About 100 feet from Danielle and Gibson Craig’s Pollywiggle Lane home in Pleasantville, a tall, clanging pile driver repeatedly hammers pressure-treated wood piles to help raise a 1.3-mile section of the Saw Mill River Parkway.
Ear-splitting decibel levels from the work, reaching 90 dB in some instances, according to Gibson Craig’s decibel counter, begin as early as 7:20 a.m. and lasts past 5 p.m. most days except Sunday.
But the disturbance doesn’t end there. The contractors for the state Department of Transportation (DOT) then prepare for the night crew with less noisy tasks but with floodlights illuminating the area until 1 or 2 a.m.
The nearly constant noise of the pile driver during daytime hours and upheaval caused by the lights, generators and other equipment at night have severely impacted the Craigs’ quality of life and dozens or perhaps hundreds of other residents in Pleasantville and Mount Pleasant.
Craig, an engineer who works as a construction manager for a private developer, said the noise and lights are just two problems. He questions whether the DOT has improperly designated the project as a minor highway rehabilitation project to avoid conducting a sound impact study.
The agency may also be skirting state environmental regulations, Craig charged, by failing to submit an Environmental Impact Statement in close proximity to a section of the Saw Mill River that’s designated a Class A wetland and a Class B trout habitat. His estimate of 5,000 to 6,000 pressure-treated piles could possibly be affecting nearby residents’ drinking wells, he said.
Craig charged that the DOT is apparently its own regulator with little to no oversight.
“They’re able to say this is a minor project with minimal impacts to the environment and there’s nobody to countercheck them,” Craig said. “You have to sue them in an Article 78 lawsuit, and this project they’re still saying the plans are under design. So, really, who’s the chicken and who’s the egg here? Without seeing what’s happening, how could you even prepare an Article 78 motion? There’s nothing available.”
He recently started an online petition drive that has collected 410 names as of Monday morning.
Last week, Mount Pleasant Supervisor Carl Fulgenzi fired off a letter to DOT informing the agency of repeated complaints from residents who live on streets near the parkway. In fact, Fulgenzi said he lives about three miles away from the work site and he can hear the noise in the background at his home.
While acknowledging that the project to raise the roadway six feet has been necessary for decades to alleviate the flood-prone stretch from being inundated during heavy rain, there is more the DOT can be doing to make life more bearable for residents, he said.
“They make temporary sound barriers that they could be using to help muffle some of the sounds of the banging of the pilings,” Fulgenzi said. “David Smyth, our (town) engineer, said they’ve done it in the past, they can do it now. I’m hoping that they do.”
The project from just south of Manville Road down to Marble Avenue in Thornwood is work that is designed to increase safety and improve resiliency during storms.
When asked about the concerns from town officials and local residents, the DOT issued written responses saying that it is in compliance with all regulations but provided few specifics.
“The safety and well-being of the community and the surrounding environment is always a top priority for the Department of Transportation and none of the materials or construction methods on this project pose a threat to drinking water sources,” the statement read in part. “All construction activities and materials in this project adhere to federal and state regulations.”
It was also mentioned that the DOT has worked with its contractor to minimize noise and disruptions to the surrounding communities as much as possible by limiting pile driving to daytime hours. Noise levels at the work site are monitored and there has been an outreach manager to allow the department to keep local officials and community members updated on progress.
Furthermore, overnight work is required to complete the project more quickly and reduce impacts on motorists and local communities.
The DOT reported that a noise impact study was not required for this project “since the roadway alignment was not being moved closer to any adjoining dwellings or other potential noise receptors.” Standard erosion control methods, including silt fences and traps, have been installed along work zones, the department’s correspondence noted. The site will be landscaped and adjoining wetlands restored once work is completed.
Craig said he was told the pile driving will last about nine months along the 1.3-mile stretch. The DOT forecasts all of the Westchester projects, including bridge replacements on East Lincoln Avenue in Mount Vernon and Pelham and on U.S. Route 1 over the Mamaroneck River, to be completed by Fall 2022.
At the Mar. 18 Saw Mill River Watershed Advisory Board meeting, the DOT was scheduled to have representatives on hand but failed to show. Smyth, the Town of Mount Pleasant engineer, said the project does more than impact local residents.
“It symbolizes DOT working with locals on a project such as this and I think it’s just good experience to know how the DOT will work with locals on a very large infrastructure project,” Smyth said.
Steven Kavee, chair of the town’s Conservation Advisory Council, recommended a policy review be undertaken to address how DOT does not need to apply for a wetlands permit. Helen Meurer, chair of Pleasantville’s Conservation Advisory Council, said it has been alarming to see the wetlands buffer being used for storage and equipment.
“The fact that they are not paying attention to the actual wetland areas is very disturbing,” she said.
Meanwhile, Danielle and Gibson Craig and scores of other residents on the east and west sides of the parkway have potentially months of noise ahead. The Craigs said they understand the importance of the project, but residents are being ignored by DOT.
Danielle Craig, who works for a communications firm, said with so many people working from home because of the pandemic, trying to accomplish their tasks has been problematic. Their three-year-old daughter has also been home since her pre-school has been closed.
“It’s horrible,” Danielle Craig said. “As most jobs are, I have a pretty high-stress job and it’s just made my life a form or torture hearing this every day. I have nowhere to go.”
Gibson Craig said the lack of noise mitigation efforts, disregard for the environment and poor communication on the part of DOT has been infuriating.
“They didn’t have the decency to bring us earplugs,” he said.