June 29, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
The location of a future Greenpoint public school, currently planned a block away from a toxic site, is now uncertain after a community meeting held yesterday on the topic.
The meeting, organized by Council Member Stephen Levin and attended by the NYS Department of Environmental Conversation (DEC) and the new owners of the toxic site, dove into a plan dating back to 2013 to build a public school at the southwest corner of Dupont and Franklin Streets as part of the massive Greenpoint Landing development.
The plan, however, was to be put on hold for the next five years due to concerns about the former NuHart Plastics plant, a separate property directly across the street from the proposed school, and a designated New York State Superfund site since 2010.
The former plant is mainly contaminated with two plumes of highly dangerous toxins underground that have also migrated away from the site. The proposed school site, however, is not contaminated with the toxins, with no evidence that the toxins have migrated further.
But now that the five-year hold on the school’s construction is coming to a close, and with the toxic site now under new owners with plans to build a residential development and clear the toxins, the meeting was convened to inform the community on next steps, and what to make of the school’s proposed location.
The new owners of the toxic site, All Year Management, said they plan on demolishing the structure some time in October, but are still in very early stages of developing a carefully-constructed demolition, construction, and remediation plan, given the nature of the site.
Eyal Amos, a former Department of Buildings chief who now works as a health and safety officer for the developer, said the building will be razed as part of the first phase of demolition, but the contaminated soil under ground will not be disturbed.
“Traditionally in demolition, you’re removing everything. But because of the environmental impact, we’re leaving the [building] slabs.” Amos said to the dozens of neighborhood residents. “We’re not going to impact the soil, therefore there will not be an impact to the neighborhood.”
The slabs, however, will be removed later as part of excavation work, but only once a fully developed and state-approved plan for construction and remediation is conceived.
Amos also spoke to other factors that will inform how they will demolish and build, including air and noise pollution, truck traffic, and testing the current building for asbestos and other hazards before demolition. The plan, he added, is meant to find the best way to demolish and build with minimal disturbance.
“I’m not going to make promises—it’s construction—but we will try to do our best to make as little an impact as possible,” he said, later adding: “We’re going to be your neighbors for many, many years. We are not looking to come cause damage and leave.”
But many attendees had questions about the length of time needed to clean up the site and the logistics of doing so.
Jane O’Connell, a NYS DEC manager, spoke of the developer’s general plan to work on half of the property at a given time, beginning by remediating, excavating, and developing the northern half of the site first. At each half, the developer would move to remediate the contaminants under a sealed tent, and eventually ship the product off for proper disposal.
For the migrated contamination, however, a series of recovery wells are proposed to be installed on sidewalks underground by the school’s intersection, which would suck in the contamination.
O’Connell said the “spaghetti”-like array of utilities underground restrict what they can do to clean, meaning the wells is their best bet.
In addition, an impermeable wall would be installed by the school site to prevent the toxin from possibly migrating there.
In all, about 80 percent of the toxins would be cleared at best, with the rest bound up in soil under the street.
While a timeline to clean the migrated toxins is yet to be determined, it could take several years for all the wells to suck in the maximum product possible—which could be finished well after All Year Management’s development is completed, O’Connell said.
The precise clean-up methods for the property, however, will eventually be laid out in what the DEC calls a ROD—a Record of Decision—that marks the final clean-up strategy the developers must follow. The ROD, however, is only determined after the DEC releases its Proposed Remedial Action Plan (PRAP) for the public to weigh in on.
O’Connell said the PRAP will likely be issued near the end of summer or towards early September, with the ROD hopefully issued before the end of this year after public comment.
With information from the developers and the DEC, Council Member Levin then asked attendees about the school’s proposed location, spelling out the pros and cons of staying with the selected location.
The school site, he said, is not contaminated, and the proposed barrier wall and wells keeping the toxins back as part of the remediation could bring reassurance to many.
On the other hand, the underground toxins are especially harmful to children, and the thought alone of putting children near the remediating site can also be alarming for many.
The five-year hold the School Construction Authority has over the millions to build the school, in addition, will expire at the end of the year, with no reassurance that the agency will appropriate funds if the location is changed.
“I’ve basically said to everybody involved—SCA, Greenpoint Landing, what have you—this has to be a community decision,” Levin said.
Mike Schade, a member of the Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, said the school should not be built on the proposed site—period. The group created a petition one week ago opposing the school siting, which has received over 600 signatures to date.
“These are really nasty chemicals,” Schade said. “Certainly, chemicals that, in my view, should not be located in such close proximity to the school.”
Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, who was also in attendance, said the school’s location might have to change.
“Given what I’ve heard from the audience, I think it’s necessary for us to sit down with the developers and tell them we might want to work out a swap,” Lentol said. “If they don’t have answers, I think it’s up to us to find other alternatives for the school.”
Levin said he will likely sit down with developers to give the community’s final decision toward the end of the year.
In the meantime, there will be more opportunities for the public to weigh in on the matter through meetings, the DEC’s public comment period, and more.