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Stratford's Soundkeeper Joins Suit Against NY Over Sewage Dumped In Sound

Stratford resident Terry Backer, who also serves as the Soundkeeper, has joined a federal lawsuit over cleanup of Long Island Sound in New York.
Stratford resident Terry Backer, who also serves as the Soundkeeper, has joined a federal lawsuit over cleanup of Long Island Sound in New York. Photo Credit: File

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — Save the Sound is suing Westchester County and 11 New York towns in federal court over ongoing sewage overflows that "threaten public health and degrade Long Island Sound" by allowing raw sewage to overflow onto streets and into streams before reaching treatment plants, the Connecticut-based environment group said.

“Pollution entering the Sound from sewage leaks and overflows has gone on too long and needs to be stopped,” said Soundkeeper Terry Backer, who is also a Democratic state representative from Stratford.

The Long Island Soundkeeper organization is joining Save the Sound in the lawsuit along with Atlantic Clam Farms, ,a commercial shellfishing business with its headquarters in Easton.

Due to pollution from sewage discharges, Atlantic Clam Farms has been prohibited from shellfishing in the area of the Sound along the Westchester coastline, along with other commercial and recreational shellfishermen.

The allegations against Rye, Rye Brook, Scarsdale, Harrison, Larchmont, Town of Mamaroneck, Village of Mamaroneck, New Rochelle, Pelham Manor, Port Chester, and White Plains were recently added to a suit against Westchester County filed in federal court in August.

Save the Sound said that all of these municipalities are responsible for ongoing sewage leaks of raw and inadequately treated sewage into the Sound and its tributaries that risk public health, harm the environment, and violate federal, state, and county law.

Save the Sound’s water quality monitoring found bacterial pollution in Westchester waters in the summers of 2013, 2014, and 2015, confirming what officials have known for over a decade—local waterways are polluted with high levels of fecal bacteria. Sewage contains high levels of nitrogen that rob the Sound of oxygen and pathogenic bacteria that can cause diarrhea, pink eye, ear infections, and serious illnesses.

“The presence of untreated sewage in our waters is unacceptable, and a danger to public health and the health of the Sound,” said Tracy Brown, director of Western Sound programs for Save the Sound. “Because of old, leaking, and poorly maintained sewer pipes, Westchester beaches are closed after rain, we’re prohibited from harvesting clams or oyster in our local bays and harbors, and we’re at risk for waterborne illnesses.

"Nitrogen from sewage contributes to low-oxygen dead zones—including a major one right off Westchester’s shores every summer—and to large, unsightly mats of nuisance algae.”

The plaintiffs are calling on the municipalities and the county to fix leaking pipes, establish enforceable timelines for repairs, develop sufficient funding sources for future maintenance, and establish a plan for the long-term maintenance of the sewage collection systems to avoid future pollution and costly repairs.

Save the Sound is a bi-state program of Connecticut Fund for the Environment with a 40-year record of restoring and protecting the waters and shorelines of the Sound.

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