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DEC assessing basketball court site after receiving reports of potential contamination


by Joanne Kountourakis | Fri, Oct 27 2023

Interest in the old LILCO plant in Northport Village has piqued, as plans to revitalize the decades-old basketball court, built on the same land in the 1970s, have hit yet another obstacle. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society as published on its Facebook page.

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The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is currently assessing historic information about a Cow Harbor Park site in the Village of Northport after receiving a report about potential contamination, DEC officials confirmed with the Journal yesterday. 

“DEC takes all reports of potential environmental contamination seriously and works to ensure compliance with state laws and regulations that are protective of public health and the environment,” an official told the Journal. 

A LILCO power plant once stood in what is now Cow Harbor Park on Woodbine Avenue, just south of Main Street; that building was demolished in 1968. Interest in the old plant has piqued, however, as plans to modernize the decades-old basketball court, built on the same land in the 1970s, have hit yet another obstacle. 

According to Northport Village Trustee, Meghan Dolan, who is helping spearhead efforts to revitalize the court, a boring test was performed in November 2022, and Village officials discussed the results of that test with Village engineers, “who have specific knowledge in this area,” Dolan said. A notation in the report indicated a “petrochemical odor” deep in the soil. 

(Soil boring is the process of drilling a hole in the ground to collect samples of soil and bedrock and is used to assess the suitability of the site for various engineering projects.)

“We were advised that a notation of ‘odor’ at more than five feet below ground is a subjective observation not supported by data,” Dolan said, adding that the odor could be caused by a number of nontoxic factors. “We were advised that the thriving ecosystem in that area is also an indication of environmental health. No further action was recommended,” she said. 

Once fellow Trustee Ernie Pucillo saw the report from the boring test, shown to him by a Northport Village resident, the DEC and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were contacted. 

“Yes, I did contact DEC and EPA concerning the matter,” Pucillo told the Journal. “The report was dated over a year ago and indicated the presence of petrochemical odors in the soil. However, no testing had been done, and I had never been apprised of the report.” The test, ordered by the Village’s engineering firm at the request of Village officials, had been discussed at public board meetings, though it’s not clear if all trustees took a look at the details of the actual report. 

The test and corresponding data sheet, performed on November 9, 2022 and reported on by McDonald Geoservices, indicates that “debris” was found four and two feet deep in one of the test sites, in an area just north of the existing basketball court, across the existing walkway. At the other test site, near the southeast corner of the basketball court, between the court and the Woodbine Avenue sidewalk, an odor of petrochemicals was noted during the boring process.

Pucillo did not reach out to Northport Village board members after seeing the data sheet or prior to contacting the state agencies, he said, “because I viewed this failure to report this possible contamination of a park area an emergency which needed immediate investigation.” In an October 23 Newsday article, Pucillo is quoted as saying: “We need to look to make sure the ground is not contaminated or even a Superfund site.”

“The power plant which was in Cow Harbor Park was demolished approximately 60 years ago,” Trustee Dolan said. “There was no issue when the Village entered into the lease for the land with the Town of Huntington in the '80s, and there were no issues when the basketball court, bathrooms and playground were first built or when the playground was redone in recent years. To be clear, no one wants anyone to be in an area where it is unsafe, and we do not have any legitimate basis to believe Cow Harbor Park is unsafe in any way.”

When asked what the next course of action should be if the site is declared a superfund, Pucillo told the Journal “identifying it as a state or federal superfund site would bring federal funds and support for clean up and would be a benefit for the town and Village.” 

The trustee hopes, however, that the site is not a danger, “and we can move forward.” He believes the findings should have been reported “by law” a year ago: “Who is responsible for that failure is something I think DEC may want to investigate regardless of the outcome,” he said. 

“The implication that anything was purposefully mishandled or withheld when the Village was advised that there was no environmental impact is completely unjustified,” Trustee Dolan told the Journal. 

The next Village board meeting is Wednesday, November 8 at Village Hall.