Hunts Place Work Resumes in Chappaqua as Residents Seethe
Remediation work to cover toxic chemicals at 54 Hunts Place in Chappaqua where 28 affordable housing units will be built by Conifer Realty resumed Friday following a 16-day shutdown because of severe odors.
Despite renewed complaints from residents, New Castle Supervisor Robert Greenstein said he has confidence that between town’s consultant and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the placement of four more sensors at the roughly one-third of an acre parcel proper oversight is in place.
“We’re all very concerned about harmful substances on a daily basis but it’s being monitored,” Greenstein said. “The equipment that’s being used has been tested and calibrated and our consultant has said that that equipment is definitely acceptable.
“The situation is being controlled,” he continued. “That’s not to say there won’t be any smell but the odor remediation seems to be working and we’re monitoring all the sensors.”
Greenstein said completion of the cleanup is expected to last 12 to 14 work days. The property had been the site of the former Chappaqua Coal and Fuel and Humble Oil.
Work was stopped on Aug. 2, a day after residents and passersby reported to town officials that there were strong odors. The town contacted the DEC, the agency overseeing the brownfield cleanup operation, which ordered the shutdown.
The town’s consultant, the WCD Group, which was retained following the work stoppage, has reviewed the Revised Remedial Action Excavation Approach, Revised Community Air Monitoring Plan and Community Emergency Response Plan, Greenstein said. The site was inspected and WCD interviewed on-site personnel familiar with the monitoring equipment and excavation schedule, he said.
Additional steps being taken include an air monitoring station placed between the excavation area and World Cup Gymnastics on Hunts Place, which also houses a nursery school; odor suppressing foam and spray to accompany excavation; and one off-site air monitoring station in each direction on the property.
According to Greenstein, the town’s consultant, Paul Ciminello of the WCD Group, reported faint to mild petroleum odors on Hunts Place and Quaker Street on Friday morning shortly after work resumed. There were slightly stronger odors to the north. However, the recorded levels from on-site stationary sensors through the Photoionization detector (PID), an instrument that measures gas levels, registered at 0.8 parts per million, well below the state’s guidelines. Ciminello reported to the town that his reading was 0.5 parts per million.
But some residents remain disturbed that odors were noticeable almost immediately after work restarted. Chappaqua resident Will Wedge, who was among those that reported odor problems on Aug. 1, said he and other residents are far from satisfied with DEC’s response and the level of oversight.
Wedge, who said he is in the construction management business and has been professionally involved with 15 to 20 abatement projects, visited the site on Friday morning on his way to the train and counted 10 to 12 dump trucks hauling material from the site. He said he was troubled that Conifer-Lechase Construction LLC was allowed to hire its own firm to do the abatement creating a potential conflict of interest.
Furthermore, there was no DEC representative at the site, the town’s consultant didn’t have equipment set up yet and there was no signage on the fencing surrounding the property. On Saturday, Wedge filed a formal complaint with the New Castle Police Department.
He surmised that DEC may be allowing the contractor to cut corners to move along the controversial project, which has been a lightning rod for criticism since shortly after plans to build the affordable housing were announced in 2010.
“It is in their interest to do as little as possible as fast as possible and sail it under the radar as much as possible because they save themselves money,” said Wedge, who is concerned about the presence of benzene and other toxins.
On Saturday morning, another town resident, Maggie Christ, posted on the New Castle Community Discussion Facebook page a letter sent by her husband to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos that urged work be once again halted until odors can be brought under control.
The letter also called for public meetings involving town officials, DEC, Conifer-Lechase and residents and for the contractor to provide proper signage outside the site to inform the public what is going on.
“I strongly urge DEC to stop Conifer-Lechase’s work at the site now until these important matters of public health and safety are more fully and successfully addressed,” the letter stated. “Public school starts in 17 days and hundreds of children are at risk of exposure to airborne toxic (volatile organic compounds) and known carcinogens.”
Phone calls and e-mails placed to DEC since Wednesday were not returned.
Greenstein, who has been adamantly opposed to the project since before his 2013 election along with the remainder of the town board, said officials are doing everything to ensure public safety.
“We all know this project stinks – I’ll say it again – but at this point all we can do is make sure the residents’ concerns are being addressed and nobody’s in jeopardy, and I feel that’s happening right now,” Greenstein said. “We’re working very aggressively and making sure that nobody’s health is being put in jeopardy and doing our best to keep our residents informed.”
But with strong odors having returned, residents aren’t convinced.
“It’s a simple fact of chemistry, ask any chemist: if you smell it, the toxin is there,” Wedge said.
Martin has more than 30 years experience covering local news in Westchester and Putnam counties, including a frequent focus on zoning and planning issues. He has been editor-in-chief of The Examiner since its inception in 2007. Read more from Martin’s editor-author bio here. Read Martin’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/martin-wilbur2007/