Time running out for public to comment on contaminated development site

The public has until October 15 (next Saturday) to submit comments to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) about a developer’s plans to build residential towers on two brownfield sites on the Port Morris waterfront.

NYSDEC. The area surrounding 2401 Third Avenue, with recognized environmental conditions in red.
NYSDEC. The area surrounding 2401 Third Avenue, with recognized environmental conditions in red.

Study shows soil, air and water contamination on waterfront parcels

The public has until October 15 (next Saturday) to submit comments to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) about a developer’s plans to build residential towers at 101 Lincoln Avenue and 2401 Third Avenue on the Port Morris waterfront.

Both locations are on brownfield sites, meaning that toxic chemicals are known to have been dumped there in the past. The DEC’s website says, “The public is invited to comment on a proposed remedy being reviewed by the DEC to address contamination related to the site.”

The public comment period went into effect on Sept. 1. The DEC is required to make documents detailing contamination levels and remediation efforts on the sites publicly accessible in two neighborhood locations during that 45-day period. Community Board 1’s District Manager Cedric Loftin confirmed that Board 1 received a hard copy of the documents of the testing relating to the former Mugler Shoring Inc. at 2401 Third Avenue during the first week in October, after a Herald reporter requested the documents be sent.

The DEC would not comment on whether a second copy of the documents has been made available for the public to see elsewhere in the neighborhood. State and city agencies routinely send hard copies of documents to local libraries for the public to access. As of the first week in October, staff at the Mott Haven branch library told the Herald they had not received a copy.

Information regarding the site and how to submit comments can be found at http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/60058.html or send comments to Mandy Yau, Project Manager, NYSDEC-DER, 47-40 21st Street, Long Island City, NY 11101; [email protected] ; or call 718-482-4897.

The DEC’s role in the study is supervisory. The agency is tasked with overseeing studies developers pay environmental engineers to conduct, as well as the work plans for remediation of the site and the actual work. Developers apply for public funding to clean sites if contamination levels are found to be high enough.

So far the state has granted the development group Somerset Partners permission to build residential towers on the two sites, which together comprise 5.1 acres. Along with the Third Avenue site, the former Bronx Freight Terminal Site at 101 Lincoln Avenue is also in Somerset’s plans. In addition, the developer is hoping to receive clearance to build on four more nearby parcels.

According to a document provided to the Herald by the DEC, showing the results of environmental testing conducted at the Lincoln Avenue site, the soil, air, and water on that site contain known carcinogens, and the soil contains multiple metals “above standards in the unfiltered samples from all of the wells,” including arsenic, chromium, copper, iron, and lead.

The studies found that there are varying degrees of BTEX, a mix of chemicals used in petroleum derivates like gasoline, in the soil and groundwater. Scientists have cautioned that these chemicals can create a risk of vapor intrusion, which occurs unbeknownst to those who are breathing it, when the mix turns into vapor or gas and seeps into buildings.

Another chemical, PCE, “appears to be migrating on site from an off-site source since PCE was not reported in any of the soil or groundwater samples,” the study found.

The study cautions that toxins underneath the sites may present some risk. One report “indicates that the potential exists for off-site migration of site-related contaminants in soil vapor. Potential petroleum and solvent releases associated with the historical surrounding property uses may have adversely impacted soil, groundwater, and/or soil vapor at the Site.”

At an event at Brook Park to address the rapid pace of change and development in Mott Haven on Oct. 6, a prominent local activist said the public should have more time to review the study.

“If you don’t look at what they’re doing, they will do anything,” said Harry Bubbins, co-founder of Friends of Brook Park, cautioning that all new development projects in the neighborhood should be closely monitored to ensure as much as possible that residents are protected.

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