By Jeremy Walsh
The Juniper Park Civic has enlisted the help of a marine biologist wellâˆ’known among Queens environmentalist circles as the group continues to butt heads with the city School Construction Authority over ground contamination at the site of a planned high school in Maspeth.
James Cervino of the Pace University Environmental Law School and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, criticized the city agency for not including more data about contamination levels in its initial environmental impact report for the site, which has been home to a Restaurant Depot warehouse and a paper box factory. The report cited nearby gas storage and other industrial facilities as the likely source of the contamination.
“At this point, let’s work with what we do have,” Cervino said. “Hand over the tests. Let biologists see. Engineers don’t know about liver cells.”
City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (Dâˆ’Middle Village) said the city has given her the entire study and she is reviewing it.
“I, like Mr. Cervino, have legitimate concerns about this school, and that is why I voted against it,” said Council Member Elizabeth Crowley in a statement. “If the Department of Education continues with their plan to build the school at this location, I will ensure the school is safe for the students.”
City Department of Education spokesman Will Havemann said he was not aware of any plans to meet with Cervino regarding the soil testing and noted the agency proposed the Maspeth site only after establishing it would be safe for students and staff.
“The soil conditions referenced in the site’s formal environmental assessment are common to urban construction sites,” he said. “The Maspeth High School will be equipped with a precautionary barrier system to ensure that no contaminants can enter the school building.”
But Cervino worried that the device used to safely ventilate toxic fumes that could emanate from the soil might fail.
“It’s really a pipe with a stupid little fan,” Cervino said. “If it breaks, who pays for it? If it breaks, will there be an alarm to notify the parents, the children, the teachers, that they are leaking toxins in their classrooms? I don’t think so.”
Havemann said the DOE conducts yearly reviews of its facilities that would detect equipment failure. He said he was not aware of any fume ventilation systems failing at city schools.
“If something were to occur with this, and we have no reason to believe that it would, then there’s a process,” he said.
Cervino previously helped community groups in Jamaica fight the plan to build a new building for Gateway High School on land that previously contained gasoline tanks. In June 2007, the SCA withdrew its proposal before a full Council vote to work further with the community.
How much Cervino will be able to accomplish with a plan that already has the Council’s blessing remains to be seen.
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by eâˆ’mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 154.