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After 32 years at Totten, Coast Guard set to move

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U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) announced last Thursday that the U.S. Coast Guard would leave its station at Fort Totten in Bayside after nearly 32 years for a new, smaller port a little more than a mile away at the Merchant Marine Academy in Nassau County.

Ackerman is pushing for the now available 9.6-acre site to join the rest of Fort Totten, which the Army vacated in 1995, and to become city parkland.

The Coast Guard move, slated for mid-summer, does not relinquish the agency from its responsibility to clean up mercury and other contaminants found at the Civil War-era fort in 1985, Ackerman said.

The move will save the Coast Guard, which has operated out of its station on Little Bay in Fort Totten since 1968, "millions of dollars" in maintenance costs because the new location is much smaller, the congressman said. Both Ackerman and Coast Guard representatives declined to name an exact dollar figure on the projected savings.

"We're very sorry to see them leave here," Ackerman told a news conference at the Ft. Totten station. "But we're very confident they will be able to fulfill their mission of search and rescue" from the new site.

The Coast Guard is set to relocate 1.3 miles eastward to the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point in Great Neck, L.I. The Coast Guard station's jurisdiction stretches from the Connecticut line to Matinecock Point in Nassau County, to where the Harlem River meets the East River in Manhattan.

The deal to convert the Coast Guard station into city parkland is by no means complete. Ackerman said the property, which falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Transportation, would be offered to other federal agencies before the city could acquire it.

City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern said the Coast Guard property is "right in the middle of public parkland. This is a choice place. It should be an integral part of the city parks system. It's the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle."

Ackerman said "this land ... is one of the true gems in the entire New York area. We want it preserved for the people and not used for inappropriate purposes."

Richard Jannaccio, community co-chairman of the Coast Guard Restoration Advisory Board, or RAB, said his main concern was the cleanup of contaminants at the fort.

"I hope this is not going to be used to get out of the cleanup," he said.

The congressman said the Coast Guard Army Corps of Engineers was still legally responsible for cleaning up contaminants at the station and in Little Bay.

"Now there'll be a timeline for when it has to be clean," he said.

In 1985 the Coast Guard, which had recently purchased the base from the Army, discovered mercury in the floor drains of Building 615. Army Corps officials said the metal was present because of years of repairing mercury-filled torpedo guidance systems, which were maintained at the fort. The Army agreed to remediate the mercury in May 1998.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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