, Community Co-Chair for the Calverton Restoration Advisory Board said, "We were very impressed with the extensive testing underway, which indicated to us that the Navy is finally serious about an active cleanup of the groundwater contamination. The NYSDEC representative was also there, and we learned that the Suffolk County Health Department has been taking water samples during the testing program. During the pump testing, the Navy's contractors are routing the contaminated water through carbon filters before release, so in effect, some cleanup is being done already. We are finally seeing the action we have all been seeking for some time."

On July 29th, 2010, the Riverhead News-Review reported that the Navy had begun testing by utilizing two methods for treating the contaminated groundwater. In February 2011, "based on those test results, the Navy will present a comprehensive Corrective Measures Study that will include long-term cleanup options," recounts staff writer Vera Chinese.

Please be reminded of my fourth blog dating back to August 17th, 2009, in which I had commented on and questioned the time frame of the Navy's "Corrective Measures Study," fearing procrastination on their behalf. Time has been steadily slipping away. Much time has been lost because the United States Navy had been in denial from the onset, claiming that Calverton's toxic plume was simply going to go away through "natural attenuation."

Allow me to reiterate from my August 2009 blog: "And so it shall continue (meetings and studies, compromises and concessions), ad infinitum, is my pessimistic outlook. I truly hope I'm wrong, but I rarely am mistaken, for I've been dealing with federal, state, and local governments for more years than the Navy has been polluting the Peconic River. Action speaks louder than words."

Was I wrong? Most assuredly not.

Excerpted from Ms. Chinese's text, I took the liberty of boldfacing the staff writer's key words and phrases so as to emphasize qualifiers that might tend to have some of us wonder and worry. Too, I include my bracketed documented reminders:

After a 30-day public comment period, the study will be amended, if necessary. Once it is approved by the state, an actual cleanup could begin.

The first treatment method, called a pump test, mimics the groundwater pump-and-treat system on a smaller scale. Testing of that method began July 12.

The other cleanup option, called a biodegradation system, involves injecting the groundwater with corn-based organic materials that help degrade the polluting chemicals. A test of that approach began July 19.

Lora Fly, the Navy's remedial project manager, said pump-test data had already been collected, although the Navy will continue to collect information from the second test until December. She said that it "is not going to be an instantaneous result."
Both methods could ultimately be used in the cleanup efforts at the site.

The treatment systems will target high concentrations of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that are flowing from the former Navy property toward the Peconic River. [Actually, trace concentrations of volatile organic compounds have already found their way into the Peconic River.]

VOC concentrations as high as 1,090 micrograms per liter have been found in the area. State drinking water standards are five (5) micrograms per liter.

The chemicals, used for decades to clear grease from jet engines when Grumman operated an assembly plant and flight test facility at the site, could have harmful effects on humans and wildlife. They have been found in the river. [Also, the toxic chemicals have been found in the banks of the river.] Grumman ceased operations in 1994 after about 40 years there.

The Navy previously contended that the chemicals were disappearing naturally as they flowed south toward the river, a theory that community members and elected officials rejected.


Is the United States Navy finally doing the right thing? It seems so. Will state government drag its feet following the Corrective Measures Study, further thwarting or delaying "an actual cleanup?" I've been reporting and commenting on this matter since April 1st, 2009. We will be well into 2011 before we even begin to learn the corrective measures our governments (federal, state, and local) will take.

Photo credit: Donna Derasmo. July 31st, 2016. Building in which polluted groundwater flowing from the former U.S. Navy Grumman site in Calverton is extracted and treated by air strippers before being discharged into the ground.


Tomorrow, Nor'east Saltwater readers, I will put to bed this series of disturbing events and move on to more positive articles beginning in August. Stay tuned.

Robert Banfelder

Award-Winning Crime-Thriller Novelist & Outdoors Writer
Member: Outdoors Writers Association of America
New York State Outdoor Writers Association
Long Island Outdoor Communicators Network
Cablevision TV Host Special Interests with Robert Banfelder & Donna Derasmo
Bi-monthly contributor to Nor'east Saltwater

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