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Southampton Town Would Consider Lawsuit To Force DEC To Clean Up Speonk Plume

Publication: The Southampton Press
By Erin McKinley   Feb 22, 2013 11:03 AM
Feb 27, 2013 10:25 AM

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said this week that her municipality would consider suing the State Department of Environmental Conservation if the agency is unwilling to partner with the town to come up with a remediation plan to clean up a toxic groundwater plume in Speonk.

At a joint meeting of the Citizens Advisory Committee-West and the Speonk-Remsenburg Civic Association held last Thursday night, Ms. Throne-Holst told the roughly 35 people in attendance that it was clear that a source of the plume was not going to be found, but that does not mean the potentially hazardous two-mile-long plume should not be treated. The town, she added, was willing to work with the DEC to form a plan and reclassify the site—which is currently listed as a class “N” site, meaning no action is necessary—so it can be eligible for grants or federal funding.

But if the DEC was not willing to work with the town, legal action is possible, she warned.

“In terms of getting to the source of this plume, the train has left the station on that one,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “We have to start looking into what solutions are out there and what we are demanding of the DEC.

“We accept that there is no source for this plume, but we do not accept that there is not a remediation plan in place,” she continued.

The DEC did not immediately return calls seeking comment regarding the supervisor’s comments.

The plume was discovered in 2001 after an unidentified resident complained that the well water in Speonk tasted odd. The pollution—the source of which has not been determined and is believed to be about a half-century old—was the subject of a massive 16,000-page characterization study commissioned by the DEC and conducted by the Massachusetts-based environmental consulting firm Camp Dresser and McKee. According to the study, the primary contaminants found in the plume are perchloroethylene, trichloroethene, trichloroethane, carbon tetrachloride and chloroform; several of the chemicals are metal degreasers while chloroform is primarily used to make other chemicals.

The results of that study were to be discussed at a public meeting hosted by the DEC at the Suffolk County Community College’s eastern campus on Wednesday night. The meeting was scheduled only after local environmentalists pressured DEC officials last month to explain why they won’t clean the pollution, or even monitor its progress, as it continues to make its way toward Moriches Bay. (Visit 27east.com for a report on that public hearing.)

Last week, both the Speonk-Remsenburg Civic Association and the Citizens Advisory Committee-West organizations met to discuss their community goals for the DEC. By the end of the two-hour session at the Westhampton Free Library, attendees agreed the best case scenario would include a promise from the DEC to be more transparent in the future, an agreement to work with town officials toward remediation, and the continued monitoring of the contamination. Both civic groups also want to spread community awareness about the plume. The meeting was led by three local hydrogeologists—Bob Mozer, Stephanie Davis and Richard Baldwin.

“I think that the meeting went very well and that we achieved what we set out to do,” said Mr. Mozer, who serves as chair of the Speonk-Remsenburg Civic Association, on Friday. “I wanted to make sure the politicians were there to hear our concerns firsthand.

“We are professional and reasonable people and we understand what can be done within the constraints of the science, technology and, of course, the budget,” he continued.

Also in attendance were Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, Town Trustee Eric Shultz, Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister, and aides for U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. and Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi.

According to a fact sheet provided by the DEC, the plume is roughly two miles in length and located at depths ranging from 25 to 115 feet below the surface. The contamination begins about one mile north of the intersection of Old Country Road and North Phillips Avenue, and continues south until it is about 2,000 feet south of Montauk Highway. The swath of pollution starts at Speonk-Riverhead Road and runs about 2,000 feet to the west.

At last week’s meeting, Mr. Mozer, Mr. Baldwin and Ms. Davis stressed that the biggest hurdle in remediating the plume—and they expect it is the main reason it has been deemed a class “N” site by the state—is the lack of money to fund the cleanup. Ms. Davis estimated that such work would cost millions of dollars and, under normal circumstances, those responsible for the pollution would be left with the tab. But since no source has been found, she suspects that the DEC does not want to finance the expensive cleanup.

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