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Photo by Ryan Kelley/QNS
Councilman Robert Holden plants a red flag at a dumping site with contaminated soil on 69th Street on April 17.

When Councilman Robert Holden first learned that a construction project in Middle Village had been halted and the contaminated soil that caused it was being stored near a school, he acted quickly and planted a red flag in the ground to let his constituents know about the issue.

The former civic leader turned lawmaker was frustrated that it took several months for city agencies to notify him of the contamination, and on Aug. 8 he introduced legislation to the City Council that would force those agencies to be more forthcoming in the future.

According to the text, Holden’s bill states that within 24 hours of discovering a contaminant in any city development project, the contractor and overseeing city agencies will be required to notify the local council member, community board and civic associations of the type of contaminant and location it was found; discuss remedial actions being taken to address the contamination; make the information publicly available on the agency’s website; and post signage at the site of the contamination.

“One of the issues that I ran on was for increased transparency from our elected officials and government,” Holden said. “In April, when incidentally informed of soil filled with lead and other contaminants, after nearly six months of it laying across from a school, I immediately acted and relayed this information to my constituents.”

The project that sparked this controversy is the ongoing sewer work on 74th Street and Penelope Avenue. When word spread that workers stopped coming to the site for a long time, Holden called a meeting with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) to figure out why.

The councilman learned that the contractor, CAC Industries, attempted to take the soil it removed from the ground to a fill yard, but they were turned away when the soil proved to have high levels of lead and other contaminants. The contractor then dumped the soil just off 69th Street near All Faiths Cemetery, a mere 50 yards from P.S./I.S. 128, where it remained uncovered for months.

“It was inconceivable that a city project would have no stipulations to which findings such as lead being dumped in front of a school would automatically trigger a line of communication to my office and fellow elected officials, Community Board 5, and local civics,” Holden said.

At the time, the mayor’s office said in a statement that the soil had been tested and was not considered dangerous to the community, but Holden’s call to action worked nonetheless. The city had the soil removed from the site within a week.

The lawmaker’s new bill also states that if a contaminant is found within 1,500 feet of a school, the agency must additionally notify the principals of the school directly.

“What happened near P.S./I.S. 128 should never happen again, and this bill would assure absolute transparency,” Holden said. “The government and elected officials work for you, not the other way around.”

The bill has been referred to the Council Committee on Governmental Operations for review.

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