Since publishing the reports from the Army Corps of Engineers on soil samples taken from Echo Bay I have circulated the reports to scientists in the local academic and corporate community for comment. As I collect those I will add responses here.
The reports indicate levels of barium, mercury and lead at levels three to ten times above threshold numbers from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The report warns against disturbing the sediment in the North and South channel that flank the site of the proposed Echo Bay Development. It clearly indicates the area is not suitable for an ecosystem restoration project.
Forest City proposes to do precisely that -- building retaining walls, doing shoreline excavation, installing a bridge across the North Channel and a walkway or "promenade" along the shoreline and out along the edges of the Westchester County Waste Water Treatment Plant.
I have also contacted a dozen current and elected New Rochelle officials. Not a single one of them had any recollection of the study or reports. This includes Al Tarantino, Ivar Hyden, Jim Maisano, Michael Boyle, Richard St. Paul, Chris Selin, Louis Trangucci and others.
The City of New Rochelle claims to have no knowledge whatsoever of the study or subsequent reports.
I submitted multiple Freedom of Information request to the City Clerk, the public records officer for New Rochelle. The Clerk claimed there were no records whatsoever referencing the reports or the study.
Tuesday, after publishing an article with links to the reports, the City Manager, the chief executive in New Rochelle, stated that there were no such reports on file with the City.
One might think the Corps would communicate with the City before, during and after such a study and provide copies of resulting reports to the City.
After publishing my story on the Corps reports on Echo Bay I wrote to New Rochelle City Manager Charles Strome:
Can you comment on whether or when the City of New Rochelle received the reports. Are they date stamped as “received”? Also, why the Development office could not produce them for Bennie?
Also, did the City Council receive copies of the reports going back to the publication of the reports in 2006. Have those who joined Council since then received copies?
Also, any comment on whether my take on these reports are reasonable — that the Corps is basically saying aquatic environmental restoration of Echo Bay is not a good idea and if it is done it will be expensive to meet the legal requirements for doing the work, transporting material and disposing of it?
Also, is there any concern, given the proximity of the City Yard to the North Channel, that the City itself would be liable for the costs under “polluter pays” rules?
Finally, my FOIL request still stands — all records that reference work by the Army Corps of Engineers including emails, letters, council agenda/minutes, and related documents not just the ACE reports which I now have. I will still want them.
I have no statement as we have checked our records and we do not have a copy of the reports you are referenced. I checked in both the Law Department and the Development Department.
Here is my reply to New Rochelle City Manager Charles Strome:
You say you don’t have a copy of the report. I hear you. I do not accept that but I hear you.
I would note, however, that saying the reports are not on file with the legal department or development department is not the same thing as that it was never received or that there are no other records that indicate the work was requested by the City or that any outside person, entity or agency communicated with the City about the work done or the reports that resulted.
Realize that my FOIL request submitted to the City Clerk covers more than just the reports. Are there any other types of records regarding this report — emails, letters, agendas, minutes, etc.? That would include the email exchange between Suzanne D’Amato and Chris Selin in 2006 and since that has not been provided I can say definitively that I have not received any and all records related to the Army Corps of Engineers per my amended FOIL request from September. In fact, it, clearly suggest that no effort was made to search email records.
I don’t know if you read my article or the attached PDF documents but I would point out a few things that give me pause before accepting the idea that the City has absolutely no knowledge of a project by the Army Corps of Engineers which appears to be your position.
1. The Corps was working in New Rochelle under a grant secured by Rep. Nita Lowey
2. That occurred at a time then-Council Member Noam Bramson was working for Rep. Lowey.
2. The City selected 5 developers to receive the Echo Bay RFP in June 2005
3. The work done in New Rochelle by the Corps was done in October 2005
4. Noam Bramson became Mayor in January 2006
5. The report was issued in March 2006.
Overlaid on top of that period time was the RFP process which resulted in Forest City being selected as the developer of Echo Bay. There is also Noam’s long-standing interest in the environment, his active involvement in the proposed developed of Echo Bay and his long-time connections to Nita Lowey.
