by Ayala Ben-Yehuda
The public comment period on the Army Corps of Engineers’ plan to leave mercury untreated in Little Bay ended last week with a civilian advisory group that monitors the process issuing recommendations to the Army and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The Corps of Engineers released a report last month stating that fish and sediment samples taken over a two-year period in the waters off the Fort Totten Coast Guard Station revealed levels of mercury that did not pose a significant threat to public health.
Mercury was first detected 18 years ago at Fort Totten, where the toxic heavy metal was released into the nearby bay via floor drains at Building 615, used in the 19th and 20th centuries for maintenance of mines and torpedoes containing mercury.
About a dozen people attended last Thursday’s meeting of the Fort Totten Coast Guard Station Restoration Advisory Board at PS 169 in Bay Terrace.
The meeting was held at the request of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance to give local residents the opportunity to comment on the Army’s plan, first announced Jan. 16 at a regularly scheduled Restoration Advisory Board meeting in Bayside.
The comment period was also extended to last Thursday from its original date at the request of advisory board chairman Robert LoPinto.
The board recommended that the DEC arrange for signs to be posted along Little Bay advising subsistence fishermen of the state’s suggested limits on fish consumption from the bay, which are based on PCBs, not mercury.
The limits include a “no eat” advisory for striped bass by women of childbearing age and children under age 15; no more than half a pound a week of striped bass for other populations; and no more than one pound a week of American eel and marine bluefish.
The board also recommended that a follow-up fish study, scheduled for five years from now, instead be conducted in three years.
A subject of concern at Thursday’s meeting was the possible stirring up of sediments containing mercury during the ongoing installation of a gas pipeline from Northport to Hunt’s Point under Long Island Sound.
Geraldine Spinella, executive director of the Bayside Historical Society, brought up the subject via a letter circulated at the meeting addressed to David Brouwer, project manager for the Corps of Engineers. The society is headquartered on Fort Totten.
“With all of the [board’s] discussion on the possible disturbance of mercury under the seabed of Little Bay, would it not have been in the interest of the committee to investigate how this pipeline operation would affect the mercury in the very area we are attempting to clean up?” Spinella wrote.
LoPinto did not believe the pipeline posed a threat to Little Bay because it was located out of the immediate area.
Anita Flanagan, a spokeswoman for the Iroquois Pipeline Operating Co., said her company’s project did not involve soil dredging in Little Bay and that the pipeline, once in place, would be covered in sediment.
“All of this was extensively reviewed for potential environmental issues by the DEC” before any permits were issued, Flanagan said.
The Corps of Engineers will release a document responding to public comments sometime this spring, with DEC approval of the Corps’ plan expected in early summer.
Investigation of contaminants in the uplands portion of the Coast Guard property, including pesticides and PCBs, is being handled separately and has not yet reached the public comment phase.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.