Thursday, June 26, 2008

Roll Me Over . . .

2008-0614-1051 Roll me over . . . in the clover . . . . roll me over lay me down and do it again . . .

Who wouldn't think of that old song when coming upon a pretty field of clover such as this one?

This field is practically in Downtown Utica, located near the eastern end of the bike path, bounded by the path and Erie Canal on the north and Mohawk River on the south.

But you might think twice before rolling around here because this is no ordinary field of clover. . . It was not there last year. . . .

2008-0126-008Months ago I noticed heavy equipment knocking down the woods that were on the site. The site was graded until almost flat, about even with the bike trail. That was followed by truckload after truckload of what appeared to be rich black topsoil. "Good, the site is being prepared for development," . . . or so I thought. But the trucks kept coming and dumping, and the mound kept getting higher and higher until it towered over the adjacent DOT Maintenance Building. The contours started to look suspiciously like a landfill . . . and were those channels for drainage from the hill to the canal that had been cut across the bike path and then paved over?

"Who would want to build a mound of dirt?"

I did not find my answer until the early days of 2008 when I read an OD Editorial by DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis, who was responding to some parting shots fired at DEC by outgoing Mayor Tim Julian. According to Grannis:
Julian implied nothing has been done by DEC at Harbor Point, the site of a former manufactured gas plant now owned by National Grid. Again, he failed to mention a salient fact: a lawsuit by National Grid slowed action for a time. And he failed to mention the notable progress made by the department at this sprawling, polluted parcel: thousands of yards of contaminated soil excavated; a slurry wall to prevent tar from migrating toward the water; storm and sanitary sewers repaired to prevent leaks into Utica Harbor; dredge spoils capped. DEC also expects to approve a plan to remove tar deposits in the Mohawk River in 2008.
2008-0406-0926pA quick search at the DEC Website turned up this March 2001 "Record of Decision" (ROD) regarding remediation of only a portion of Niagara Mohawk's Harbor Point Inactive Hazardous Waste Site. On page 35 on a site plan, there it was! . . . "Dredge Spoils Area 2 (DSA2)" . . . DSA2, an area where dredge spoils from clearing Utica Harbor had been disposed of years ago, is the field of clover.

I was not happy with what I read. The dredge spoils in DSA2 had been heavily contaminated from the old coal gas operation nearby. They were considered a threat to public health and the environment and needed to be contained somehow. The ROD described the plan.
DSA2 contains no identifiable "hot spots" that can be readily removed. A soil cover on this area will eliminate direct human exposure to site contaminants and will reduce the generation of groundwater contamination. A use restriction will prevent future human exposure to contaminated groundwater. . . [p. 26]

Clearing, regrading and installation of a soil cover at DSA2, consisting of an 18-inch layer of non-contaminated fill material and a 6-inch layer of topsoil. Dredged sediment will be allowed as alternative grading material below the soil cover at DSA2 provided the concentration of PAHs in the sediment is less than 35 ppm and the concentration of total PCBs in the placed sediment is less than 10 ppm. . . [p. 27]

. . . there will be a deed restriction placed to ensure that redevelopment is limited to nonresidential uses. Further, deed restrictions on groundwater usage on and in the vicinity of the DSAs will be placed, as well as notices to future developers of the site regarding the need for worker protection and proper handling and disposal of any materials encountered during future development. Groundwater contaminant levels will be monitored. The deed restrictions will also require present and future owners to annually certify to the NYSDEC that the institutional controls have been maintained and that the conditions at the site are fully protective of public health and the environment in accordance with this ROD. [p. 28]
Perhaps I missed something or there is something I don't understand or there was a change of plans after 2001, but that site had been graded flat and a lot more than 18" of fill plus 6" of topsoil was dumped there afterward. Regardless . . .

At this point I have to presume that DEC did its job and that the threat to health and environment has been eliminated. But what of the future?

The restrictions on residential and ground water useage do not seem to present big issues to redevelopment, but the mound is what it is, and most people would call it a hazardous waste landfill. . . . a downtown Utica landfill!

"Who would want to build ON a mound of dirt?"

Had this site been graded to be flat and left that way, reuse of the site would have seemed feasible... perhaps for a restaurant, some type of concession stand, shops, offices, or a park. But the grade present won't even allow for siting a picnic table! And because regrading would be required to reuse the property, the contaminated spoil beneath probably will prevent this site from ever being productively used.

2008-0126-014pWhat a WASTE! It's water-front property (front AND back) with a view of Downtown!

Again, it is unknown if the mound that we see was planned, was not apparent from the plans (it's not apparent from the ROD), or was a change to plans, but the mound is the problem to redevelopment. Interestingly enough, the ROD's "responsiveness summary" does not indicate any concern by our local officials or local news media.

Draw your own conclusions about why things like this just seem to happen.


Greens and Beans said...

Today during a leisurely bike ride with a friend along the canal path, my companion pointed out to me that it appeared that most (99%) of the vegetation, planted to serve as ground cover on the large mound behind the New York State Department of Transportation maintenance garage located off of North Genesee Street in Utica, was dead. This mound, that is believed to be comprised of contaminated soils, cannot sustain vegetation even after the long rainy period Utica had experienced this past week. I thought that perhaps, as the plants matured the root structure has permeated the clay cap and have made their way to the contaminated soil inside of the embankment. I have always doubted if there was any clay used on this site in the first place, but without seeing the official documentation regarding the makeup of the soil in question, I am not sure.
I am no expert and have absolutely no experience with this sort of problem. However, it is obvious that the design of this mound has it leaching its runoff waters directly into the canal. I fear that the wild life dependent on the waters of the canal, as well as those persons who fish in the canal, may be exposed to dangerous carcinogens from this manmade mountain. This area should be examined for contamination. Perhaps a ban on fishing should be imposed to protect those who consume the fish caught in the canal.

Who do you suggest should be FOILed to ascertain if the soil of this manmade hill may be hazardous to humans, animals, and the environment?
• New York State Thruway Authority, Division of Canals?
• New York State Department of Transportation?
• National Grid Power Corporation/Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation?
• The City of Utica?
Thank you.

Strikeslip said...

I noticed that too . . . I'd FOIL DEC since they drew up the Record of Decision for this area, and Canals since I believe it is their property.