Some unhappy with DEC over Waterpointe

Avella, civic leader rip agency for its handling of brownfield cleanup

According to some in Whitestone, something smells bad at the Waterpointe brownfield cleanup site. And they’re not talking about the soil.

The Edgestone Group — which earlier this year completed a secondary remediation to remove unapproved contaminated fill dumped at the site when its previous owner had it — plans to and has a special permit to build 52 single-family homes there.

The development will feature a vapor intrusion depressurization system to keep residents safe from vapors from contaminants in the ground.

In September, the Department of Environmental Conservation changed the remediation method from a Track 2 residential cleanup to Track 4 restricted-residential-use protocol because fill had been placed at the site that did not meet cleanup objectives. Edgestone had requested the change.

According to the DEC, all physical work on the cleanup is finished. The agency said that it is reviewing the final engineering report and site management plan for the project and expects to issue a certificate of completion for it by the end of the year.

Neighborhood residents and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) gathered in front of the Waterpointe site on Monday afternoon to decry the DEC’s handling of the situation.

The senator said the presence of the inappropriate fill should not have automatically resulted in the cleanup program change.

“I’m furious with the state for allowing this,” said Avella, who has written a letter to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos about the situation. He added that he is seeking more documentation about the process and wants more information about why the track change was allowed.

Avella said that he put in a call to the agency boss, but Seggos never responded personally and only the DEC community affairs office got back to him.

The senator also said that he wants to know if the inappropriate fill was placed before Edgestone requested the brownfield track change or after it did.

“They should have made the developer do what that cleanup protocol was,” Avella said, adding: “In my opinion ... developers should be made to come in here, remove that inappropriate fill and remove whatever is necessary to create this vapor system.”

Another concern expressed by the lawmaker is the depressurization system. Homeowners who live in a College Point condo complex with contamination under it also have the system and have found it to be problematic. “They’re asking the city and the state for help,” he explained. Avella added that the systems are expensive and could be financially burdensome to homeowners.

If the Waterpointe housing development is built with no further cleanup or only the cleanup that has been done, the senator added, people who buy homes there will be negatively impacted in another way.

“You’re not going to be able to dig down 1 inch into this property,” Avella said. “You can’t even plant a flower. If you want to plant a flower, you’re going to have to put a flowerbed above ground.”

Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association President Kim Cody is also far from happy about the situation.

“This problem comes all the way down from the DEC,” Cody said, adding that the agency should have had inspectors at the Waterpointe property to make sure that no unauthorized fill was being brought in.

Responding to Avella’s press conference, the DEC revealed a measure it is taking to make Waterpointe safe for those who will live there.

“In order to support ongoing, responsible site management at this location and to protect future residents, DEC is establishing an escrow agreement with the developer to fund site management activities at this site for a period of 10 years in the amount of $272,000,” the agency said in an emailed statement.

Unattached single-family homes have never been built on any site where a DEC brownfield cleanup took place. And a list of agency regulations that went into effect in 2006 says that restricted-residential-use brownfield cleanups prohibit single-family housing. However, the DEC says that because the Waterpointe development homes will be controlled by a single entity — in this case, a homeowners association — restricted residential use is permitted.

Whitestone resident Robert LoScalzo — who did not speak or stand with Avella, Cody and the others when they addressed reporters, but addressed the media alone after the press conference — brought a sign with that regulation written on it.

“When you see a crack like that, it portends a greater problem,” he said.

In the DEC document notifying Community Board 7 about changing the brownfield method to Track 4, the agency urged those seeking more information to contact the Waterpointe cleanup’s project manager.

LoScalzo wrote the project manager a letter on Oct. 7 pointing to the regulation prohibiting single-family housing with restricted-residential-use cleanups and asking why he had not been able to get more information about the change to Track 4 at the Whitestone Library, where the DEC document said it could be found.

The DEC said that it is “reviewing the letter” and that LoScalzo will soon get a response.

Replying to the claim that restricted residential use is inconsistent with the development plans at Waterpointe, the agency said that single-family homes can be built there because of how they will be managed.

“If the property is controlled by means of common ownership or a single owner/managing entity, the remedy will not prohibit single-family housing and as such the proposed 52-unit subdivision contemplated by the Special Permit is an acceptable re-use of this site,” the DEC said.

Although Cody is a member of Community Board 7, the advisory council did not have a representative at Avella’s press conference.

“It says a lot that no one is here from the community board today,” LoScalzo said. “They knew that this was happening.”

Speaking to the Chronicle a day after the press conference, CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty said that the jobs that he and First Vice Chairman Chuck Apelian have don’t make it easy to go to events like the one Avella held on Monday afternoon.

“I don’t know what [LoScalzo’s] job is other than he takes a lot of videos and stuff and makes a lot of statements,” Kelty said.

LoScalzo is a media producer.

The CB 7 leader added the board has been very vocal about issues with the Waterpointe site, pointing to how pressure from it resulted in the DEC allowing single-family homes to go up at Waterpointe after it had planned to prohibit them in September when it changed the cleanup method to Track 4 restricted residential use.

Kelty added said that the depressurization system that the development’s homes are planned to have could make them less attractive to potential buyers.