Navy will start pumping, treating Calverton groundwater

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Canada geese in the Peconic River just south of Riverhead's West Main Street on Friday.

The U.S. Navy has completed its long-anticipated Corrective Measures Study, the document that — once approved by the state — will allow the federal government to move forward with plans to clean up a massive groundwater contamination plume flowing from the former Grumman F-14 assembly plant in Calverton.

It will take the Navy a while to choose and implement a final approach to the entire plume. But thanks to the advocacy of citizens on the Navy’s Restoration Advisory Board, it was learned last week, the Navy is moving forward with plans to install a pump-and-treat system to prevent further contaminants from flowing south from the property, portions of which the Navy still owns.

Contamination levels in the heart of the plume, which stretches about a third of mile along River Road, have been found to be up to 220 times above drinking water standards.

The RAB’s citizen members were pushing for a pump-and-treat system while the Navy was conducting its final study. The locals became even more vocal after the Corrective Measures Study was first presented to them in early April without any mention of an interim action.

They welcomed news of the Navy’s decision last Tuesday.

“The [pump-and-treat] system should be up and running by this time next year if everything goes according to plan,” said Bill Gunther, who chairs the citizen component of the board, which also comprises state, county and federal officials. “Additional remediation off site will follow but is more involved because it requires that the Navy access Suffolk County park land.”

But “this is an important first step towards restoring groundwater quality in the area,” Mr. Gunther added.

The study, almost 1,000 pages long, attempts to track groundwater pollution and identify its sources and also presents various cleanup methods for the site.

Navy officials have vowed publicly not to abandon Calverton until all groundwater is restored to acceptable drinking water standards. Volatile organic compounds in concentrations as high as 1,090 micrograms per liter have been found in the area.

State drinking water standards are five micrograms per liter.

The chemicals, used for decades to clean grease from jet engines when Grumman operated an assembly plant and flight test facility at the site, could have harmful effects on humans and wildlife. The pollutants have been found in the Peconic River, Long Island’s longest waterway. Grumman ceased operations at the Calverton site in 1994 after about 40 years there, with the federal government turning much of the property over to Riverhead Town.

The News-Review first reported the existence of the wide-ranging plume in March 2009. That report caught the attention of Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other federal and local lawmakers, who have since been pressuring the Navy to move quickly to clean up Grumman’s mess.

The Navy had previously contended that the chemicals, which could date back as far as the 1950s, were disappearing naturally as they flowed south toward the river, a theory that community RAB members, Suffolk County health department officials and Mr. Schumer rejected.

County Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who since the News-Review report has continually criticized the Navy for being too slow to act on cleaning up the plume, said he would take the lead on getting the Navy access to county-owned property.

“I plan to carefully monitor the Navy’s progress regarding the clean-up,” he said Friday. “I also plan to allow the Navy access to nearby county parklands to assist with the remediation plan, as the county has done when Brookhaven national Lab was involved in an environmental clean-up.”

Navy officials predicted construction on the pump system could begin next April.

“As far as the pump-and-treat system goes,” Navy spokesman Thomas Kreidel said this week, “currently, construction would be scheduled to begin in April 2012. I don’t know when it will be fully operational; that will depend on a number of factors including weather and the final design.”

The Corrective Measures Study, presented to the state Department of Environmental Protection in March, “discusses the criteria used to evaluate various groundwater remedial alternatives and to determine the comparative benefits of implementing each one,” Mr. Kreidel explained.

“A final remedy has not yet been selected for implementation,” he said.

No residential drinking water wells exist in the immediate path of the plume, although some Peconic River Sportsman’s Club employees do live on club property at the plume’s southern end. In the past the club has had to install filtration systems on wells there. The Navy is moving forward with plans to run public water to the property.

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