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Feds seek public comment on Ft. Totten clean-up plan

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Come one, come all to Bayside Jan. 16 to see and give comment on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to clean mercury contamination from Fort Totten’s Little Bay.

Just be aware that the Army, which has found small amounts of mercury in the bay’s environment, does not plan to do much to remove the chemical.

The Jan. 16 public meeting at the Adria Hotel in Bayside is a huge leap forward for the Army Corps’ project at Fort Totten, a Civil War-era fort where mercury contamination was discovered in 1985.

There has been no movement in the effort to clean up Little Bay in at least three years, during which time representatives of the Army Corps and the civilian Coast Guard Restoration Advisory Board, or RAB, have poured over countless scientific studies of the bay’s marine life and sediment with little result.

The chemical was discovered on the Coast Guard portion of Fort Totten, which was divided between that agency and the U.S. Army. The Army vacated the fort in 1995 but agreed to take care of the contamination in 1998.

The mercury is believed to have come from Building 615 on the fort, which was used in the 19th century for the manufacture and repair of searchlights and in the 1920s for torpedo and mine repair. Both searchlights and torpedoes contained mercury.

Ever since, the Army Corps of Engineers — the agency handling the investigation of the contaminants — has wrangled with RAB members who have sought more testing for contaminants at the fort and some of whom have demanded the government dredge the bay to remove the mercury.

“The mercury ... does not pose a significant threat to human health or the environment,” the Army Corps said in a draft of its proposed plan to take care of the Little Bay contaminants. “Therefore, no remedial action is proposed as the remedy for this portion of the site. However, additional fish and shellfish tissue sampling will be performed after a period of five years ... to confirm that the mercury continues to pose no significant threat.”

David Brouwer, project manager for the Army Corps, has repeatedly said dredging Little Bay would most likely do more harm than good and that the amount of mercury present in the Bay does not appear to be a health threat.

The Jan. 16 meeting was scheduled to give the public a chance to comment on the plan, which is available online at www.nan.usace.army.mil or at the Bay Terrace branch of the Queensborough Public Library.

The Army Corps said a final decision on the cleanup would be made “only after careful consideration of all comments received during the public comment period.”

The Adria Hotel is at 220-33 Northern Blvd. and the Jan. 16 meeting was slated to begin at 7 p.m. The public can submit comments on the clean up plan between Jan. 2 and Feb. 2 in writing to Brouwer by Feb. 2.

Written comments can be sent to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, 190 State Highway 18, Suite 202, East Brunswick, New Jersey 08816.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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