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Officials Say City Bungled Sewage Spill Warning Signs

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

City officials and activists ripped into the city Wednesday for how it handled the Hudson River sewage spill last week — saying New Yorkers weren't properly notified of unsafe waters following a fire at a waste water treatment facility in Harlem.

Reverend Earl Koopercamp, the rector at St. Mary's Episcopal Church on West 126th Street, said he saw no warning signs at Harlem Piers on the Hudson River, where he spotted fishermen continuing to fish after the spill.

"I saw a Parks worker, and I said, 'How come there's no signs?'" Koopercamp said. "He says, 'Signs? Why?' I said, 'They're pouring sewage in the river.'"

But DEP Spokesman Farrell Sklerov said the city's efforts at public notification were "extremely robust," ranging from the Parks Department signs and frequent press conferences to notifications on the health department and city websites.

"We tried our best to alert people in as many forms of communication as possible," he said.

In addition to a short-term improved notification system for the public, State Senator Adriano Espaillat also called for the city to stop dumping raw sewage in the long term, even under extenuating circumstances like fires or heavy rain.

"We are here to say that New York waters must be off-limits to raw sewage – period," Espaillat said. "We want to work with the city and state agencies to come up with long term solutions to this very serious problem."
 
Millions of gallons of sewage seeped into the Hudson due to the fire at the waste water treatment facility — but experts say some 30 billion gallons of untreated sewage and runoff make their way into the city's waterways on a typical year.

The DEP said the city invested $7 billion since 2002 to capture overflow sewage and that the water quality is "the best it's been in 100 years," Sklerov said.

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