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EPA assures skeptical residents Garvies Point will be safe

Lorenzo Thantu, a project manager in the EPA's

Lorenzo Thantu, a project manager in the EPA's Manhattan office, explains to the public a remediation plan for a Glen Cove waterfront redevelopment project during a meeting at Glen Cove High School on Monday, June 13, 2016. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials Monday night assured more than 150 people in Glen Cove that a proposed waterfront redevelopment site would be a safe place to live and play once remediation of the formerly industrial area is complete.

But some residents were unconvinced, saying they fear remaining contamination would endanger the environment and future residents of the development.

The EPA held the meeting at Glen Cove High School to present its proposed plan for more environmental cleanup on about 30 acres of land that had previously been considered fully remediated.

Lorenzo Thantu, a project manager in the EPA’s Manhattan office, said tests of soil samples showed that contamination above permitted levels remained on scattered spots of the 30 acres, where metal processing and disposal took place for decades.

The land includes more than half of the site where Uniondale-based RXR Realty plans to build Garvies Point, a $1-billion project of 1,110 condominiums and apartments, parks, marinas, restaurants and retail and office space.

Thantu said the EPA plans to remove an estimated 8,500 cubic yards of soil in the coming months. The agency has already taken out 158,000 cubic yards, an indication, EPA officials said, that the land is vastly cleaner than in the past.

Garvies Point supporters said the $120-million, multi-agency remediation of the site over the past 20 years and the future cleanup will replace an environmental catastrophe with a development that generates taxes, economic development and new parkland.

Others focused on how some contaminated soil would remain in the ground.

That is why the EPA is barring single-family homes, leading Glen Head resident Anne Rendell, 53, to say, “You’re planning to build a huge development that’s not suitable for single families, yet you want all of these people to run around in the nearby parks and in areas where cars are parked?”

Thantu said children would not be playing in contaminated soil. The EPA is requiring at least 2 feet of clean soil under parkland. Buildings, pavement and other impermeable material can be placed on soil that has a low level of residual contamination.

Single-family homes are different from apartment or condo buildings, because there is more digging of the soil, such as when gardening, said EPA lawyer Lauren Charney. Only raised planting beds would be allowed.

Amy Peters of Glen Cove, one of 105 area residents who filed a lawsuit in November seeking to block the project on environmental and other grounds, said she doubts the site will ever be clean enough for people to live on. She alluded to previous declarations that the land was safe for development.

“How many times has this town heard these words, ‘It’s all cleaned up’?” she asked.

Salvatore Badalamenti, an EPA section chief, said all but a tiny portion of the site already is safe to build on, and after the new remediation, the EPA will require tests every five years.

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