State, Keyspan ink toxic cleanup pact

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Three toxic brownfields in Williamsburg will be cleaned up by Keyspan thanks to a deal between the energy giant and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

All three sites are highly sought after by developers, despite once housing fuel refineries that leaked toxic coal tar into the soil. The last site closed down in New York in 1972.

The sites are:

• Williamsburg Works on North 12th Street between Kent Avenue and the East River. This brownfield, which will one day be the home of Bushwick Inlet Park, was once surrounded by oil refineries on three sides. It manufactured gas until the mid-1900s.

• Wythe Avenue Holding Station on 12th Street and Wythe Avenue. From roughly 1900–1950, the station stored — and leaked — gas. It sat dormant for a decade until commercial developers began building on the site. Now the station, which is just a block from McCarren Park, is nearly entirely covered with businesses and industrial buildings.

• Scholes Street Holding Station on Scholes Street near Morgan Avenue. Built to store gas more than 100 years ago, the site was used only until the middle of the 1900s. A chemical storage company now occupies the site.

The cleanup is expected to take several years and will be followed by extensive study of soil conditions. Karen Young, a spokeswoman for the Downtown-based Keyspan, said the company would “work closely with the owners, local officials and the community” as it moves forward with the state-supervised cleanup.

“Keyspan is one of the most experienced utilities in conducting investigations and remediation of former manufactured gas plants sites and will bring this expertise to these sites,” said Young.

The buried toxins do not present an immediate danger to people who use these sites, according to state records. Typically, the chemicals are only dangerous when inhaled or eaten, but they are often buried too far underground for that, experts said.

“The agreement is good and bad,” said Evan Thies, who is chair of Community Board 1’s Environment Committee. “It’s good they’re paying attention to such a huge environmental project, but it’s bad because there appears to be no timetable for these cleanups.

“It’s the same problem we have with the agreement ExxonMobil made to clean up the Greenpoint oil spill,” Thies added. “There are no benchmarks so that they can be held accountable.”

State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis vowed to hold Keyspan’s feet to the fire.

“[The state] will continue to hold Keyspan and other utilities that have left behind this history of contamination accountable for the environmental impacts,” he said.

Keyspan will bear the cost, though an amount is not yet known, Young said.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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