Cleanup at 250 Water St. moves forward

BY GABE HERMAN | As part of a real estate company’s disputed efforts to develop a contaminated parking lot at 250 Water St., New York State has approved its application for a cleanup operation on the site.

The lot has been found to have harmful materials, like mercury, lead, PCB’s and petroleum underneath it.

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation accepted the application for the Brownfield Cleanup Program, which was filed by the Howard Hughes Corporation in November after many contaminants were found to be underneath the paved lot.

The current parking lot, near the South St. Seaport, was the site of a thermometer factory in the 1800s. It is next to the Peck Slip School, P.S. 343, and the two sites are separated by a cobblestone street that the students play on.

The parking lot at 250 Water St., with the Peck Slip School across the street to the right. (Google Maps)

Many in the local community have been opposing development on the parking lot, saying they are fearful of health risks posed by the contaminants. Community Board 1 recently passed a resolution asking the Howard Hughes Corporation to provide specific development plans for the site before going forward with any type of remediation work on the lot.

Saul Scherl, Howard Hughes Corporation president for the New York tristate region, told The New York Times that he thinks the opponents are against any type of development.

“I believe they have an alternative agenda to maintain it forever as a parking lot,” Scherl said.

D.E.C. approved the cleanup application on June 24, and released responses to the local community’s concerns.

The department said it received more than 250 e-mails and letters from local parents and children, along with letters from local politicians, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and Councilmember Margaret Chin, as well as Anthony Notaro, Jr., chairperson of Lower Manhattan’s Community Board 1.

In response to health concerns about potential airborne mercury and lead from excavation, D.E.C. wrote that a health and safety plan, as well as a community air-monitoring plan, would be developed before any work started. These plans would be part of the overall plan for the site, which would have a public comment period, followed by review by D.E.C. and state D.O.H. before approval.

D.E.C. also addressed many locals’ worries about the effects of even short-term airborne exposure to the contaminants.

“The risk for health effects from an environmental contaminant depends on the toxicity of the contaminant and the magnitude, frequency and duration of exposure,” the department wrote. “Measures taken to reduce exposure during remedial activities, along with the community air-monitoring plan, will help ensure that the levels of any site contaminants in air are kept below levels that would constitute a health concern.”

Children First, a group of parents opposed to development at 250 Water St., said it was disappointed by the cleanup application approval.

“Children First will continue to work with the NYSDEC to ensure the health and safety of our children, and that neighboring residents are protected throughout the process,” said Grace Lee, a co-founder of the group. “We appreciate the D.E.C.’s responsiveness so far, and we are encouraged by their recommendation that all remedial work be conducted inside a large temporary structure to prevent off-site migration of airborne contaminants.”

Megan Malvern, another Children First co-founder, said, after the decision, “We will continue to fight for a third party to oversee the remediation of the site. We call on the NYSDEC and our elected officials to provide the community with a Technical Assistance Grant (TAG) to fund an independent engineer to represent the community throughout the process.”