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Oyster Bay Town to close portions of Bethpage Community Park

Siblings Isabella Crncic, 6, and Luka, 4,

Siblings Isabella Crncic, 6, and Luka, 4, of Plainview, on the children's playground at Bethpage Community Park, on Tuesday evening, April 19, 2016. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Oyster Bay Town plans to close portions of Bethpage Community Park on Wednesday morning after the state opened an investigation into a whistleblower’s claims that large drums were found during an excavation decades ago and covered back up, Supervisor John Venditto said.

The town had not finalized which areas of the 18-acre park off Stewart Avenue to cordon off, the supervisor said Tuesday. Signs will be posted and public safety officers could be on-site.

“Nothing is greater than our concern for the health, safety and welfare of residents,” Venditto said.

Environmental consultants on Tuesday were going over records to see if it was possible that drums could be in areas that people could come into contact with or that could pose a threat to public health.

A children’s playground may be closed, Venditto told Newsday, but the ice rink, skate park and basketball courts likely will remain open.

“What we’re really doing here is considering closing the areas where these drums may be situated and where these drums could potentially be a problem,” he said.

Newsday reported Monday evening that the state Department of Environmental Conservation opened an investigation after a whistleblower reported that drums were discovered during the 1990s at the park and subsequently covered up.

Areas of the park that are closed will remain so until the DEC finishes its probe, town spokeswoman Marta Kane said Tuesday.

Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp., which now is called Northrop Grumman, owned the land before donating it to the town in 1962.

Grumman had used the area to dispose of paint, oils, chromium-tainted sludge, arsenic and other solvents. Those actions were legal at the time.

DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said Tuesday that the agency will work with the town, Northrop Grumman and any other parties. In its investigation, the DEC is seeking to verify that all waste at the site had been cleaned up by the town or is included in an ongoing cleanup plan involving Northrop Grumman.

The whistleblower spoke with the DEC after the Bethpage Water District told the state agency about his claims. While the whistleblower has not specified where in the park the drums were discovered, he told Newsday that “I want as much as anybody else to have it cleaned up.”

The park once was part of the more than 600-acre complex used by the U.S. Navy and Grumman to test, develop and manufacture airplanes and space vehicles, including the Apollo Lunar Module. Groundwater contamination first was discovered in the 1940s, and volatile organic chemicals were documented in the mid-1970s.

The site was added to the state’s Superfund registry in 1983 and is subject to several cleanup plans, including one focused on contamination there and a groundwater plume emanating from the area.

The town closed down a portion of the park in 2002 for soil, air and groundwater tests after polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were found in the soil. A large part of the park was excavated to remove contaminants in 2005, the DEC said.

A decade ago, when the town was building its ice rink on the site, drums were discovered and disposed of, Kane said. She could not give specifics about the drums’ contents or where they ultimately ended up.

The park has been examined over the years by various entities, including the DEC, the town, the Navy and Grumman. Studies or tests also were done in 1994, 1998, 2014 and 2015.

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