By Madina Toure
Community leaders and elected officials have blasted the city Economic Development Corporation for failing to immediately report fuel-contaminated oil it discovered during its Linden Place extension road and wetlands mitigation project in College Point.
Reconstruction of Linden Place between 28th Avenue and 23rd Avenue and 130th Street is complete and open to traffic. The 132nd Street extension, which will connect Linden Place to 20th Avenue, is currently under way.
Residents complained to Community Board 7 last week that they smelled oil throughout College Point.
An anonymous whistleblower notified the state Department of Environmental Conservation that the EDC failed to disclose the fuel it found when it stripped the runway used by the defunct Flushing Airport. Additional liquid petroleum was found at the excavation site of the nearby 132nd Street/Linden Place extension project.
The whistleblower claimed that the EDC told the contractor to continue operations, hiding the contaminated oil in the soil used for park space.
A DEC spokesman said the agency cannot comment on ongoing investigations.
James Cervino, chairman of CB 7’s environmental committee, announced the problem at the board’s monthly meeting Sept. 21.
He was hired by the contractor, Perfetto Enterprises, as an environmental consultant to advise them and help them with testing.
The contractor told him that the engineer hired by the EDC told Perfetto that the agency could continue working because it had a permit and ordered them to put tree mulch in the oil-saturated area.
Cervino said the DEC did not agree with stockpiling petroleum-contaminated soils into a planting berm within the wetlands.
“They (EDC) were going to deal with it by just covering it with filth,” Cervino said.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who held an emergency news conference on 132nd Street and 20th Avenue last week to address the problem, said that although the DEC sent a spill team to inspect the problem Sept. 22, the construction work was still going on in mid-afternoon.
“I’ve been talking to state DEC to not only complete the investigation but to issue a cease-and-desist order to stop working until the full and complete environmental review is done,” Avella said.
The EDC said it was authorized by the DEC to work on the site, noting that it did not instruct anyone to continue working once it became aware of the potential contamination.
The agency said work has stopped at the location while the DEC completes an assessment of the site.
“As soon as we became aware of a potential issue, we immediately began working with the Department of Environmental Conservation to assess the area and determine if additional needs must be addressed in our mitigation efforts,” Christopher Carroll, an EDC spokesman, said in a statement. “In the meantime, no work is ongoing on this portion of the site.”
Arlene Fleishman, president of the Mitchell-Linden Civic Association, said she only knew of residents in the Mitchell Gardens complex in Flushing who noticed the petroleum odor.
“They were affected by the smell,” Fleishman said. “Beyond that, I really haven’t had any other information other than what was reported at the (CB7) meeting.”
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour