A Queens developer and a Massachusetts environmental company dumped unauthorized material onto a sprawling Whitestone site where more than 50 houses are planned at the same time they were supposed to be cleaning it under the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, a state agency revealed this week.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued an order on consent, a legally enforceable violation, to Barone Management, a Whitestone-based construction and development firm, and EBI Consulting, an environmental consulting firm.
The violation came after Barone Management, headed by Whitestone’s Scott Barone, and EBI were supposed to remove contaminated soil at the proposed site of 52 single-family homes, at 151-45 6th Road. They were then supposed to put clean soil in its place to ensure the ground was safe for residential use.
But an investigation by DEC revealed that along with that clean soil, the companies dumped unapproved material from other construction sites around the city onto the property, according to the department.
They were issued a $150,000 fine and ordered to submit a new plan on how to get the material, which has not been specifically identified, out of the site, the department said. Half of the fine will be nixed when the property is clean again, according to DEC.
“The plan will describe all activities necessary to investigate, remove and properly dispose of all unapproved materials brought onto the site, as well as all pre-existing site materials that were mixed or commingled with the unapproved materials,” DEC said.
The property is the largest vacant development site in Queens, and boasts waterfront views of Long Island Sound. Months of speculation surrounded who would develop the property after it hit the market.
Barone and a collection of anonymous investors purchased the plot in September, and this week pledged to fully cooperate with fixing the site, according to EBI. They call themselves 151-45 Sixth Road Whitestone Partners LLC.
“The new owner is ready and willing to complete the required remedial actions to implement the work plan upon DEC approval,” said Charles Losinger, of EBI, based in Burlington, Mass. “The new owner is committed to complying with all environmental laws and to cooperating with DEC and all other applicable governmental authorities to remedy the issue.”
Barone contends the violation amounts to more of a record-keeping mistake — essentially that the records they submitted to DEC describing the imported construction materials were not detailed enough, which is why the soil has to be removed.
As part of DEC’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, which provides incentives such as tax breaks to developers who clean up toxic properties by following a set of state regulations, the two companies began their work in Whitestone in August 2010 by agreeing to a document called a Remedial Work Plan. It stipulated which kinds of materials could be used as replacement soil on the property.
Specifically, the plan forbids solid waste material from other industrial sites and material from contaminated sites or potentially contaminated sites from being used as replacement soil, according to the plan. Any non-virgin soil was subject to higher standards of documentation.
Barone initially hired Restoration & Conservation Environmental, a company that provides fill material, to provide unadulterated replacement soil, Barone said in a September interview. Logs were provided to TimesLedger Newspapers indicating where each truckload of that earth came from, its chemical makeup and when it was delivered to the site — information required by the Remedial Work Plan.
After this process was completed in July 2011, a second round of soil was put on top, according to Barone. This top soil would be more conducive to growing vegetation, which would then prevent erosion, he said. Barone indicated DEC would also have the required records for the second round of soil importation.
TimesLedger submitted a Freedom of Information Request for these records, but DEC could not locate any, saying no documents showing a chain of custody had been provided to it for the second round of replacement soil. Barone disputes this claim.
The department was nearly ready to sign off on the project in August this year after it deemed the soil replacement went according to plan, according to DEC authorities. That would have given the green light for development with the unauthorized material on the site, but about the same time, questions were raised about illegal dumping at the site.
TimesLedger and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) both received complaints from residents to this effect. Avella sent a letter to DEC, launching the investigation.
DEC told TimesLedger in August that no unapproved material was found on the site, though this was contradicted by their subsequent investigation.
In September, DEC performed chemical tests on the soil in question and found it not to be contaminated.
At that time, Barone had taken umbrage at the suggestion that any unapproved material had somehow found its way to the site.
“Unless somebody is illegally dumping with a helicopter, it’s feasibly impossible,” he said.
Avella was informed of the results last week, and is waiting on a formal report from the department.
The property had originally been approved for development in 2005, but was foreclosed on by a bank and EBI was anointed the court-appointed receiver for the property. It, in turn, hired Barone Management to be the site manager.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2012 Community News Group
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