New Coal Tar Wrinkle

Boat Club wants building left intact

By Michael Turton

The saga of how to deal with coal tar deposits near Cold Spring’s riverfront continued at a meeting of the Village Board on Tuesday (Nov. 18). The New York State Department of Environmental Protection (DEC) has reacted coolly to a recent suggestion by the Cold Spring Boat Club (CSBC) that its building not be razed as part of the cleanup of coal tar under and near the structure. Instead, the club has proposed that the toxic substance be encapsulated rather than excavated, eliminating the need to demolish the building.

Coal tar, a thick, black liquid known to cause cancer, is the by-product of a manufactured gas plant that operated in the 19th century. There are more than 200 such sites across New York state.

In a letter to the village dated Oct. 10 but not received at Cold Spring Village Hall until Oct. 31, CSBC Secretary Josh Hadden wrote: “The membership would like to have encapsulation of the subsurface tar around the building explored as an option. Given that the DEC has said that they intend to prevent any drift of the tar northwards by driving steel sheets into New Street, it should also be possible to simply drive those sheets around the building and achieve the same result.”

DEC expresses concern

The letter was sent on to the DEC on Nov. 5. In an email to Mayor Ralph Falloon dated Nov. 13, the DEC’s David Chiusano wrote that the club’s request “obviously raises concerns,” since his department had “spent months … and tens of thousands of state dollars in additional investigation and engineering to design the … remedy specifically requested by the village.” He also pointed out that in January of this year the village passed a resolution condemning the CSBC building, a prelude to it being razed.

Toxic coal tar deposits from a 19th century manufactured gas plant are still present beneath the Cold Spring Boat Club.  Photo by M. Turton

Toxic coal tar deposits from a 19th century manufactured gas plant are still present beneath the Cold Spring Boat Club. (File photo by M. Turton)

The remedy Chiusano referred to was the Village Board’s request in October 2013 that the DEC do a complete remediation rather than the “20 percent cleanup” that the state agency had proposed. A major factor behind that request is that if further remediation were required in the future due to a limited cleanup now, the village would be responsible for the entire cost of the second remediation. Regardless of the scope, the DEC will pay the full cost of the initial cleanup. Previous estimates put the cost of the 20 percent remediation at $1.6 million and a complete cleanup at $6.15 million.

At Falloon’s suggestion, Chiuasano will be requested to attend a Village Board meeting in the near future.

Encapsulation used in the past

CSBC Commodore Mark Patinella attended Tuesday’s meeting and later spoke with The Paper. “If the village asks that the coal tar be contained [rather than excavated] DEC would likely support that,” he said. Patinella said CSBC advocates encapsulation because it was used effectively in the 1990s when nickel cadmium from the infamous Marathon Battery plant was encapsulated beneath Cold Spring dock as part of its reconstruction. “And cadmium is much worse than coal tar,” he said. “People use coal tar to seal their driveways.”

Patinella also said that CSBC has lingering concerns about costs associated with its building being razed, including boat storage and moving the docks. “The Boat Club should not have any expenses related to the cleanup,” he said. “But we don’t have a thing in writing [from the DEC]. All we get is ‘We’ll help out.’”

The club may soon face major expenses unrelated to the coal tar. Replacing the deteriorating bulkhead onsite will be costly. Patinella said up to 25 members have already left the club out of fear of increased membership dues.

Greenplan asks to be paid

Greenplan, the Rhinebeck-based consulting firm that wrote a grant application resulting in the village being awarded a $75,000 grant late last year to update its zoning code, has asked to be paid for drafting the successful grant bid. Getting paid for successfully completed work may seem to be a simple request, but in Cold Spring, things that appear to be simple often have a way of turning out to be anything but.

The request for the $7,600 payment came in a letter from Greenplan’s Ted Fink, who pointed out that initially his firm had offered to complete the application at no cost to the village, with the understanding that if the grant were received, Greenplan would be awarded the contract to do the zoning code update. At its meeting on July 25, 2013, the Village Board agreed to do that via a unanimous resolution.

Awarding the contract to Greenplan directly, without the village issuing a Request for Proposals, was acceptable to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the granting agency. Because hundreds of communities vie for the grants, the agency considers the process itself to be competitive and allows applicants to simply name a consultant.

At the time that the Village Board agreed to award Greenplan the work, Village Attorney Mike Liguori also pointed out that services from professionals including consultants, lawyers, and engineers, can be acquired by the village without a bid process.

But a year later, the makeup of the Village Board had changed, and so did the handling of the NYSERDA grant. At a meeting on July 6, newly elected Trustees Michael Bowman and Cathryn Fadde urged the board to follow village procurement policy by issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to complete the zoning work update. Falloon and Trustee Bruce Campbell, who had previously supported awarding the work to Greenplan, voted with Fadde and Bowman to issue the RFP.

Trustee Stephanie Hawkins, who worked with Greenplan and NYSERDA along with Liguori, abstained. Three months later, the planning firm of Barton & Loguidice was awarded the contract to update the zoning code by a 4–1 vote with Hawkins the lone dissenter.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Liguori met briefly with the Village Board in a closed-door session to discuss Fink’s request. Liguori explained that he did so under attorney-client privilege to ensure that the Village Board would not be subject to liability as a result of discussing the issue in public. After the session, Falloon said that he would contact Fink to discuss the issue of payment.

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