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Ithaca officials change story about toxic contaminants at controversial development


Ithaca, N.Y. — Yesterday, Ithaca officials said they didn’t need to give state agencies a clean-up plan for toxic pollutants found on the site of a controversial city development in 2012.

Today, that story has changed. The executive director of the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services acknowledged Tuesday that the state is in fact requiring the city to submit a clean-up plan subject to state oversight.

On Monday, The Ithaca Voice published a story in which Paul Mazzarella, the executive director of INHS, and Mayor Svante Myrick dismissed concerns about lingering environmental hazards at the site. Both said the state did not believe further inquiry was needed and that the investigation into the spill had been closed.

The state, however, rejected that account. In an interview on Tuesday, Charsleissa King of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation said the developers of the site were indeed required to submit a clean-up plan for state approval.

“We haven’t received the plan, and we’re looking to get that soon,” said King, a DEC spokesperson.

The Stone Quarry development proposal as of July.

King also said that the site was still considered an active spill, countering what Myrick and Mazzarella had said the day before.

“It is considered an open spill,” she said.

The news supports the information provided by Walter Hang, president of the environmental watchdog company Toxics Targeting. Hang discovered that the contaminants were on the site through a Freedom of Information Law request he filed with government agencies.

Those findings came to light on Monday in a story published in The Ithaca Voice. In that story, Hang insisted that the city had failed to provide a required cleanup plan to the state, and city officials had said he wasn’t telling the truth.

On Tuesday, Mazzarella said that he was right to say Monday that the state didn’t require a cleanup plan, and that he’s right to say now that it does.

“My understanding about this, and it’s all just from emails … is that they decided today to reopen the site and require a plan,” Mazzarella said.

“That wasn’t the case yesterday, but that is the case today.”

Mazzarella said the state’s information about the status of the spill has also changed since yesterday.

“They have a website where they list if it’s open, and it was closed as of yesterday,” Mazzarella said.

Mayor Myrick said that he also thought state officials had said that the spill was closed.

“That was my impression from the DEC,” Myrick said. “But I guess it wasn’t closed.”

Hang, of Toxics Targeting, has appealed to Myrick to halt the project until the site is fully examined and cleaned up.

Myrick and Mazzarella, however, said Tuesday that they did not expect the reportedly new status of the spill to change the timeline of the project.

“We’ll just do what we had planned to do, which we think will be acceptable for the state,” Mazzarella said.

The project, located at 400 Spencer Road, is on the agenda for the city planning and development board at 6 p.m. Tuesday. That will be one of the last major hurdles before the project has been granted full approval from the city.

Soil tests were done by a consultant for the developers of Stone Quarry Apartments, as the project is known, in 2012.

The levels of some of the contaminants listed in the report from two years ago, such as lead, acetone, manganese and others, fell within advisable limits for residential construction. Others, such as benzo(a)pyrene, exceeded the limits for any use.

“A variety of known and potential cancer-causing toxic chemicals were identified at this location,” Hang said Monday, “including pollutants associated with incomplete combustion,” such as benzo(a)pyrene and benz(a)anthracene.

Stone Quarry Apartments Project: