2001-08-25 / Front Page

DEC Clears LIPA Site For New Substation

DEC Clears LIPA Site For New Substation

By Howard Schwach

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has given the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) the green light to build a new electrical substation on the old LILCO site on Beach Channel Drive, between Beach 108 and Beach 112 Streets.

The site, a coal gasification plant between 1880 and 1957, has long been designated as a "superfund site" in need of environmental remediation, according to local experts.

The DEC, however, has decided that the particular site being used for the construction, in the Northwestern portion of the site, is no longer contaminated. That was made clear in a letter dated October 13, 2000 to Theodore Leissing, Jr., the Director of the environmental remediation program for Keyspan Energy, the organization that owns the land.

"This is in response to your petition report dated August 2000 requesting that the subject site be modified in the Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites in New York State," the letter from Michael O’Toole, Jr., the director of the DEC’s Division of Environmental Remediation to Leisssing read. "The modification consists of the segmentation of approximately one acre, the northwest portion of the former MGP site, to construct and operate a new electric substation."

"I am pleased to inform you, that after a thorough review by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation staff, your petition has been approved,"

Repeated calls to the DEC to determine if the site has been cleaned or if it were never part of the superfund site in the first place went unanswered.

A call to O’Toole at the telephone number on the letter elicited the fact that "the state government number you have dialed is no longer in service."

Douglas MacNeal, an environmental engineer with the DEC’s Bureau of Western Remedial Action, was at the site a week ago, but refused to answer any questions put to him by a Wave editor. He referred The Wave to the department’s public affairs division. Repeated calls to public affairs and to MacNeal have gone unreturned.

The site had become controversial because many community leaders believed that the construction of the new substation, which will replace an antiquated facility at the other end of the site, was begun without community knowledge or input.

Repeated calls to LIPA, Keyspan and to the DEC brought no response for at least two weeks, and officials form those agencies at the site last week refused to comment publicly on any topic related to the site.

That lack of response to the community’s need for information led many in the community to question whether the construction was, in fact, safe and sanctioned.

"What I find distressing is that LIPA and Keyspan chose not to disclose their plans for either the substation or the delisting to he community, particularly since there was an existing group formed for just that purpose through Audrey Pheffer’s office," said Chamber of Commerce President Liz Sulik. "The first we knew of either project was when we noticed the digging and the construction. It seems to me that they were circling the wagons, getting together a story for the community."

Both organizations, recently disputed that they kept the community in the dark.

The Wave spoke in a conference call with spokespersons from both LIPA and Keyspan early this week, and both of them assured the community that there was nothing amiss at the site and that they had been advising community organizations of the progress of the construction all along.

"We’ve been working closely with the DEC, and we have all of the needed permits," said Andrea Staub, a spokesperson for Keyspan. "We did an investigation that began in December of 1999 and ended in the Spring of 2000. That investigation found that the land being used for the substation was not considered dangerous."

Tracy Burgess-Levy, a spokesperson for LIPA, added, "the community board, the borough president and others in the community were kept apprised of what was going on every step of the way."

"In fact," she adds, "we were told by Carmen at the community board that there were no calls about the site, so we believed that there was no community concern."

Representatives from both of the borough president and Community Board 14 told The Wave, however, that they were as much in the dark about the project as the rest of the community.

"The truth is, LIPA mentioned at a meeting last February that it was going to upgrade the substation sooner or later," Jonathan Gaska, the district manager for the community board says. "That was the last we heard from anybody."

"The company is telling everybody that the community board approved this project. We never did, and I challenged LIPA to show me a letter providing our support, but they can’t, because we never did support them on this project."

Burgess-Levy added that a report detailing the necessary steps to remediate and clean up the rest of the site would be completed shortly.

When the new facility is completed, the old one will be demolished and the decision will be made as to future utilization of the site.

Keyspan Energy owns the site, while the infrastructure that delivers the energy to consumers is owned by LIPA.

A meeting to provide further information on the site is planned on Friday, August 24, after The Wave had gone to publication.

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