United Artists And Others Charged With Dumping Sewage In Local Waters

Photo courtesy of Dan Cavanagh, GerritsenBeach.net

Officials arrested eight people and charged four businesses, including Regal Cinemas and TGI Friday’s, with dumping raw sewage and restaurant grease into Shell Bank Creek.

The charges were announced this morning by Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes, who blasted the alleged polluters for their years of abuse.

“There is no excuse for the disgraceful pollution of our waterways and beaches,” said Hynes.

The individuals charged face up to four years in prison, and the four businesses – Regal Entertainment Group, TGI Friday’s, Knapp Street Bagel and the Deauville Marina – could be forced to pay up to $75,000 a day until problems with their sewage infrastructure are repaired.

To some community leaders, the landlords and business owners are getting just what they deserve.

“This is not like they woke up today and this was the situation; this has been going on for years,” said Community Board 15 Chairperson Theresa Scavo. “They never even tried to take steps to correct the situation. They knew what was going on and what they were doing. We live by laws and you’ve got to learn to obey them.”

The businesses have allegedly been dumping sewage waste into the creek since 2003, when the city’s Department of Environmental Protection began serving notices to Craig Novoa, the Regal Entertainment Group manager responsible for the United Artists theater on Harkness Avenue.

The dumping occurs through a stretch of leaky, poorly maintained pipes lining the waterfront. The businesses along Harkness Avenue and Knapp Street are not connected to the city’s sewer system, so the privately-owned wastewater lines lead directly to the nearby sewage treatment plant.

But those private pipes have been poorly maintained and leak into Shell Bank Creek, the waterway separating Sheepshead Bay from Gerritsen Beach.

The DA’s office said that all of the businesses that use the pipes have been notified over the years. Of all of them, only the United Artists theater attempted to fix the pipes, including some work as recently as October, but the problem was never completely rectified.

Investigators found noxious odors, fecal matter and toilet paper from the movie theater’s septic system. They also found sewage from Knapp Street Bagel, TGI Friday’s and the Deauville Marina. Knapp Street Bagel owner Simon Shin and Friday’s landlord, Alex Spivak were also charged with dumping untreated waste grease and oil into the creek.

The District Attorney’s office worked alongside the DEP and the state Department of Environmental Conservation on the investigation since 2009.

“What is alleged to have occurred shows a total disregard for the environment and public health,” said DEC Commissioner Iwanowicz in a statement. “It has been a truly collaborative effort by the state, city and Kings County District Attorney to put a stop to these illegal practices. Our joint effort sends a clear message that the state and its partners are committed to enforcing environmental laws and will prosecute such cases to the fullest.”