2009-04-03 / Front Page

'National Grid Endangering Community'

By Nicholas Briano

A trio of Rockaway residents proved last week that they remain skeptical of the cleanup of the former Rockaway Park Manufactured Gas Plant, claiming all parties involved are non-compliant to the protocol promised prior to work beginning.

The tent, in which excavation for the Rockaway Park MGP site will occur, is nearly complete. Excavation of the contaminated soil is scheduled to start by mid-April.
The group, "The Rockaway Initiative," says that National Grid, which is responsible for the cleanup of the contaminated soil at the Beach Channel Drive and Rockaway Freeway site, is putting the community in danger by not following the protocol outlined in the original work plans.

At a meeting hosted by Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and project officials held last Friday at the Peninsula Library, the group, led by area resident Noreen Ellis, said that the workers at the site are not wearing hazmat suits and that digging is occurring in the open air, something that National Grid promised it wouldn't do.

Tom Campbell, Project Manager for National Grid, says that the digging taking place is a soft dig method that has lit-

tle to no health effects. However, he did admit that the dirt dug up could be toxic, but that it is being controlled with foam and water technique and the air monitoring systems that have been installed.

In order to locate existing utilities prior to complete excavation, ten-footwide trenches are being dug along the perimeter of the site. Those trenches, Ellis claims, are being left open, exposed to the heavy Rockaway winds. She also claims that she and others in the group can smell foul odors emanating from the site.

"We have seen the trenches left open," Ellis said. "You said any excavation will occur in the enclosed tent and that the trench would be backfilled immediately after digging for the utilities occurred."

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is overseeing the project and has a round-the-clock supervisor to monitor any work performed. However, according to project officials no violations have been reported and all work done is following the correct protocol.

The Rockaway Initiative claims to have video footage telling otherwise, but has not shown the footage to NYSDEC. It was agreed upon in the meeting, however, that the agency would compare the supervisor reports with any video and camera footage the group may have.

"There is a definite theme of noncompliance," said Rockaway Initiative member Ronald Joseph, who lives across the street from the site. "My eyes don't lie. I changed my work shift to watch the work going on at the site. We are being placed in an unsafe environment."

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer said that NYSDEC and the group must get together and compare their findings, and if National Grid is found in non-compliance then action must be taken, which would immediately suspend the project.

The group agreed to submit their claims to NYSDEC within the next week with a two day turn around time by the agency, agreed to by its representative, Douglas MacNeal. The goal is to figure out if violations are occurring prior to the scheduled commencement of excavation on April 14. The massive tent in which digging will occur is in the construction process and could be seen partially built as one passes by the site.

Residents who want more information on the cleanup plans can visit www.Rockawayparkmgpsite.com, on which National Grid says they will post weekly updates every Monday afternoon about the status of the project. A telephone hotline has also been established to address additional questions and concerns. The phone number is 718-403-3400.

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