A Toxic Relationship

Kevin McKenna of Syosset, with megaphone, leads a rally in front of Oyster Bay Town Hall on June 26 to call for independent testing of the Syosset Park development. (Photo by Frank Rizzo)

Citizens demand independent testing

The toxic legacy of the land beneath the proposed 92.8-acre Syosset Park mixed-use development has poisoned the air between some citizens and authorities.

The federal and state environmental regulatory agencies have long declared the former polluted sites remediated and ready for residential and recreational use, but area residents—many opposed to the project—have explicitly stated that they do not trust these authorities.

From the moment the developers unveiled the 800-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for public review and comment in March, the people have had their say at public meetings and on social media. And they have two words for Town of Oyster Bay elected officials who will decide the fate the project: “Independent testing.”

In response, Oyster Bay leaders plan to put out a request for proposal seeking a testing firm that conforms to the people’s wishes. The town will work in conjunction with an advisory board made up of civic association leaders. Simon Property Group, the developer, has agreed to finance the testing.
Reportedly, the town will seek the services of former federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Carol Browner. She served from 1993-2001 under President Bill Clinton.

Syosset Park will, if approved, be constructed on the former Cerro Wire site and former Syosset Landfill, occupying approximately 39 acres each. Another 15 acres is taken up by the town’s Department of Public Works (DPW). In August 2013, after a public referendum, the town agreed to sell the landfill/DPW acreage it owned to Simon for $32.5 million, $30 million of which was initial payment. The balance will be paid when the town transfers the title to Simon.

Cerro Wire was an industrial location that for more than three decades produced a variety of hazardous wastes. After extensive remediation, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) removed Cerro from the registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites. According to the DEIS, “cleanup was undertaken to achieve the site-specific cleanup objectives and, upon completion of the cleanup, no restrictions were imposed on the future use of the property.”

The landfill closed in 1975 for suspected groundwater contamination and in 1983, the EPA placed it on the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL). As a result of the remediation study, the EPA ordered the town to cap the landfill to state DEC regulations, and required long-term groundwater and air monitoring of the landfill.

The EPA, the DEIS narrative continued, “also specified that a supplemental investigation had to be conducted to evaluate potential off-site impacts from the landfill.”

It related that the EPA concluded that the landfill capping and monitoring remedy “was adequate to protect human health and the environment associated with potential off-site impacts from the landfill” and since the capping of the landfill in 1997, the EPA has required annual groundwater and air monitoring by the town. The landfill was delisted from the NPL in 2005.

In addition, the “EPA conducts a periodic review of the monitoring data to ensure that the remedy remains effective. In 2007, 2012 and 2017, [it] completed its second, third and fourth Five-Year Reviews of the landfill since it was removed from the NPL….and concluded with a finding in each report that the remedy remains protective of human health and the environment. It is anticipated that Five-Year Reviews will continue to be performed by the EPA into the foreseeable future.”

Despite such official assurances, people remain skeptical.
Longtime Syosset residents recall playing as youngsters at the site and seeing much evidence of hazardous materials being casually stored and buried.

Those who have spoken publicly cited continuing health concerns, not only from the past pollution, but from what construction of the massive project might bring. A number of critics have cited numerous cases of cancers in the area, coming up with figures as high as the hundreds.
The end result was a demand for a testing firm that, according to those calling for it, had no previous political or contractual ties to the town. Some went even further and called for a firm that came from out of state.

In a statement, Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino stated, “The Town of Oyster Bay will settle for nothing less than independent testing that adheres to established quality control standards, and the methodologies and protocols set forth by the [EPA], [DEC] and both state and county health departments. Residents deserve to be part of the process, receive precise and verifiable test results, and any independent testing performed must also demonstrate strict compliance with all applicable regulations and industry standards. Irrespective of the extensive historic testing at these sites, the town’s unwavering commitment to facilitating additional testing will be completed and done so with unprecedented transparency.”

The town, on its website, released a lengthy list of previous testing done at the site, pushing back against “the presumption that historic testing on and off site was inadequate and/or performed without third party oversight and scrutiny is a false claim that has infiltrated the fabric of our community. Residents who are unaware of the extensive testing of environmental parameters on and off site may take some comfort in the myriad testing and studies performed to date.”

Saladino also noted that “the DEC recently notified the town of plans to proceed—at no cost to town taxpayers—with radiological screening at the former Syosset Landfill site. This is yet another reason why the town recommends that the DEC take a leadership role in the proposed independent testing program development protocol, so that there is consistency, accountability, and a clear line of communication for the additional independent testing performed at the site.”

Comment Until Aug. 31

The comment period on the Syosset Park DEIS has been extended until Aug. 31, 2018. In addition to the DEIS, the town and the applicant have further agreed to provide an additional comment period for the independent environmental testing of the site.

“The town is forming a Citizen Advisory Committee to guide the independent testing process and all comments on the independent testing will be accepted through Jan. 31, 2019,” Saladino said in a statement. “However, the town will not accept a final study from the applicant until the public has been given the opportunity to fully review the testing plan and final results.”

Residents who wish to review the DEIS may visit the Office of the Town Clerk in Oyster Bay, as well as at the Syosset Library and Jericho Library, or log onto www.oysterbaytown.com to view a digital copy.

Written comments should be directed to George Baptista, deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Resources, 29 Spring Street, Oyster Bay, NY 11771 or via e-mail at gbaptista@oysterbay-ny.gov. Comments can also be submitted through the town’s website, www.oysterbaytown.com.

—Submitted by the Town of Oyster Bay


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