Whitestone civic leader calls for increased transparency as state agency plans ‘public session’ for controversial site

Photos by Suzanne Monteverdi/QNS

As a state agency plans to have an information session about a hotly contested Whitestone site, a local group continues its call for transparency.

On April 12, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will hold “informal public availability sessions” about the Waterpointe Brownfield site at 151-45 Sixth Road. Members of the public are invited to “drop by anytime during the sessions to discuss the site and ask questions,” according to an emailed invitation. Sessions will run from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Moakyang Presbyterian Church.

The near-12 acre site, formerly an industrial zone, was re-mediated by developers Edgestone Group LLC under the DEC’s Brownfield Cleanup program to make way for 52 single-family homes. The community was outraged after the state agency granted developers a certificate of completion — which makes them eligible for certain tax credits — for less stringent remediation work at the site.

Late last year, it was announced developers achieved a “Track 4” cleanup instead of the initially agreed upon and more intensive “Track 2.″ Community board 7 members and local activists raised concerns about the harmful toxins being left behind.

Alfredo Centola, president of We Love Whitestone civic association, first heard about the upcoming session from a member who forwarded the email to him.

“[The DEC] promised a public session months and months ago and they never delivered,” Centola said. “Our civic association has not received anything formally from DEC.”

The civic president raised concerns with the format of the information sessions. Many residents will not have the necessary background information about the project to pose informed questions, he said. There will also be no record of the answers state representatives give each individual resident.

“It’s redundant, because a lot of residents will ask the same questions,” Centola said. “You’re not going to be able to hear your neighbors questions or the DEC’s responses.”

In response, Centola is asking residents to show up between 7 and 7:30 p.m. that night to collectively demand a more transparent session.

“If they really want to be transparent, they should have an open forum where they can address the crowd as a whole” he said.

Local lawmakers were left feeling hopeful after a meeting with the state agency and developers in March. Members of Community Board 7 and the Greater Whitestone Taxpayers Civic Association were also in attendance.

At the January We Love Whitestone civic meeting, members discussed pursuing legal action against the state agency and developers. Public Advocate Letitia James, who was also in attendance, said she would support the endeavor.

Centola said the civic group is still in conversation with the public advocate’s office and exploring its options.

“As a taxpaying citizen, you expect more from your government agencies,” Centola said. “I don’t see the transparency here.”

Moakyang Presbyterian Church is located at 12-25 Clintonville St. Residents can view the DEC fact sheet outlining the project’s cleanup requirements here.

The Waterpointe site was originally purchased for $25 million in 2005 by developer Bayrock Group, who later went bankrupt after they were fined by DEC for transporting toxic soil into the already contaminated site.

After purchasing the land in 2011 for $11 million, Edgestone developers originally sought to build over 100 residences at the site; however, they later changed their plan after protests from the community.


More from Around New York