By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Two representatives of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Thursday night (April 14) reiterated willingness to revisit the February 2010 DEC decision to avoid demolishing the Cold Spring Boat Club during clean-up of hazardous coal tar pollution. The DEC likewise had informally suggested last June that it might revise its view on sparing the building. Cold Spring Mayor Seth Gallagher also backed reconsideration of the structure’s fate, despite previously encouraging abatement methods that stopped short of tearing down the building. Located at 5 New St., the club occupies land where a 19th-century manufactured gas plant (MPG) generated coal tar as a by-product of fuel for lighting, heating and industry. The polluted area lies below ground along New Street, from roughly a parking lot and the Boat Club backyard to its wharf. The village owns the property, allowing the club to use it rent-free, in return for certain services to the village, such as accommodating a rescue boat.
Addressing the Village Board and a small audience, Gardiner W. Cross, an engineering geologist with the DEC Division of Environmental Remediation, noted that at first the DEC experts favored a fairly expansive clean up of the Boat Club area, but backed away because of local opposition. “Our initial preference was to dig the entire length of the tar pool, down to the bulkhead,” he said. “That would’ve involved taking down the Boat Club building. There’s a pretty good bet there’s tar underneath the Boat Club. That proposal was not met with a lot of support here.” Consequently, the DEC rethought matters and — at least at present — “the remedy includes digging up to the Boat Club building and on the other side, but not in the building itself,” Gardiner said. He pointed out that its decision, “as it stands now, is a legally binding document” though it could be changed, if public input and significant new developments warrant revisions.
“If the village as both the municipal government and the landowner were to write us and say `we’d like that [Boat Club removal] included in the remedy’ and there’s sufficient contamination under there to justify it, the Boat Club, we can probably do that,” Cross added. “I think we’re open to expanding the clean up to include under that site” — beneath the structure itself, Gallagher said.
The relevant 2010 plan
DEC’s officially chosen plan, detailed in a February 2010 report called a Record of Decision or ROD, calls for excavating and hauling away about 3,234 cubic yards of soil and tainted material, or 22 percent of the estimated total. “The excavation will extend as close to the Boat Club building as possible without impacting the structural integrity,” the ROD stated. “Significant contamination will remain under the Boat Club.” The ROD eschewed a more comprehensive approach that would “maximize removal of coal tar and contaminated soil from the site.” In that approach, the ROD explained, “all coal tar-contaminated soil, MGP structures/piping and soil exceeding the Soil Cleanup Objectives for restricted residential uses — an estimated 14,700 cubic yards — would be removed.” The state expects that its chosen, less invasive scheme would cost $1,632,600. By comparison, a total eradication would cost $6.15 million. Demolishing the Boat Club does not mean that the state would get rid of every vestige of coal tar, Bill Ottaway, another DEC official, cautioned last June at a similar public meeting. Some traces may be so situated underground that removing them is not warranted, he explained.
Before the ROD was finalized, when the idea of a broader clean up was broached in Cold Spring, “there was a fair amount of resistance to taking down the Boat Club,” Cross recalled. The DEC met with village officials and Boat Club members in September 2009. “They didn’t want the building taken down,” the mayor said of the club. Now, some 18 months later, Cross said that the state wants to conduct further detailed analysis to gauge the level of contamination at the club. Testing would probably get underway this summer, he said, “to collect soil borings actually inside the Boat Club building, drill down through the floor,” as well as taking samples offshore to see if coal tar has reached the Hudson. Cross described the testing as crucial. “We could not change the decision [ROD] without getting that additional information first,” he said. “It’s possible there isn’t anything significant under the Boat Club. It is not very likely; but it is possible.”
Boat Club compensation
If the building comes down, Boat Club Commodore Mark Patinella asked, “is there any consideration of the loss of revenue the Boat Club would suffer? We’d be out at least two boating seasons.” Cross said he was unsure of direct compensation to the club. The state would pay the village the full market value of the property and have a financial responsibility to help provide a new facility, he said. “You’re not left totally hanging,” he said. Nonetheless, he added, “I can’t guarantee you the exact same building [and] I’m pretty sure we’d not be in the business of building it for you.”
The possibility that the tests below the club reveal a middling level of contamination prompted questions from Trustee J. Ralph Falloon. “When you present us with the information that you have found more contamination but it’s not a big deal, do we have a say in that and say, ‘it is a big deal for us, because if you’re going to dig, dig it all out?'” Cross said the ultimate decision lies with the state. Nonetheless, the village should speak out, he suggested. “If we don’t hear from folks asking for a change in the remedy, there won’t be a change in the remedy.” Should tests reveal the expected pollution under the club and residents want the wider clean up, Gallagher said, “then the village can be on the record, too, at that point. That’s what we can sort of start to advocate, if you will. And they [DEC] take that into account.”
Local support for Boat Club removal
For months, some who live along the waterfront-area have urged a fuller clean up, even if it means removing the Boat Club building. Liz Lukowski, another DEC engineering geologist, who accompanied Cross, assured residents that as long as the coal tar is not exposed, residents should not feel threatened by its presence. “It is perfectly safe to live where you are,” she told concerned residents. But criticism still arose.
“Just because there’s a building there” is not sufficient reason to shy away from a more comprehensive clean up, said Rita Seibel.
“What we’re trying to figure out is why we’re not taking down the Boat Club,” Greg Phillips told Cross. Cold Spring’s water and sewer superintendent, Phillips lives across the street from the club.
Cross said that during a public forum in December 2009 and in other comments to the DEC, along with desires to protect the Boat Club various local residents questioned the disruptions and other problems regarded as part of a more intense clean up. “We leave material under active buildings all the time,” he observed. Nonetheless, if the village wants a wider clean up, “I can’t tell you I oppose that because it’s what we proposed doing in the first place.”
Its name lost to history, the MPG probably shut prior to 1887. Portions of the structure still exist below ground, along with the coal tar, a carcinogenic oil-like residue. The DEC intends to deal with the mess through the state Superfund program, a New York version of the federal program that scoured Foundry Cove to remove cadmium pollution after a 20th-century battery plant closed. Coal tar “is not something we can ignore,” Cross said Thursday. Although not a cause for panic, “it is a material that should not be there.”
Anne Impellizzeri, vice chairperson of the Special Board for a Comprehensive Plan-Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, praised the DEC’s spirit of cooperation. “What I think is very, very positive and fortunate for this village is the willingness of the state to do what sounds like a very careful second review, a willingness in effect not to reopen but to consider re-opening the Record of Decision,” she said.
Photo by L.S. Armstrong