Suffolk earmarks funds to clean up two sites at Gabreski Airport


Suffolk County has appropriated nearly $600,000 to clean up two contaminated properties at Francis S. Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, and officials are expediting work on one of the sites because it is located on land that will be cleared to accommodate a new business and technology park.

The Suffolk County Legislature officially earmarked $583,000 in late December to finance the remediation of the two polluted sites, according to Carrie Meek Gallagher, the commissioner of environment and energy for the county.

The first site that will be cleaned up at the county-owned airport is a former bus depot, located on the western side of the facility, that was polluted by jet fuel, according to officials. The groundwater contamination is located on land that will serve as the future home of the Hampton Business and Technology Park, a 53-acre center that will house technology-based companies. The county expects to break ground on the complex later this year.

The second contaminated site once served as a police canine kennel and is located on the southeastern side of the airport, Ms. Gallagher said. She noted that the site is polluted with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that were used in transformers when the airport served as a base for the U.S. Air Force during World War II.

The actual remediation work will not begin for at least another six months, Ms. Gallagher added, because the county needs at least three months to complete more groundwater sampling at the former bus depot site to determine the extent of contamination. The county will need an additional three months to work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on the final remediation plans.

“In order to move forward, we need an action plan that will say how it will be remediated,” explained Aphrodite Montalvo, a spokeswoman for DEC. “They cannot move forward until we’re given an action plan.”

Ms. Montalvo said the contamination at Gabreski Airport is not affiliated with the Speonk Solvent Plume, a 1.5-mile-long swath of contaminated groundwater that DEC officials are now investigating. The exact source and extent of that contamination has not yet been determined.

County officials, meanwhile, said they plan to move as quickly as possible in taking groundwater samples at the first site, formerly known as the Baumann bus depot, to make way for the 485,000-square-foot Hampton Business and Technology Park, which has been in the works for more than five years. A 70-foot-by-170-foot section of land at the site is contaminated with jet fuel that features a mix of kerosene and gasoline, according to Ms. Gallagher.

That remediation project is expected to cost about $222,000, according to a press release issued by the county.

Ms. Gallagher said Monday that she did not know when the actual cleanup would begin. Additionally, she said the county has not yet selected a firm to remediate the property, so she does not yet know how the jet fuel will be removed. P.W. Grosser Consulting, which has offices in Bohemia, is currently serving as the engineering consultant for the project, Ms. Gallagher noted.

“We would like the sampling done and remediation done as quickly as possible so we do not delay any development on the site,” Ms. Gallagher said. “We don’t foresee this being a problem because they can work around the site. It is not right in the middle of the park.”

The county plans to spend the remaining $361,000 to clean up PCB contamination at the former canine kennel. Ms. Gallagher noted that the pollution has not reached the groundwater. The canine kennel property will remain undeveloped once it has been cleaned because it falls within the Pine Barrens Core Area, according to Ms. Gallagher.

Melville-based Rechler Equity Partners previously stated that ground would be broken on the Hampton Business and Technology Park in 2009. The complex is expected to be home to film, television, and digital media companies, as well as businesses involved in homeland security, alternative energy, and environmental research and development.

“We are finalizing our agreement with Suffolk County and hope to break ground this year,” said Gregg Rechler, managing partner for Rechler Equity Partners. He added that the company still has to secure approval from Southampton Town, as the site is part of the town’s Airport Planned Development District.

The two sites at Gabreski Airport will be cleaned up through the Suffolk County Brownfields pilot program, which provides money for the remediation of land that can eventually be used for other purposes, according to a press release from Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s office. “The rehabilitated properties will then provide a revenue stream of taxes, or can be maintained in the public sector as parks, community centers, or municipal buildings,” the press release states.

In addition to the two airport sites, the Suffolk County Legislature appropriated $77,000 to clean up a gas station in Bellport, and $103,000 to remediate pollution at a wallpaper factory in Ronkonkoma. The gas station is contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons, while the wallpaper factory is polluted by lead, according to county documents.

Gail Clyma, a member of the Coalition Against Airport Pollution who splits her time between Manhattan and Westhampton, said the county’s decision to remediate the two sites at Gabreski Airport is “a step in the right direction.”

“That’s excellent,” Ms. Clyma said. “That’s certainly good news.”

She added that the firm selected to clean up the jet fuel spill at the former bus depot should make certain that their employees are protected. “If they start disturbing an area that has volatile stuff in the soil, like vapors, the vapors could be released and that wouldn’t be good for the construction people or anyone in the immediate area,” she said. “They should take precaution.”

The former bus depot and canine kennel are two of 13 active contamination sites that her group, the Coalition Against Airport Pollution, is keeping tabs on at Gabreski Airport and the Air National Guard base that is located there. The Army Corps of Engineers is now cleaning up contaminated sites on the ANG base.

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