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Port Jefferson officials concerned over site cleanup

As decades-old hazardous waste gets cleaned up at the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site, officials downstream in Port Jefferson worry that not enough is being done to protect their seaside village from an underground plume that runs from the site toward Port Jefferson Harbor.

At issue are contaminated sediments in Old Mill Pond and Old Mill Creek, a dank, silted-up tributary near the village downtown that sits in the polluted plume. The plume originated when chlorinated solvents dumped years ago at Lawrence, a former titanium sheet supplier, seeped down through the soil, and eventually reached the water table.

Village officials became alarmed when tests taken last year showed the sediment in the creek and pond was more polluted than they had thought.

But the federal team in charge of the Superfund site does not intend to alter its $24 million cleanup plan - which called for leaving the sediments in place while pumping out the tainted groundwater - because they said the additional pollution detected last year does not stem from the Lawrence Aviation site.

The test results have thrown a monkey wrench into plans to develop two properties that abut Old Mill Creek, said Mayor Margot Garant.

"Is it safe to touch the soil? Does it have to be carted away?" Garant said. "We have major building projects we want to get underway."

She said village officials are still waiting for guidance from the federal Environmental Protection Agency on what to do next - and they don't want to foot the bill for cleaning it up.

In 2006, the agency approved a remediation plan for Lawrence Aviation that called for removing PCB-contaminated soils on the site and halting the progress of the plume. To stop it, the plan calls for pumping up tainted groundwater and treating it at two facilities: one to be built up on the hill at the 160-acre site, and another at a village park next to the pond. The treated water would be discharged back to the creek.

The EPA never planned to dredge the contaminated sediments, reasoning that pollution from the plume would recede over time as the groundwater that feeds the pond is cleaned up.

Maria Jons, the EPA project manager for the site, said the 2009 tests of pond and creek sediments found some concentrations of industrial degreasers such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) that were linked to the plume.

"It's not highly contaminated, not like industrial levels of contamination," she said.

But the recent tests also turned up high levels of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which are typical components of asphalt, fuel and oil. Federal officials say that contamination most likely washed off the streets of Port Jefferson and into the tributary.

"These types of compounds are normally related to combustion of coal or oil," said Sal Badalamenti, chief of the EPA's Eastern New York Remediation Section. "This material is not coming from the Lawrence Aviation site."

EPA officials said Thursday that their primary concern was dealing with pollution linked to the solvent plume from the site.

To help resolve the matter, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have scheduled a meeting on Monday between officials from the village, the EPA and an array of state and local agencies and politicians.Garant said she asked Bishop to pursue a $4.2 million earmark to pay for dredging the contaminated sediments should the creek overflow.

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