Then there is the report itself which clearly states that the work done for the report was done “in cooperation” with the City of New Rochelle, the email exchange with Chris Selin and Suzanne D’Amato/Reider which show the Development Department was fully aware of the work being done by the Corps.
Finally, there is the nature of the work done by the Corps — an evaluation of an aquatic environmental restoration project. The corps web site says that they are authorized to spend up to $5 million to undertake such restoration projects. In short, the work done by the Corps was intended to be the first step in a multi-million dollar federally-funded environmental restoration of the tidal flats (i.e., the “mud flats”) at Echo Bay in New Rochelle.
Are the people of New Rochelle seriously being asked to believe, given these facts, that no one bothered to follow up with the Corps on the results of their work to study the soil, sediment and animal life in Echo Bay?
I just find this hard to believe.
New Rochelle's Talk of the Sound
Today I received more information from Chris Gardner, the public affairs office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District. He writes:
Essentially, the reports you have received stem from a study the Corps was conducting in partnership with the city of New Rochelle to explore the feasibility of conducting ecosystem restoration activities in the area of Echo Bay.
What the surveys and reports regarding the existing conditions of the potential project area show is that the area was not suitable for an ecosystem restoration project in its current state. Typical restoration projects involve excavation of fill or bulkheads, removal of invasive plant species, and planting of native flora to restore historic tidal wetlands.
Because of the presence of industrial by-products, the site was regarded as not suitable for ecosystem restoration via Section 206 of the Continuing Authorities Program*... partly because of the assumed potential costs of restoring the area would exceed the Section 206 CAP cost limit of $7.5 million, and partly because of the risk for the restored ecosystem to not thrive. Other remediation activities outside the scope of the Echo Bay Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study would have to be conducted in order for the area to be revisited for potential future ecosystem restoration through Section 206 of the CAP program.
* As for the CAP program, everything the Corps does must come from some statutory authority granted by Congress. So, for each larger project or study the Corps carries out, there is specific language in a law passed by Congress (usually a Water Resources Development Act, or WRDA) granting the authority to carry out that project or study.
The Continuing Authorities Program is a program where language is included in WRDA bills that give the Corps the "continuing authority" to pursue smaller projects provided they meet criteria set out in the CAP language in the appropriate WRDA. This can be useful since it can often be several years between passage of new WRDA acts.
Usually each CAP "section" defines the type of project for which a "continuing authority" is granted as well as a cost cap on the scope of what sort of project can be carried out without needing specific congressional approval. Under the authority provided by Section 206 of the Water Resources Development Act of 1996, the Corps may plan, design and build projects to restore aquatic ecosystems for fish and wildlife. Projects must be in the public interest and cost effective and are limited to $5 million in Federal cost (and $7.5 million in total cost).
Hopefully this helps explain the documents that were provided via the Freedom of Information Act Request as well as provide a bit more information about the currently inactive Echo Bay Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study.
Please let me know if you have any further questions about the Corps' Echo Bay Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study.
An area scientist, who ask not to be identified, wrote:
The big problems I see in the report are the Lead, Mercury, and Heavy Oils (SVOC's). At some point, they will have to do dredging and it will release those previously buried contaminants back into the environment.
Because this is in a tidal estuary, the tides will be strong currents moving those contaminants all over the local ecosystem.
Lead is particularly pernicious and can be past along through the local food chain. It's effects on individual humans (Loss of IQ, Lowered standardized test scores like the SAT, ADHD like conditions) and society (Crime rates) are deleterious.
Mercury is worse and can be skin soluble. Once it is converted into Methylmercury by anaerobic organisms, it can enter the food chain and be bio-concentrated.
It will be very difficult (read: very expensive) to put in boat ramps, boat channels and shoreline modifications without disturbing the sediments. Throw in the tides and it becomes VERY EXPENSIVE.
Then there is the spoils, if they are contaminated, the state won't want you dumping them offshore. If they have to send the material elsewhere for disposal, the costs can be as high as $118 a cubic yard! A 30 ft x 30 ft x 30 ft or 1000 cubic yard would be $118,000.
