Superfund site cleanup finishes this summer

Posted on September 9th, 2011 by Amanda Fiscina in Health & Safety, Politics

The Liberty Aircraft Plant on Motor Avenue during the 1940s and the property today. Photo: Library of Congress/Amanda Fiscina

Reported on July 28, 2011

The debate over the toxic legacy of a 22-acre site on Motor Avenue resurfaced this summer, as Town of Oyster Bay officials consider proposals about what to build there.

Cleanup of the property, which is known as the Liberty Site, is on track to finish next month. The town board rezoned the property to allow recreational use at the July board meeting, leaving some residents campaigning for a pool and a community center and some worried about the site’s history of contamination.

“We don’t question the safety of the area,” said Bill Manton, head coach of Farmingdale Aquatics, a year-round, competitive swim program whose members have submitted a proposal asking for an aquatics center to be built on the site. “We think after all this, it is ok to be there,” he said.

Some residents disagree.

“I am an avid swimmer and would love to have a town pool in Farmingdale, but until facts are presented that prove a pool is safe from cancer producing chemical contamination, I cannot support that my tax dollars are used to build a pool at this location,” said Farmingdale resident Rosemarie Stauber.

Two decades ago the E.P.A. named the area a Superfund site for groundwater and soil contamination.

According to a report issued by the E.P.A. in 2011, the Liberty Aircraft Products Company produced aircraft parts there during World War II. After the war, the site was converted to an industrial park and later to a warehouse. Liberty and the other companies left behind a contaminated groundwater plume.

In 1986, the E.P.A. took the lead role in the $32 million cleanup, which involved creating a filtration system to remove the heavy metals and volatile organic compounds from the groundwater. Some of soil was also hauled from the site.

Ultimately, the E.P.A. plan only cleaned up the property to industrial standards. This became an issue in 2001 when the town announced its intention of acquiring the property and building recreational facilities there.

“The E.P.A. cleanup was the equivalent of having a dirty floor and putting a rug down,” said Town of Oyster Bay environmental consultant Hal Mayor. The town took over the next cleanup stage in 2002, spending $4 million to haul the rest of the soil from the site.

Health risks at the site are “no longer a worry,” Mayor said, since the water plume is not connected to any wells used by water districts and all the old soil is gone.

The last of that soil is being removed this summer and residents have brought proposals for a town pool, a community center and additional fields to the board.

Of the 22 acres adjacent to Allen Park, only 16 are viable for projects, since part of the area contains the underground filtration system.

“We are reluctant to put anything of an active nature over that area because if there ever is a problem and we have to get to it, we will have to completely disrupt that portion,” said town attorney Len Genova.

The town environmental consultant said it wouldn’t be an issue of safety, but of costs, to build a pool there.

“We have currently removed the soil 12 feet down to the water table,” Mayor said. “To build a pool we’d have to excavate below that, which brings new construction and soil testing costs. But it’s not a health concern because we’d remove all the contaminated soil long before the pool was finished.”

The town estimates that the center would cost $25 to 30 million to build. The pool the club currently uses at Farmingdale High School is 40 years old and the club is unable to host meets there because two lanes are too shallow.

The town plans to hold a community meeting in the fall to discuss all of the options, where residents like Manton and Stauber can express their views.

“I hope the town does its research,” Stauber said. “This is a pool that we put our bodies in, not a park we walk around in.”

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