2008-07-04 / Front Page

Bag It, Tag It, Truck It Out

By Nicholas Briano

Starting in September, National Grid and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will begin a 16- month process that they claim will rid Rockaway Park of what has been called "A Toxic Washing Machine" of contaminated dirt and chemicals.

National Grid provided an aerial photograph of the former gas plant on Beach Channel Drive and Beach 108 Street, shut down in 1958, that contains tons of contaminated soil, scheduled to be carted away by truck this coming September. National Grid provided an aerial photograph of the former gas plant on Beach Channel Drive and Beach 108 Street, shut down in 1958, that contains tons of contaminated soil, scheduled to be carted away by truck this coming September. National Grid, the company that bought out KeySpan Energy, will work in conjunction with the DEC to finally begin the cleanup of the abandoned and toxic former coal gasification plant that has stood at Beach Channel Drive between Beach 108 Street and Beach 112 Street for nearly a century.

The $36 million cleanup plan, which was unveiled last week by National Grid at a meeting hosted by Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, will remove the toxic soil from the site and take it to secure dumping sites in other states.

The plan calls for the excavation of the toxic soil down eight feet, and then capping off the site with two feet of sand and gravel.

Experts for the DEC and National Grid believe that removing the 8 feet of soil will eliminate any toxic threats to surrounding residents or to the ecology of Jamaica Bay.

The digging will take place in a large temporary tent, measuring 188 feet by 194 feet, and rising 45 feet high. It is aluminum-framed and covered in an extra durable PVC fabric that will be erected at the site to prevent toxic fumes or odors from entering the air.

Trucks will be loaded inside the tent and the dirt, once loaded into the trucks, will be sealed off at the top with white foam to prevent the dirt from getting into the air while in transit through the streets of Rockaway. The dirt will also be covered with a thick plastic tarp.

As digging is completed in a particular section of the site, the tent will then be moved to cover another section for excavation.

Experts for National Grid estimate that a maximum of six trucks per hour will haul the toxic dirt off the peninsula to disposal facilities in Delaware and Pennsylvania. The excavating process will take approximately 16 months to remove an estimated 88,000 cubic yards of tainted soil.

The trucks will be decontaminated upon arrival at the disposal site before they make the trip back to Rockaway. All of the work will take place between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., in an attempt to keep the interference with traffic on the peninsula to a minimum, officials say.

They warn, however, that one lane of Beach Channel Drive will be closed for a few hours on one day, while they install sidewalls around the edges of the site to add support to the neighboring sidewalk and street.

The former gasification plant was demolished in 1958 and is currently home to a small substation. National Grid representatives assured the people in attendance at the meeting that there will be no harmful effects and that officials have taken every preventive measure possible to ensure public safety.

Those safety measures include regular air monitoring by six air-monitoring units, installation of soil gas vapor controls, and preliminary surveying to make sure there are no active gas or electric lines at the site.

The two-foot cap will consist of 18 inches of certified clean sand followed by six inches of gravel and topped off at the surface with six inches of topsoil.

Some members of the community, however, think that the safety measures are not safe enough.

There is growing opposition to trucking the dirt off the peninsula. Opponents want the dirt to be put on barges and carted through Jamaica Bay, rather than trucked through the local streets.

Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, who was not present at Pheffer's meeting, is one of those opposed to trucking the toxic soil.

He is furious at the fact that they would even think about carting the contaminated dirt through the streets of Rockaway.

"I am absolutely against the trucking of contaminated dirt through the community," Simon said. "They don't want to spend the extra money to barge it away. They don't care about this community."

Simon continued to say he would prefer the project take longer to complete by using barges than transporting the dirt by truck.

However, he did mention that the last time the ground was dug into, the smell was unbearable.

"My eyes were burning, my throat became sore, and the smell was horrible," he said.

National Grid insists that no one will smell anything because the tent will block out any fumes and harmful odors.

In response, a National Grid spokesperson stated that a plan that included barges would severely limit its disposal options and would put the public and the ecosystem of Jamaica Bay at terrible risk. In addition, trucks waiting to unload on the barges would cause Beach Channel Drive to be closed on a daily basis, because the dirt would have to be hauled across the busy street to get to the barge.

Tom Campbell, a spokesperson for National Grid, said that they were concerned with spillage, and the complexity of the option would become more labor-intensive and would require more frequent traffic closures as trucks cross Beach Channel Drive to get to the barge area on the water side of the busy east-west street.

"It is a real safety concern for us, and trucks going across Beach Channel Drive continuously were an issue as well," he said.

Jonathan Gaska, Community Board 14 District Manager, and Pheffer both agree that the barge may not be as effective a method as they once thought.

"If anything would spill, it would damage Jamaica Bay, but we had originally asked for this," Gaska said. "Now I see why this is not an effective option."

Area residents can expect to receive an informational packet in the mail, explaining in depth the nature of National Grid's plans to clean up the site.

The future of the site is still unknown, but according to Gaska, the area is zoned primarily for commercial use only and he would be surprised to see homes go up on top of the site.

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