When it comes to the proposed Syosset Park development, nothing the Town of Oyster Bay does is without controversy.
In social media and at a May 1 public scoping session on the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), many residents called for independent testing of the site, whose 92.8 acres encompass an old industrial processing facility and municipal landfill with a history of contamination and remediation.
Simon Property Group and Castagna Realty, the joint developers of the mixed-use project, have agreed to finance the testing as the town seeks a firm to perform what Supervisor Joseph Saladino called “testing that adheres to established quality control standards, and the methodologies and protocols set forth by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and both state and county health departments. Residents deserve to be part of the process, receive precise and verifiable test results, and any independent testing performed must also demonstrate strict compliance with all applicable regulations and industry standards. Irrespective of the extensive historic testing at these sites, the town’s unwavering commitment to facilitating additional testing will be completed and done so with unprecedented transparency.”
Residents have called for firms with no existing connections to previous contracts with any Long Island governments. Some have even demanded that a firm outside the state do the testing.
The town’s Department of Environmental Resources (DER) has reached out to Syosset civic organizations as it seeks to shape a Citizens Advisory Committee to ensure independent environmental testing.
A letter from DER Deputy Commissioner George Baptista asked each organization to select a representative from its executive board to be a member of the committee to “help guide the environmental testing and analysis process. The process will involve the following:
• Review the proposed environmental testing protocol and historical environmental testing completed at the site;
• Recommendation of an independent testing company and associated laboratory services;
• Review and provide comments of the testing results; and
• Review, comment and approve a final report on the aforementioned tasks.”
The letter went on to say that “the process will culminate with a presentation to the town board that summarizes and provides a determination of the compiled testing results for inclusion in the DEIS, which is required for any project prior to consideration by the town board.”
In a reply sent to a respondent to the letter cited above, and published in Syosset resident Kevin McKenna’s Facebook page, Baptista wrote the following:
“Committee solicitations were already sought from the 13 civic associations surrounding the property, all of whom were listed as ‘interested parties’ in the [DEIS]. However, in the interest of creating a truly independent and impartial committee, up to four additional members of the community at-large will be appointed to the committee. Your interest will be taken into consideration.”
Brian Nevin, a spokesperson for the town, was asked for a progress report on independent testing. His reply: “To date we have received acknowledgments from civic organizations to participate. In order to advance the process, a short questionnaire was sent to responding participants to ensure that the Citizens Advisory Committee is properly representative of the community, and to help guide the committee in the selection process of the four ‘at large’ committee participants.”
McKenna, a frequent critic of the town’s leadership, questioned, on his Facebook page, whether the proposed advisory committee is truly representative of the residents surrounding the site, and questioned the bona fides of several civic leaders that he claimed had been contacted by the town.
Nevin, quizzed if the town was satisfied that the site’s neighbors will be represented on the advisory committee, replied, “Yes, and remember, four at-large members of the community will also be on the committee.”
Asked about McKenna’s criticisms, Nevin responded, “Kevin McKenna lacks the independence sought by the community.”
The comment period on the Syosset Park DEIS has been extended until Aug. 31, 2018. In addition, the town and the applicant have further agreed to provide an additional comment period for the independent environmental testing of the site through Jan. 31, 2019.
Residents who wish to review the DEIS may visit the Office of the Town Clerk in Oyster Bay, as well as at the Syosset and Jericho public libraries, or log onto www.oysterbaytown.com to view a digital copy and to fill out a comment form.
Written comments should be directed to George Baptista, deputy commissioner of the Department of Environmental Resources, 29 Spring Street, Oyster Bay, NY 11771 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.