2008-10-17 / Community

Residents Still Dispute MGP Disposal

By Nicholas Briano

Residents got a chance to voice their opinion about the former Rockaway Park Manufactured Gas Plant that was scheduled to begin last September at a town hall meeting this week. Residents got a chance to voice their opinion about the former Rockaway Park Manufactured Gas Plant that was scheduled to begin last September at a town hall meeting this week. National Grid had a plan in place to decontaminate the site of a former coal gasification plant in Rockaway Park after nearly a decadelong wait. However, in July about 25 vocal residents showed up at a meeting to voice their concerns about the process, which has delayed the implementation of the plan.

As a result of the first meeting National Grid and the New York State Department of Environ-mental Conservation (DEC) agreed to hold a second meeting this week to discuss their research into community- suggested alternatives to the proposed decontamination method.

Residents once again were none too pleased to hear at a meeting this past week inside Scholars' Academy, on Beach 104 Street, that the original proposal is still the only feasible method of transport proposed by National Grid and DEC for the decontaminated soil.

DEC Project Manager and environmental engineer Doug MacNeal, spoke to the residents once again and presented them with several reasons why the project must be completed with the original plans.

The proposal by some residents that the soil should be removed by barging rather than trucks, was countered by MacNeal and DEC who cited reasons including insufficient space to load a barge, the time consuming process of loading, and major traffic disruption patterns, among others.

"If we were to load barges instead of trucking, the barge would be sitting near a school while we load it, a process that can take days," MacNeal said.

He continued in an attempt to reassure the crowd that trucking is safe and reliable with minimal affects to the community, even if an accident should happen with a truck on its way off the peninsula. "None of our trucks will be driving past a school," he said. "Trucking is safe and in the event a spill does happen it can be cleaned up quickly and easily off the streets."

Despite these reasons there are members of the community who think that the safety measures are not safe enough.

A recent report from DEC states that it hopes to have the site completely decontaminated by the spring of 2010. Continued objections, however, to the proposed plan could have the potential of delaying any completion date.

Democratic District Leader Lew Simon led the charge prior to the meeting, accusing National Grid and DEC of putting on a "dog and pony show" for the public, when they are going to perform the cleanup whichever way they want.

"They are determined to truck this stuff out," Simon said. "This plan is a waste of taxpayer money, barging is a better and most cost efficient option."

The $35 million cleanup of the toxic and abandoned former coal gasification plant located at Beach Channel Drive between Beach 108 Street and Beach 112 Street for nearly a century, has no definite start date anymore, but officials hoped at the meeting to get underway as soon as possible.

The proposed, but disputed plan would begin with the excavation to the depth of eight feet of the toxic soil followed by the capping off of the site with two feet of sand and gravel. According to DEC and National Grid, this would eliminate any environmental or health hazards to the community and surrounding Jamaica Bay.

However, the main issue of concern with skeptical residents is still the method by which the soil was to be removed from the peninsula. The removal process is slated to include digging inside a movable temporary tent, where the trucks would also be loaded. Once loaded, 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.

The residents that showed up, about 50 of them, had problems with most aspects of the plan.

"A liner and tarp is not a good enough seal for these trucks," resident Joan Mettler said. "We are talking about chronic liver and kidney damage, carcinogens, nausea, eye irritation. We're talking about effects to our blood organs and reproductive systems and respiratory irritation. These are just some of the health affects we face. All this seems pretty harsh to me."

Another resident who lives just several hundred feet from the site was concerned about ground water moving sideways across the peninsula near his home once excavations begin.

"You are putting cost above people's lives, because this seems more like a budgetary issue," he said. "I propose we use underground barriers all around the site to enclose all sides of the site. There is an obligation here to the community to clean this site the right way."

As digging is completed in a particular section of the site, the protective tent will 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 out-of-state disposal facilities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The excavating process, if done in this manner, will take approximately 16 months to remove the 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.

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