June 27, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
A local activist group is fighting to change the location of a future public school currently set to be built near a toxic waste site in Greenpoint in a new petition.
The proposed 640-seat school, serving students from pre-kindergarten to the eighth grade, is part of the ongoing Greenpoint Landing development, the massive multi-building project put forth by the Park Tower Group and spanning several blocks along the north-west portion of the neighborhood’s waterfront.
The school’s future location has been pegged at the southwest corner of Dupont and Franklin Streets, one block away from the former NuHart Plastics plant at 280 Franklin St—a New York State-designated superfund site.
The former vinyl plastic plant was designated a superfund site in 2010, and is contaminated with an array of hazardous chemicals, including trichloroethylene and phthalates, according to a 2016 feasibility study report for the site’s cleanup.
Trichloroethylene is a carcinogen, and phthalates have been linked to health problems including changes in sex hormones, male reproductive system defects, and reduced female fertility.
Neighbors Allied For Good Growth (NAG), the local and influential group behind the petition, say the public school’s siting by the toxic site is unthinkable and reckless, as it could expose students and nearby residents to the contaminants, some of which have migrated off-site to neighboring locations.
“It’s completely the wrong way to go,” said Lisa Bloodgood, who serves on NAG’s board and created the petition a week ago. “It should immediately be off the table when you know there’s a potential health threat.”
While the school’s location has been set since 2013, when the Park Tower Group first proposed its Greenpoint Landing development and donated land for the school in a bid to get the city’s OK on the project, its future build-out came with a set of commitments.
Construction on the school, according to a 2013 letter sent to Council Member Stephen Levin from Greenpoint Landing developers, would only begin once the migrated toxins have been cleared. The school site itself, however, does not require remediation, as it is not contaminated.
In addition, the School Construction Authority (SCA), the agency in charge of building public schools, would hold on to the $45 million in funds designated toward the school’s construction for five years.
Today, the migrated toxins have yet to be cleared, with the actual cleanup pending the release of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation remediation action plan for the NuHart Plastics site. The five-year SCA deadline is also fast-approaching in December.
NAG, believing that the city is planning on pushing forth with the school’s construction anyway, and with the Council Member’s approval, is demanding that no party be allowed to back out on their promise.
“How can the city and Council Member Stephen Levin make that promise and not go through with it?” Bloodgood said.
The 20-year activist group, which also hired an environmental firm as a consultant and to assess toxic contamination and a cleanup plan at the NuHart Plastics site, ultimately says the best possible outcome would be to move the school’s proposed site—period.
“This is a really specific type of contamination and exposure,” Bloodgood said. “We should just know that some places are just not appropriate for putting young, developing bodies.”
In addition, the group has been informed by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation that the site and its migrated contamination would take a least a decade to clear out.
“Even if the most careful and thoughtful remediation crews were super diligent every single day, the duration of time would still be 10 to 20 years, and remediation would take place within the public right of way,” Bloodgood said.
She added that the off-site contamination, which would be cleared by pumping it out under the street, is actually the toughest component of the cleanup, and leaves lots of room for error and exposure.
“The odds are that there’s going to be some sort of mistake,” Bloodgood said. “Human error is inevitable in all things that we do. To set ourselves up as a community to have an accident is just ridiculous.”
The petition, which has gathered 465 signatures as of press time, not only comes as the five-year mark imposed by the SCA is up, but also as the NuHart Plastics site transfers ownership. All Year Management, according to the Real Deal, has agreed to pay upwards of $55 million for the site from a group of investors that currently own it.
The real estate news site also reported that the developer plans on doing a full environmental cleanup before breaking ground on his planned mixed-use development. A timeline, however, is unclear.
The School Construction Authority and Council Member Levin did not respond to questions asking about the petition and the school proposed location and construction timeline.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Park Tower Group said they’ve acted under the guidelines of the 2013 agreement.
“Greenpoint Landing Associates has respected all of the conditions of the agreement to allow SCA to construct a school on the site and will continue to do so,” the spokesperson said. “We will also continue to work with interested parties moving forward.”
The spokesperson added that the school’s siting has been held as requested for the past five years, and that no construction on the school has started. The next steps at this point for the school, including whether it will actually stay at the proposed site, is unclear, and depend on the SCA and other stakeholders.
NAG’s petition also comes at the heels of a public meeting scheduled for June 28 to discuss the very school site and contamination clean up. The meeting, organized by Levin’s office, will take place at Mary D.’s Senior Housing, located at 80 Dupont St., at 7 p.m.