$118 yard citation http://nymag.com/news/features/56609/index1.html
If this deal is concluded, someone is going to get a sweet development deal and the tax payer is going to pick up the remediation cost. If the city is "given" the park, then they will probably be on the hook for the environmental costs. Isn't that interesting? The profit is privatized and the cost are socialized.
The Land Disposition Agreement between the City of New Rochelle and Forest City was released today.
Section 2 reads:
Land to be Conveyed. The City Yard Parcel totals approximately 6.5 acres. The Developer is purchasing approximately 4 acres of the City Yard Parcel. The Developer is improving and maintaining (in perpetuity) as a public waterfront amenity, and the City is retaining, approximately 2.5 acres of the City Yard Parcel (the "Retained Parcel').
Section 7 reads:
Environmental. Developer is purchasing the City Yard Parcel "as is," and shall remediate the Project Site, Retained Parcel, Armory Parcel and any other area it intends to perform work on or disturb in relation to the Project, at its sole expense. Developer agrees to indemnify City and hold it harmless against all liability and costs relating to Hazardous Substances discovered after the Closing Date on the Project Parcels. Developer shall have no liability for contamination arising from Project Parcels prior to Closing discovered off-Site, or personal injury claims resulting from the Project Parcels prior to the Closing Date, except for any contamination discovered off the Project Parcels, which may have resulted from or been exacerbated by Developer's activities in connection with the Project.
Note the emphasis on the phrases "the City is retaining, approximately 2.5 acres of the City Yard Parcel" and "Developer shall have no liability for contamination arising from Project Parcels prior to Closing discovered off-Site".
The LDA and the Army Corps of Engineers Report, taken together, would appear to indicate that the City of New Rochelle will be liable for the 2.5 acres along the coastline -- the "park" -- and the City of New Rochelle will be responsible for any contamination "discovered" in the North Channel or tidal flats near the North Channel that is attributed, in whole or in part, the City Yard parcel.
In that way, as one scientist had noted, "The profit is privatized and the cost are socialized."
UPDATE: Bill Mullen, who knows a bit about the history of New Rochelle, offered this bit of background:
Many of us who started off decades ago as conservationists knew all this too. And we know the source for most of the pollution in Echo Bay. It is the NEW ENGLAND THRUWAY. That lead is from burned gasoline, and there are many other trace pollutants too.
The main drain for I-95 dumps out into Echo Bay near the bottom of Stephenson Boulevard. This raw, unsettled wash-off of all the oils, asbestos, lead, and other trace elements from cars, trucks, and their loads; including a lot or ground rubber, dumps into our bay every time the Thruway is rained upon. There is no washing down of all the detritus from this highway other that the local rain. When there is an accident, the fire dept. once hosed everything down the drains. I believe that now they, or someone, soaks up whatever can be taken up with ground clay and other substances, but half of any spill will remain in the concrete , to be washed away by the rains into Echo Bay.When the highway was 'redone' in the early '70's some of us agitated to have this drain extended from the head of the Bay, out into the middle of the sound, where it would be disbursed better. (Nassau County had just done the same thing, and run its sewer outfall pipes a mile into the Atlanic, we thought this a great idea.)
At this same time, New Rochelle was trying to market Davids Island to, I think, Bob Syracuse for his apartment development. Many of us mobilized then, against this, mainly, because part of it was a large bridge which would have scarred the South Side. Echo Bay went to the back burner.
The main polluter of our bay is NYS Thruway authority, followed by Con Edison (transformer Yard,) and then City of New Rochelle (truck pound.) Lots of material went into the bay from Nelstadt, but it was minerals which were not pollutants.)
Years ago, my friend Roger Spoto did marine consulting, and permit facilitation; and had the back channel dredged out for the cement barges a few times. Even then, permits and disposal was difficult and expensive. The State had just closed a large dumping ground in the western Sound, and the mud had to be barged all the way out to the NY Bight for dumping. I wish Roger were still with us, because he could have given you a precise history of Echo Bay since the early 1960's.