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Gases concern at LIJ facility

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Posted: Thursday, December 22, 2011 1:08 pm

The Village of Lake Success Planning Board voted last week to accept an amended environmental review for the proposed renovation of a North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health Care System facility at 1111 Marcus Ave., despite the recent discovery of potentially dangerous subterranean gases located in the soil underneath the hospital facility.

Planning board member Alan Mindel questioned whether the board's actions adequately addressed the environmental issues created by gases and contaminated ground water underneath North Shore-LIJ's Center for Advanced Medicine. He said those issues could threaten the health of the facility's patients and employees.

"We're faced with a situation where we don't want to overstep our bounds as to what the village can do," Mindel said during last Thursday's planning board meeting at village hall. "But, we've come in contact with certain facts that, at least for me, are somewhat uncomfortable."

Contaminants listed in the environmental study ranged from tetracholoride, which causes cancer and liver damage, to isopropylamine, butanone, acetone and dichloromethane, Mindel said.

"Frankly, the list goes on for a couple more pages," he said. "I don't even want to read it. (Symptoms) like cancer, depression, dizziness and all kinds of items going on."

Mindel was the lone member of the six-person planning panel to vote against the adoption of the amended version of the state's environmental quality review findings. The amended findings are based on the final environmental impact statement that was filed with the planning board last month.

"That document, of course, is the culmination of many months and a number of iterations by various consultants for the applicant and for the village," Lake Success attorney Peter Mineo said. "The SEQRA findings end the environmental review process."

The final environmental impact finding statement will allow Winthrop Management LP to expand parking around the 1111 Marcus Avenue building and reconfigure a portion of the office space housed within the hospital.

Planning Board President Daniel Axinn called the adopted finding statement a "30-to-40-page road map" for changes that must be made at the site in accordance with the more than the 700-page final environmental impact study.

Axinn said he too had serious concerns over the environmental issues at the site, but said it was important to move forward with the project so that they could be fixed.

"The building there is currently occupied by thousands of people," Axinn said. "There is no way that, without going forward and putting in these various remediations, that we won't get more work done and get it done quicker and with the most modern equipment that's available."

The 94-acre 1111 Marcus Avenue site was originally constructed by the U.S. Government in 1941 to be used as a plant for Sperry Gyroscope, which manufactured weapons used during World War II.

During that time, Axinn said there were very few "environmental concerns" and now he is "very concerned that there is a gaseous area under the building caused by the original owner, the United States Government."

"Understandably so," he added of the environmental issues caused during the war effort. "It was a war they had to win. Any of us old enough to remember it knows that."

Since the conclusion of World War II, the site has been used for various enterprises. It served as the original home of the United Nations and in 1951 was sold to a series of military contractors, including Lockheed Martin.

"Being on the board as long as we have, we've seen the maturation of the property over that period of time," Mindel said. "Over the majority of the time that I have been on this board with you, the last 10 years, when we first took on this development we were definitely aware of certain environmental concerns."

After Lockheed sold the property in 2000, it was redeveloped as a mixed-use complex that includes Cablevision's public access studio, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"In our long review of the FEIS and our finding statements, we're dealing with a property that has been a great addition since its improvement by Winthrop Management, through it's various iterations whether it was Ipark or 1111 (Marcus Avenue)," Mindel said.

Nearly a decade ago, the Village of Lake Success Planning Board authorized North Shore-LIJ to construct its Center for Advanced Medicine at the site, where services include outpatient mammography, radiology and other oncology treatments.

"When we approved that facility we didn't know that these gases were coming up," Mindel said. "I don't know what we would have done if we did."

Since learning of the original environmental concerns at the 1111 Marcus Avenue site, property owners have installed several systems to deal with the contaminated ground water and gases, including"sub-slab" depressurization systems installed in 2007, said Dr. Kevin Phillips, an environmental and aquatic engineer retained by the village.

"Since they've put that in," he said, "there's been no more violations."

When asked by Axinn if the subsurface soil at the site is currently "safe to the most careful degree," Phillips did not waiver in his analysis.

"Yes," he said. "They've been monitored for the last several years. It's not just last week. It's been monitored for the last seven or eight years and there's sufficient coverage in 70 locations where they were monitoring underneath the site and in the area."

But, Mindel was not convinced based on the findings in the final environmental study.

"In the last few years we've discovered that underneath the slab there is a contamination of certain gases contained under the slab," Mindel said. "So much so that there are multiple rooms within the facility currently that were considered uninhabitable and required a temporary installation of a sub-slab combination system."

In addition to traffic calming issues adopted by the board during the meeting, VHB Engineering's Kim Ginerro, a consultant retained by the village for the project, said that an "SSDA" system will be installed at the site to monitor sub-surface contamination conditions in accordance with state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health protocols.

Ginnero said the alarm system will be connected to Lockheed Martin and it's contractors, which will be responsible for the monitoring and maintenance of the system.

Depatment of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health officials will have jurisdiction over the monitoring activities, Ginnero said.

While Mindel said the board has done an admirable job dealing with traffic-related issues with the construction of added parking at the site, many environmental safety issues remained.

"What would we do if it was one of our loved ones that was in this cancer facility," Mindel said. "Would we feel comfortable bringing them there, knowing what we know today, without this SSDA system in place and functioning."

"I've yet to hear one person say to me, ‘I feel confident, without that SSD, I'll bring my mother there, my father, my wife, my husband, my son, my daughter,'" he added. "If we don't feel comfortable for ourselves to do that, how can we ask someone else?"

A permanent sub-slab contamination system must also be installed to help protect building occupants against potentially harmful contaminants.

"Unfortunately, we learned tonight that that system will not be activated, according to the contractor at least, until 2014," Mindel said of the sub-slab system. "Yet, the building is occupied currently."

Mindel also was critical of current monitoring practices for contaminants in the area.

"Currently, the building is only being monitored on an annual basis," he said. "We now increased that to four times a year, but when the system goes live if the system is not functioning properly for a period of one week, testing will begin and now we're not looking at those protections coming in until 2014."

With the planning board's approval, the environmental findings will be sent to the Nassau County Planning Commission for review and recommendation.

After the county's review, the application will be sent back to the village for zoning approvals, Mineo said.

Winthrop Management LP will then have to make a presentation to the village's board of appeals for variances for off-street parking and any other issues with additional parking structures. The village planning board will then have to approve and make a recommendation for the change-of-use application for the office space to be created at the site, Mineo said.

The Village of Lake Success Board of Trustees will then make a final ruling on the change of use application.

"This is only the environmental review phase of the process," Mineo said. "Another phase, which is related to it, but it is a separate phase and that's the application for the public hearings for the various forms of zoning relief. There's three separate boards with three separate sets of zoning approvals that would have to all be finalized before anything can go forward in the buildings."

Board members cited the review process in voting to allow the project to move ahead.

"I think if you just let it sit, the problem is going to exist," Planning Board member Robert Raphael said of the environmental concerns with the site.

"Sometimes you don't like what you see, but you have to go forward to try to fix something even in a way that you may not appreciate. We all have concerns for how this property is. I think that project is a good project. It needs to go forward to help us out and fix our situation. It's not going to fix itself."

Welcome to the discussion.