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Clean-up plan for Totten could get public hearing

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Two months from now the excruciatingly slow process of investigating and possibly cleaning up contaminants at Bayside’s Fort Totten could sprint forward with a public hearing outlining details of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan for Little Bay.

Or it could not.

Whether or not a public hearing is scheduled all depends on how fast the Army Corps and the state Department of Environmental Conservation can review and approve a Corps of Engineers proposal for cleaning up mercury in Little Bay.

At a Coast Guard Restoration Advisory Board meeting last Thursday at Bayside’s Adria Hotel, representatives of both government agencies said it may take them each about 30 days to review the corps’ plan, but neither could guarantee the 60-day time frame.

David Brouwer, project manager for the Corps of Engineers, said his agency’s proposed work plan for cleaning contaminants in Little Bay was submitted to the state DEC in mid-August.

“We’re waiting for them to comment and give it back to us,” he said. “If the state gives its OK, the plan will be released to the public.”

Jonathan Greco, a representative of the state DEC, said the release to the public and the public hearing would then be scheduled — a significant step in the clean-up process.

“Generally speaking, when we say something is suitable for release, from a technical standpoint we agree with it,” Greco said.

Mercury was discovered at Fort Totten in 1985 by the U.S. Coast Guard, which shared the Civil War-era base with the Army. Corps of Engineers officials said the metal was present after years of repairs to mercury-filled torpedo guidance systems, which were maintained at the fort. The Army, which vacated the base in 1995, agreed to remediate the mercury in May 1998.

For the past several years, the Coast Guard Restoration Advisory Board, a civilian group, has been working with the Corps of Engineers and several state agencies to investigate the extent of the contamination at the Coast Guard section of Fort Totten.

Dogged by infighting and the generally slow pace of government operations, the Coast Guard Restoration Advisory Board has made little to no progress in actually initiating the cleanup at Fort Totten.

The Coast Guard Restoration Advisory Board’s accomplishments so far have come in the form of getting the Army Corps to do extensive testing for contaminants in the waters of Little Bay and the surrounding uplands area of the Coast Guard property.

An investigation of pollution in the uplands area was being handled separately from the proposal for Little Bay, Brouwer said. No time frame has been set for that investigation.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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