A controversial cleanup


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After a community protest over a “poison parking lot,” new concerns about contamination


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  • Michael Kramer, a steering committee member of Save Our Seaport and a public member of Community Board 1, addressed a rally in May. Photo: Emily Higginbotham



“We will continue to fight for a third-party to oversee the remediation of the site.”

Megan Malvern, co-founder of Children First



Developers are set to begin a controversial mercury cleanup in the backyard of two South Street Seaport schools after a state agency gave its approval in recent weeks.

The Department of Environmental Conservation concluded a review of the application the Howard Hughes Corporation submitted to enter the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program — a review that was significantly prolonged by opposition from local groups that headed a letter-writing campaign and staged a rally to voice their concerns that the cleanup could expose children to toxins.

The site, which the developer purchased for $180 million last year, takes up a city block and currently functions as a parking lot. Historically, it was the site of a thermometer factory. The Howard Hughes Corp. applied to the Brownfield program after discovering mercury and other contaminates in the soil in January. The program is typically used to revitalize economically blighted communities, incentivizing private-sector cleanups with tax credits.

Children First, a group of parents formed amid the turmoil, have voiced their disappointment with the DEC’s decision and have asked the department and local politicians to provide the community with grant money to hire an independent engineer.

“We will continue to fight for a third-party to oversee the remediation of the site,” Megan Malvern, co-founder of Children First and a parent of children who go to the neighboring Peck Slip School, said following the decision. “We call on the NYSDEC and our elected officials to provide the community with a Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) to fund an independent engineer to represent the community throughout the process.”

The DEC has stressed throughout the uproar that any cleanup of the site would be carefully monitored by its agency.

“During the cleanup of sites in the program, DEC rigorously monitors all activities and requires that remedial parties undertake efforts to ensure there is no exposure to any contamination at the site, including comprehensive investigations to determine the full extent and nature of contamination,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement.

Before the cleanup can take place, according to the DEC, the developer must submit a detailed plan to investigate the site that includes measures to protect the public from exposure, which will then be reviewed by the DEC and the State Department of Health and subsequently issued for public review and comment.

The Howard Hughes Corp., which did not respond to a request for comment, has not submitted any plans for a prospective project to the city. The developer has only hinted that it might attempt to transfer air rights it owns at nearby properties.

Residents fear that Howard Hughes Corp. are planning to transfer those air rights to build a 70-plus-story structure at the lot, which is not within the architectural context of the Seaport. In 2003, a rezoning effort set the limit at 12 stories, but the developer could sidestep that standard through a rigorous process and community board approval.






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