Officials with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on Friday began investigating an empty lot on Library Avenue in Westhampton Beach, a potential site for a temporary trailer for the Westhampton Free Library during its expansion, after receiving complaints that the area smelled of petroleum.
Eastern Environmental Solutions, an environmental remediation and contracting company based in Eastport, removed 40 to 60 cubic yards of contaminated soil, a small amount of petroleum, and three leaching pools—a drain that receives liquid waste and stormwater from the site—according to Michael Flynn, the president of the company.
Westhampton Beach developer Oakley Gentry, who has owned the lot since 2004, called the Eastport company to have it clean up the contamination, according to the DEC. He explained that two of the leaching pools on the property, most recently home to Raynor’s Garage, an service station, were contaminated with oil.
“We’re going to have the property wrapped up and in good shape within the next couple of days,” Mr. Gentry said.
He added that he expects the sampling on the soil to be completed before the end of the week. The Suffolk County Department of Health Services was overseeing the project, but officials there could not be reached for comment this week.
Westhampton Beach Village Police stated that they have three complaints on record since 2005 about the smell of petroleum emanating from the site, and some neighbors of the property who wished to remain anonymous said there has always been an oil smell due to the former garage.
The DEC has two documented oil spills on record, one in October 2002 and one in April 2005, for the 28 Library Avenue lot, according to Aphrodite Montalvo, a spokeswoman for the DEC. She noted that the contaminated soil from both of the previous spills was excavated and removed, and that the site was backfilled with clean soil.
DEC officials could not say how long it took to remove the contaminated soil in the previous two spills, as they do not know how much soil was actually contaminated. Ms. Montalvo said the amount of time to remove contamination can range from a day to a year in some circumstances. She added that the DEC cannot determine the exact amount of petroleum that was spilled in the previous two incidents because it had seeped into the soil.
“We do not know if the spill is associated with the former gas station,” Ms. Montalvo said. Raynor’s Garage has been closed since at least 2002, and Mr. Gentry had the garage demolished in 2005.
While he was demolishing the garage, Mr. Gentry said he discovered contaminated soil, but had it removed and backfilled with clean soil.
He said this week that he had secured a building permit from the village and obtained the necessary approvals from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services to build a home at 28 Library Avenue. He explained, however, that doing so wouldn’t have made sense for him financially at the time.
Now, Mr. Gentry said, he is planning to apply to the Department of Health Services for a permit to install a sanitary system on the property. Mr. Gentry did say he is applying for a new sanitary system in expectation of the Westhampton Free Library establishing a temporary facility there.
Hank Tucker, a trustee for the library, said library trustees are still planning on having their temporary site at 28 Library Avenue, and that they are concerned about people’s health in regard to the contaminant. Depending on the extent of contamination, the project, set to begin this spring, could possibly be delayed or, in a worst-case scenario, officials would have to find another site for the temporary trailer.
“If the site’s cleaned up and gets a clean bill of health, that’s great,” Mr. Tucker said. “It’s good to move a contaminant.”
Last fall, a $7.8 million referendum was approved by the public to raze the existing library and build a new one. The expansion project calls for the razing of the one-story library and annex, both of which are located on the west side of Library Avenue, and replacing them with a 14,350-square-foot structure.
During the 18-month construction period, the library is planning on operating out of a trailer, which is slated to be placed at one of several potential sites in the village. The preferred site among library officials has been the property now under investigation because it is located across the street and just south of the existing building.
“This shouldn’t affect the library plans at all,” Mr. Gentry said. “I have to deal with the situation as the unfortunate property owner cleaning up someone’s carelessness. I have made every attempt to be a good steward on the property.”
The Westhampton Free Library has an application before the Westhampton Beach Zoning Board of Appeals to place an approximately 5,000-square-foot trailer on the lot for 18 months while a new library is being constructed. Chris Bean, the chairman of the zoning board, said he expects a decision to be made on the library’s application for a variance at the board’s May 15 meeting.
The library is still awaiting approval from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, as well as the Westhampton Beach Planning Board, to move forward with its temporary trailer. Library officials still hope to break ground on the project before the summer.
Mr. Tucker went on to say that the library doesn’t “really have any other location to put the modulars,” or the temporary facility that will house the library. He added that the library looked at some storefronts within the village, such as the Capital One bank on Main Street, the National Building on Sunset Avenue, and the Southampton Town Senior Center on Mill Road, but that the library is now focusing on the 28 Library Avenue location.
“If something else for the library popped up, we’d would entertain it as a possible location,” Mr. Tucker said.