Soundfront homeowners launch probe, find feces

06/24/2010 12:00 AM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO
It was a cloudless Tuesday along Long Island Sound in Northville. But property owners there say things aren’t so rosy, as recent lab test results have found high levels of fecal matter in and around the otherwise picturesque neighborhood.

Northville Beach residents have long suspected the flooding that’s plagued their neighborhood since 2002 has carried extremely high counts of fecal matter onto their properties and private beach.

Now they know for sure.

The Northville Beach Civic Association this spring paid for lab tests on seven locations along Sound Shore Road and around drainage pipes that empty onto the beach.

All but one of the results showed fecal coliform levels of more than 1,000 colony forming units per 1,000 milliliters, the level at which the state would order a public beach shut, said John Scaramucci, the owner of Harry Goldman Water Testing in Mattituck, which collected the samples for Melville-based H2M Labs.

“There is some type of sewage there, but whether it’s natural or man-made, we don’t know,” Mr. Scaramucci said, explaining that the fecal matter could only be coming from animal waste or malfunctioning cesspools. It’s not known from the test results whether the fecal coliform is harmful, he noted.

The water flowing from a drainage pipe that empties on the beach north of 850 Sound Shore Road tested at an eye-popping 5,000 units per 1,000 milliliters. There is brown water staining the beach around that pipe.

Other findings showed fecal coliform levels of 9,000 units per 1,000 milliliters for a puddle that was in a driveway at 748 Sound Shore Road, 9,000 on the south side of the road near 705 Sound Shore Road, 2,800 coming out of another drainage pipe on the beach north of 696 Sound Shore Road, 2,200 on the south side of the street near 742 Sound Shore Road, 1,400 at a runoff drain at 738 Sound Shore Road and 500 at the runoff pipe on the beach north of 720 Sound Shore Road.

“If this was a public beach, it would be shut down,” said Kerry Moran, a member and former president of the Northville Beach Civic Association. “But because it’s a private beach, all we get are warnings.”

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter saw the brown stains on the beach himself, but said he doesn’t believe it’s caused by sewage.

“Iron ore is naturally occurring in groundwater, and when it flows out, it leaves a rust stain which floats like oil on the top of water,” said Mr. Walter, a former environmental engineer.

The civic association has never presented the town with the test results, he said, adding that the town would have to independently test the water itself to confirm the H2M group’s findings — but any subsequent action would not likely involve the town even, since the county would more likely handle that type of issue.

A 2007 study from the county Department of Health and Human Services found there was evidence of fecal contamination in the culvert system, which runs from the neighboring North Fork Preserve property, which is to the immediate south, and empties onto the beach. The county’s study found the contamination could be attributed to a variety of factors, like shallow groundwater, surface water runoff, animal waste and potentially, leaching cesspools.

But the flooding situation has since changed, residents there say.

In the past, water from wetlands on the North Fork Preserve property has created flooding problems for residents on the eastern end of the neighborhood, which consists of a string of homes along Sound Shore Road. But since January, they say, those wetlands appear to have dried up, and the flooding has moved west.

Mr. Moran and the civic group’s president, John Cullen, suspect the owners of the North Fork Preserve may have inappropriately dammed some of the wetlands. They based that conclusion on aerial photos provided to them by the town.

The North Fork Preserve consists of two separate parcels. One is 262 acres that belong to North Fork Preserve Inc., a sportsmen’s club that uses the property to hunt. The other is 133 acres belonging to North Fork Preserve Co., owned by the sportsmen’s club’s co-founders, Myron Kaplan and the estate of the late Robert Krudop.

Mr. Moran said the residents who live in the area that used to be flooded now got little flooding, even during the March storm, but those farther west sustained great damage to their properties during that storm, which produced about nine inches of rain. A comparison of aerial maps taken in 2007 and 2010 shows the wetlands to the east have lessened, and the 2010 view shows a structure immediately to the west of the eastern wetlands, which could be a dam, Mr. Moran said.

Mr. Walter said the town can’t enter the property if it thinks there’s a violation unless it has a search warrant. He also said the aerial photo is not likely to be enough to convince a judge to grant such a warrant.

“The aerial photo doesn’t clearly show anything,” he said. “There is no clear evidence of illegal activity.”

The spot in question is just a tiny spec on the 2010 aerial photo, which was viewed by the News-Review.

Janet Krudop, Mr. Krudop’s widow, would say only that the North Fork Preserve is not causing flooding on Sound Shore Road.

The system of culverts and drains that run under the hunting land and homes are believed to have been installed in the 1930s by President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, Mr. Moran said. The flooding, which began in 2002, could likely be traced back to 1999, when one of those pipes was broken during the construction of a home on the south side of Sound Shore Road, Mr. Moran said.

While the county has acknowledged doing work on the drainage system in the past, residents say it stopped maintaining the culverts in 2007, when a letter from county attorney Christine Malafi claimed the county was no longer responsible for maintaining the culverts and drains because they are all on private properties.

But there may be some hope for the flood-plagued neighborhood, albeit not likely in the short term.

Mr. Walter said he recently spoke with Carrie Gallagher, the county’s commissioner of environment and energy, and was told that the North Fork Preserve “is very high on the list for county acquisition, but they are looking for a partnership with the town.”

He said the town doesn’t have any money to partner on the acquisition cost, but it would be willing to provide stewardship and maintenance of the property if the county considers that sufficient for the partnership.

The county authorized planning steps needed to acquire the site about a year ago.

tgannon@timesreview.com

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