By Cynthia Koons
Questions have swirled around a parcel on the coast of College Point that has been scheduled to become a 172-unit residential development ever since the state approved environmental clean-up plans for the property in May. Area activists criticized the plan because it called for the installation of a plastic sheet beneath the homes to protect residents from the debris of a former landfill that once occupied the site.”What we're asking at this point is asking the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Environmental Protection all to get involved to come up with some kind of comprehensive testing protocol,” Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said. “We have some issues being raised that the testing that the developer did may not have been accurate.”He was joined by state Assemblywoman Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing) and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) in calling on the city, state and federal agencies to test the property at a news conference Monday morning at the site.State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said he had already urged the DEC and DEP to step up their testing of the property.In November, two scientists, funded by the Northeast Queens Historic Preservation Commission, collected samples of the property for biologic examination. The commission was created through Padavan's office to protect the development of the waterfront from College Point to Udall's Cove.Those findings, which have not been publicly released yet, show that there are toxic conditions in the soil, he said.”The essence of it is (the scientists) have found a great deal of toxic conditions as reflected in not only the soil but also in the shellfish and frogs and other things that are part of the environment there,” Padavan said. “So in the marine life and other growth and the compounds that are leeching out into the groundwater, there is a serious problem, which is what we have been supposing all along.”The parcel in question sits between MacNeil Park and a condominium complex. An environmental study released by the developer, College Point Properties, indicated that there were PCBs on the now-overgrown, fenced-in lot.That study by ETG Inc., an environmental consultant hired by the developer, recommends that a vapor barrier be built below ground to prevent gases, liquids and solids from entering home foundations. On undeveloped land, the study calls for the builder to lay a plastic sheet over the ground and cover it with two feet of fresh topsoil to trap any potentially harmful substances from rising to the surface.The state approved the plan, much to the chagrin of area preservationists, after the public comment period ended in May. Representatives from ETG Inc. and College Point Properties could not be reached for comment.The public's awareness about the potential toxicity of the site was heightened in January when a homemade sign appeared on the lot warning residents of the presence of PCBs. No agency, activist or official took credit for the spray-painted banner, which has since come down.”College Point was the victim of a lot of dumping years and years ago,” Mayersohn said. “We're not drawing conclusions, but if it's proven to be contaminated, then people have a right to know that.”A spokeswoman from the state Department of Environmental Conservation said she was confident the developer's excavation would make the land habitable.”When the cleanup of the site is complete, it will be fully protective of public health and the environment,” DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said. “There will be testing at the site as the cleanup continues.”A spokeswoman for the city Department of Environmental Protection, Kerry Gordon, said the city agency does not get involved with testing properties before residential developments are built. That task is left to the DEC, she said.Representatives from the EPA did not return calls for comment.”We need good scientific studies to tell us what the chemicals are underneath our homes and parks,” Crowley said. “We cannot have a situation where, a few years down the line, a future homeowner here is planting a rose bush, for example, and digging in the dirt in his yard … and (he) could be digging into toxic chemicals.”Reach reporter Cynthia Koons by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.