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Massapequa Park neighbors frustrated by oil seeping into canal

An oil sheen is visible on the canal

An oil sheen is visible on the canal behind a home on Whitewood Drive in Massapequa Park, more than a year after the discovery of oil leaking from an abandoned home fuel tank. Credit: Joe Maxwell

Oil is seeping into a Massapequa Park canal more than a year after neighbors and state environmental regulators identified an old home fuel oil tank as the source, neighbors said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said the area of the spill is contained in the canal and the 550-gallon tank has been removed, but acknowledged Slomin's Inc., the Hicksville-based company hired by the homeowners for the cleanup, has more work to do. The company agreed in district court to the cleanup earlier this year as part of a plea agreement on pollution charges.

Slomin's was charged by the Nassau County District Attorney's Office on Oct. 12, 2017, with two counts of pollution, one in soil and one in water, according to charging documents. In March, Slomin's pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of unpermitted activity in a tidal wetland, a violation. It agreed to vacuum wells drilled at the site, as well as provide pads to soak up the oil and booms to contain the sheen.

The DEC said additional work has been delayed because the homeowners and Slomin's have failed to agree on access to the property.

Joseph Maxwell, who lives next door to the property on Whitewood Drive, said the DEC should use its authority to go in and clean up the area.

"I just want it taken care of," he said. While the smells and sheen of oil are less than they were a year ago, and most recently appeared about two weeks ago, "we’re continuing to have oil leach out."

Hugh Cirrito, a DEC regional spills engineer, said Slomin's has been cooperative, and removed the oil tank and five cubic yards of contaminated soil when the source of the spill was identified in October 2017.

Slomin's has "taken multiple actions to clean up the spill, including the removal of the tank and surrounding contaminated soil, placement of booms, installation of four collection wells, and vacuuming of floating product," Cirrito said in a statement. The DEC, he said, has provided "rigorous oversight."

DEC spokeswoman Erica Ringewald said a timeline to complete the cleanup depends on when an agreement can be reached to access the property.

Slomin's and its attorney, Wayne L. Gladstone, of Uniondale-based Harris Beach, did not return calls for comment. The homeowners, listed in property records as Steven and Elaine Klein, also did not respond to calls for comment.

Neighbors said they first smelled oil and saw a sheen on the water in July 2017, but had trouble tracking its source.

In October 2017, a Coast Guard officer traced the pollution to a tank that was supposed to have been "abandoned" — a process under Nassau County code that involves emptying old tanks of fuel and filling them with sand. The DEC supervised contractors who dug down and unearthed an empty tank, according to a DEC field report.

The tank, which had holes from corrosion and a slit cut into it, was removed, along with five cubic yards of contaminated soil, according to the DEC report, which called it an "improper abandonment."

Still, neighbors and DEC investigators continued to see oil. In May, a DEC field report by environmental engineer Tom Cuff found a "thick rainbow sheen." The next month, Cuff instructed Slomin's to take "more aggressive" action, such as excavating "heavily impacted soils adjacent to the bulkhead." 

"The current method of product recovery from the wells is not preventing the oil from impacting the canal," he wrote.

Gladstone initially rejected doing additional work, but then agreed in July to do so, according to correspondence sent to the DEC, which neighbors obtained through the Freedom of Information Law.

Maxwell, in an interview, said he's frustrated that there isn't a deadline for completing the work.

"I don't understand why they can't have a timeline. It's been 17 months," he said. "I think it's outrageous. Clearly the water and soil is polluted, but we're just sitting around."

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