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Queens Chronicle

Could Astoria Cove project land be toxic?

Activists call on officials and agencies to refer to possible DEC investigation

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Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:20 am, Thu Jul 3, 2014.

Last week, Community Board 1 unanimously voted against the building proposal for development of Astoria Cove unless the developers agree to several conditions it laid out.

It was deemed a victory by many of the union workers and affordable housing advocates in attendance.

As it turns out, there was one factor that was left unaddressed, a possible investigation of a portion of the site for environmental law violations.

“In 2012, there were two ongoing investigations on the land, one conducted by the [Environmental Protection Agency] and the other by [the Department of Environmental Conservation],” Stephen Benavides, director of research for Laborers’ Local 78, said.

According to Benavides, the agencies were investigating ALR, now known as Tri-State Cleaning Solutions, the former tenants of the site.

The DEC investigation involves alleged illegal dumping of asbestos-containing material as well as use of the site at 801 26 Ave. in Astoria as an illegal transfer point for friable asbestos.

“The developers conducted a limited visual screening of the land,” Benavides said. “This does not provide an accurate idea of what is going on because it’s not only asbestos, there are PCBs and underground petroleum tanks that were closed in the 1990s. In my experience, these things leak.”

During a public hearing CB 1 hosted before voting on the proposal, a woman named Jeanie stood up and voiced her concern over the possible environmental and health risks. She was cut off due to time restraints but was adamant that Alma Realty and the rest of the Astoria Cove developers were making a mistake.

Alma Realty and CB 1 could not be reached for comment.

The DEC could not confirm the existence or status of the investigation.

City Planning also could not confirm it but said it will continue to review the project in accordance with the City Environmental Quality Review provisions.

In accordance with Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, if any information is brought to the department’s attention during the public review process, it will be evaluated and included in the project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement.

But Benavides isn’t so confident.

“A lot of the draft assessments presented to City Planning often become the final draft,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s a lack of due diligence or a developer just ignoring what’s going on, but it happens often.”

Benavides and Build Up NYC — an advocacy group that promotes responsible development — are asking CB 1, City Planning and the Astoria Cove developers to seek an independent assessment of the entire site.

“I think instead of a limited assessment, there should be samples taken,” he said. “We don’t want developers to cut corners and end up putting people in serious risk.”

While the possible contamination on the site is not good, Benavides said it is not so much that a Brownfield application would need to be filed.

“We are actively organizing people in the community and are looking to start a public conversation about this, because we need someone to get involved.”

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