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Crowley seeks $500,000 for clean-up of ball fields

A week after three men were charged with illegally dumping debris in a College Point sports complex, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said he will seek $500,000 in federal funding to push along the restoration of the ballfields abandoned nearly four years.

“It’s tragic that the fields today are not being used,” the congressman told a news conference Monday morning outside the ballfields on Ulmer Street and 26th Avenue in College Point. He was joined by Tony Avella, president of the College Point Sports Association,

A spokesman for the city Department of Design and Construction, John Spavin, said eight acres of the 22-acre sports complex have been leveled so far. The project, which is expected to cost the city $4.7 million, not to mention $10 million to remove the 210,000 tons of illegally dumped debris, is broken into two parts: the leveling of the fields, and the construction of two ballfields and a roller hockey rink. All told, work could be completed as early as next June.

The news conference Monday came nearly a week after the Queens district attorney announced the arrests of three brothers, who were under contract to truck landfill into the fields. In a vast 734-count indictment, the brothers who run carting companies in Maspeth and Brooklyn, are accused of trucking in construction and demolition debris and passing it off as clean fill.

At the news conference Monday, Crowley said he would try to secure $500,000 in federal funding to go toward cleaning up the 22-acre fields, of which eight acres have been cleared so far. In the 2001 budget, the congressman said he was able to budget $100,000 for these purposes.

Typically containing pipes, concrete, rebar and chunks of other objects, construction and demolition debris must be brought to designated transfer stations. And since it is generally more expensive to dispose of such debris, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown alleged the contractors brought it to the fields, covering it with a thin layer of topsoil, in order to save themselves about $5 a cubic yard. Over a 300-day period, the contractors are accused of delivering more than 900 truckloads of debris, or 36,700 cubic yards.

As the city continues its cleanup, the authorities said they were investigating as many as six other contractors who may have trucked in the 210,000 tons of debris being removed. Asked whether the investigation touched upon any members of the College Point Sports Association, Raymond Casey, the commissioner of the Trade Waste Commission, declined to comment.

“Wherever [the blame] lies, it may lie,” Crowley said Monday. “If there was any intra-agency action that caused this, that will hopefully come out in the investigation.”

In 1997, inspectors from the city Sanitation Department shut down the fields after discovering the construction and demolition debris. Initially, there were concerns that the landfill was toxic, a fear that scientific tests proved untrue. Nonetheless, an administrative judge upheld the Sanitation Department’s decision to keep the fields shut, forcing hundreds of children to seek out parks elsewhere in Queens to play baseball, basketball, football and soccer.

The brothers who were arrested last week — Francesco Casalino, 42, of Malverne, L.I.; Anthony Casalino, 36, of Howard Beach; and Joseph Casalino, 52, of Howard Beach — were charged with various environmental crimes and falsifying business records. If convicted, the men each face up to four years in prison and fines of $25,000 for each environmental violation.

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

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