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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Councilman Robert Holden plants a red flag at a dumping site with contaminated soil on 69th Street on April 17.

Just off the sidewalk on 69th Street near its intersection with Juniper Valley Road and 69th Place, Councilman Robert Holden beckoned to one of his staff members to hand him something as his press conference was coming to a close.

The object he was looking for went unnoticed until now, blending in as a possible material from the waste transfer site along the street. When it entered his grasp, the shiny silver pole stood taller than the councilman, and a large red flag spread wide as the wind caught it. With a swift clink, Holden planted it by his side.

“We’ll plant this in the ground as a red flag for what this project is about and where it’s gone,” Holden said.

The project in question is a sewer reconstruction on Penelope Avenue and nearby cross streets just south of Juniper Valley Park, where work has been halted since December 2017 with no explanation. The project was 75 percent complete before work stopped on 74th Street between Juniper Boulevard South and Juniper Valley Road, Holden said.

When Holden recently met with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) to find out why, he called an emergency press conference on April 17 to alert the public of what he discovered.

The contractor for the sewer project, CAC Industries, was originally supposed to take the soil dug up during the project to another fill yard, but it was turned away when tests showed it was contaminated with dangerously high amounts of lead, according to Holden. CAC then started dumping the soil at the 69th Street site, where large mounds of it sat uncovered for months merely 50 yards away from P.S./I.S. 128.

The DDC also told Holden that the project might have to be re-bid to find a new contractor.

“We’re concerned on a number of levels,” Holden said during the press conference. “We’re concerned for our children. We’re concerned for the neighborhood. I’ve gotten complaints from the people over here with the amount of dust.”

Holden is now working with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office to get the contaminated soil removed from the 69th Street lot, which is leased by CAC Industries. The mayor’s office also told Holden that it will be testing the air quality in the school, and Holden is calling for blood tests to check for lead to be provided to any child whose parents request it.

The mayor’s office also told Holden that levels of lead were found in the water that they are addressing, and the mayor’s office will also inspect the construction site.

In a statement released after the press conference, City Hall spokesperson Olivia Lapeyrolerie said that they are being overly cautious even though their test results contradict what the DDC told Holden.

“This soil has been tested and does not pose a hazard to students, school staff or community residents,” Lapeyrolerie said. “We are safely removing the soil within the next week out of an abundance of caution.”

Holden thanked the mayor several times for giving his full attention to this issue, but he made it clear that he is not satisfied with those lower test results. If the contractor knew that there was lead present and left the dirt uncovered, Holden said, “It’s criminal, and to leave it uncovered across from a school is more criminal.”

Tony Nunziato, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, also spoke at the press conference to voice his frustrations and condemn city agencies for their apparent negligence that has been evident in many projects in the area.

“It seems like all the city agencies, DOT not following up on the bridge on Fresh Pond Road, making it fail to bad contractors, we have no oversight,” Nunziato said. “DDC watching this, where is the oversight? We are a community. We’re concerned about our children, but we’re also concerned about our seniors and all the people who live and reside in this county.”

Though the mounds of contaminated soil are now covered with a clear plastic sheet, Holden said that only happened after he raised the initial red flag with the DDC, and it does little good.

The press conference came the day after a heavy rainstorm, and peering through the fence around the dump site revealed muddy puddles of runoff water all around the covered mounds.

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