Today’s news:

35 in Willets Pt. indicted in contamination of land

After a yearlong investigation, the authorities last week arrested the owners and employees of 21 junkyards in Willets Point, charging them with violating state environmental laws by dumping thousands of gallons of hazardous materials in sewers and in nearby Flushing Bay.

The indictment, brought by the state attorney general’s office, comes at a time when the Housing and Preservation Development agency is reviewing a proposal by the Queens borough president to declare Willets Point, a 55-acre triangular parcel across the street from Shea Stadium, an urban renewal area. Such a designation would permit the city to rezone the district, forcing out the myriad auto body shops, to make room for development.

The business owners and employees of the 21 junkyards are accused of throwing motor oil, anti-freeze and transmission fluid down storm drains and into Flushing Bay while disassembling cars. State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said that in addition to the criminal charges, a judge had issued an order to freeze the defendants’ businesses assets, and to seize their proceeds and equipment.

“The defendants in this case showed a blatant disregard, both for the law and the environment,” Spitzer said. “They used their properties, the neighborhood and Flushing Bay as a garbage disposal simply because it was easier and cheaper for them rather than doing what was right.”

A total of 35 defendants was indicted last week on charges including endangering public health, safety or the environment, which can result in a prison term of up to four years and a fine of more than $100,000, the attorney general said. Among the businesses indicted are AA Auto Salvage, Best Buy Auto Repair, F&F Auto Salvage, M&H Used Auto Parts and Cars, and Sunrise Auto Parts.

Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, who has long sought to reshape the landscape of Willets Point, defined for decades by scrap yards and chop shops, said the indictments last week have underlined the need to have Willets Point declared an urban renewal area.

“With a creative and insightful plan for this section of Queens, the area can be transformed into one of the more desirable locations in New York City,” she said in a statement Thursday.

Exactly what transformation the borough president is seeking is unclear. In an interview earlier this month with the TimesLedger, Shulman said the location of Willets Point, a short distance from a commercially pulsating downtown Flushing, enhances its inherent worth. But, she said, it is too early to propose specifics about how the land should be developed.

“What makes sense? It depends,” she said. “It depends on where the market is. Sometimes you can push the market and sometimes you can’t. Maybe office space, maybe residential, maybe a combination of commercial and residential, maybe some recreational.”

One potential crimp in the borough president’s plans is a waste transfer station that began storing 400 tons of household trash a day in early March. The station, operated under city contract by Tully Environmental, on 34th Avenue and Willets Point Boulevard in Willets Point, has raised concerns in the Flushing community, especially among businesses leaders in the downtown area.

Despite a 25-page report by the state Department of Environmental Conservation that concluded the station would have no negative impact on the environment, the business leaders maintain the station will only compound congestion, pollute the downtown district and drive down the value of real-estate.

If Willets Point is ultimately declared an urban renewal area, the entire 55-acre district would be rezoned from heavy -industry to commercial, a move that would require businesses there to sell their property and leave. Moreover, the declaration would bring about the closure of the transfer station, one of 10 in the city that are being used to store trash after Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island was closed last month.

“That transfer station is quote-unquote temporary because there is a long-range plan to get rid of the garbage,” she said. “This is just suppose to be interim.” But, she added, “Temporary in New York City is permanent.”

This is not the first time that Shulman has sought urban renewal status for Willets Point. She said that proposals were made, both in 1991 and in 1993, but were never carried out. “There have been plans for Willets Point forever,” the borough president said. “United Artist came to us many years ago looking to develop a theme park. There were a lot of proposals, none of which went anywhere.”

Regardless of how Willets Point is developed, the borough president said the city would have to spend $20 million on installing sewers, which the area has lacked for decades. “Am I going to do it for chop shops?” she said. “The answer is no.”

Reach reporter Chris Fuchs by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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