Clean-up controversy on Greenport waterfront

Should commercial waterfront property owners whose land was contaminated during wartime shipbuilding be required to test soil that is being disturbed — but not moved off-site — in the course of replacing aging wooden bulkhead with impermeable plastic bulkhead?

That question dominated last week’s Greenport Village Board meeting, when the owner of Greenport Yacht & Shipbuilding, Steven Clarke, challenged a recommendation made by the village’s Citizen Advisory Committee that he be required by the village to test the soil.

Mr. Clarke told Mayor Kevin Stuessi and village trustees that he is not aware of any state or federal environmental regulations that would require him to test the soil, since it is not being moved off-site to another location (which would trigger a state Department of Environmental Conservation requirement to test the soil).

Mr. Clarke said that he had already spent $40,000 replacing the older bulkhead with plastic bulkhead that is “what I can only describe as super, extra heavy-duty bulkhead.

“Water can pile up behind it in storms … liquid does not go through it, nor does any sort of portion of the ground itself.”

Mr. Clarke described being required to test the soil as potentially costing him “catastrophic amounts of money.

“To put money into testing the soil, that’s not going overboard — we’re not digging up anything, we’re just moving soil around in back of the bulkhead — is the equivalent of taking $1,000 bills and burning them.”

A member of the CAC told the trustees that the committee felt that, given the history of the waterfront, testing the soil is important, even if not mandated by law.

“The history of this shipyard, and anyone that wants to think about it seriously, just the history of the shipyard would seem like testing the soil there that might leach back into the water, would be best practice,” said CAC member John Saladino.

The debate took place during a wetlands permit hearing last Thursday, and will be voted on by the Village Board at their next monthly meeting on Aug. 24.

Mr. Clarke said he does not intend to test the soil.

“I’m not going to hire a consulting company. The cost of this to me is totally unknown. It’s likely to cost more to test the ground than to do the job.”

Responding to a question from the board, village administrator Paul Pallas, who is also a member of the CAC, said that the committee “is concerned with whatever is in the soil.” He said there “could be any number of contaminants in the soil, certainly that could leach into the harbor during the construction.”

Mr. Clarke acknowledged that “there are very likely to be contaminants [in the soil], but those contaminants are going to stay right where they are.

“It’s plastic bulkheading. It’s impervious [to penetration by soil or water]. Nothing gets through it. Absolutely nothing gets through it once it’s put in place.”

For his part, Mr. Pallas acknowledged, “we’re not environmental experts. I can’t say what we should be testing for, but we do believe the testing should take place, so we know what’s in the soil there.”

The issue over testing the soil on Mr. Clarke’s land spilled into a second, unrelated wetlands permit hearing, when an environmental consultant on a different project said there’s no requirement to test the soil if it’s not being moved to another location.

“In 30 years of doing environmental permitting,” environmental consultant Robert E. Herman said, “there is no such requirement.”

After the meeting, veteran village trustee Mary Bess Phillips said in an interview that she sympathizes with Mr. Clarke.

“Steve Clarke’s is a historical shipyard and with history, as we have found out, that our forefathers were dealing with industrial development, the building of ships during world wars, developing things that, environmentally, nobody thought about.

She said that “I don’t know how — when our own New York DEC does not require testing in this particular situation,” that the village should do so.

”Probably every property in the village of Greenport would have that problem,” she said. “But comparing that to the amount of runoff from Shelter Island lawns that have to have pesticides put on them or our own Southold Town, what Steve has is a little insignificant to me. But you have to look at the big picture.”

Meanwhile, the final draft of code changes for the waterfront, commercial and commercial retail zones have been completed, according to Ms. Philips, and Mr. Stuessi said  a public hearing about those changes would take place at the board’s work session on Aug. 17.