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Sunday, April 21, 2024

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Marinakis Retires at County MUA Led Authority from ‘Idea’ Stage

By Rick Racela

And the county had numerous private and municipal landfills, old, improperly sited, polluting the groundwater.
Then, in the spring of 1975, George Marinakis came to the three-year-old county Municipal Utilities Authority as chief engineer and, by fall, as executive director.  And it was good.
The MUA then “didn’t own a piece of pipe,” said Marinakis, who retires at the end of this month. It was “an idea,” he said, “in its earliest planning stages.”
Five persons worked in the old ranch house that remains the front of the MUA administration building here. Today the staff numbers 125 and the budget is $41 million.
The federal Clean Water Act was the impetus for change.  The freeholders created the MUA. Marinakis came from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency with a background in grants programs, which was what the county MUA needed.
By the end of 1988, the last of four regional wastewater treatment plants was in operation, treating wastewater to a secondary level higher than state standards, and pumping it not into the backbays but into the ocean, with no apparent adverse effect.
Beach closings were a seldom thing, not related to wastewater; shellfishing was reopened.
As a meeting of the Association of Environmental Authorities last month, Marinakis was cited with a lifetime membership and lauded for his leadership “throughout the planning, design, construction, and operation phases for the regional (wastewater) facilities” whose cost exceeded $360 million.
“I can’t take credit for it,” Marnakis told this newspaper,  “I just gave it direction.”
He also wrote the grants that brought in nearly $200 million in state and federal funds.
And the soft-spoken engineer also brought to the MUA something else it needed at the time: integrity.
In the following years came the county’s Solid Waste Management Plan featuring the state-of-the-art landfill, a solid waste transfer station, and a recycling facility.
The old landfills were forced to close, although some of their pollution is still being dealt with.
The son of Greek immigrants, Marinakis was raised on Staten Island, N.Y. where, after high school,  he went to the Academy of Aeronautics for two years to study aircraft powerplant technology.
His work in the aircraft industry in Connecticut was interrupted for a while as a family illness brought him back to his father’s neighborhood deli and luncheonette where he “did everything.”
“I always had part-time jobs,” said Marinakis, “from parking cars to taking a coffee cart through a business office.”
Drafted into the army in 1964, he served in Germany, came out in 1966 to attend Staten Island Community College.
The progression to City College “got sidetracked” for one semester when he married the former Eileen Maneri in 1968. They have two grown sons.
The commute to City College, where he received his B.S. in 1970, was a two-hour trip that included bus, ferry and train.
Stints with the DEP and the EPA preceded his decision to come to the MUA where, on the eve of retiring, he said it was “very gratifying to have had the opportunity to come here and be part of developing these two programs (wastewater and solid waste) that have had and will continue to have a major effect on the  environment and  the  economy.”
Marinakis said he feels good “leaving the authority in the hands of such competent people as (Deputy Director) Charles Norkis and so many others here like myself that have grown with the job.”
He and his wife — she retired as a nurse counselor at Stone Harbor Elementary — intend to do “some things we put aside for too long, such as travel.” They’re talking about Greece, Italy, Austria, and “more of this country.”
And he intends to do “some fishing”  (he has an 18-footer) and “learn how to play golf.”  “Maybe I’ll volunteer for some things, take some courses in astronomy or anthropology,” he said.  He thought for a moment. “I like history,” he said. “Anything that’s not engineering.”
“He’ll take on any project at home,” added his wife. “Sometimes it’s a bone of contention.  I’ll have to say, ‘George, get off the roof.'”
Contact Zelnik at: jzelnik@cmcherald.com 

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