BY MARCIA BYSTRYN
At a recent meeting of the Queens Housing Coalition, a major developer outlined a commitment to privately finance the cleanup of a massive 23-acre brownfield at Willets Point. Amazingly, there were some who questioned the existence of contamination and the need for remediation.
The hard truth is that Willets Point has been a toxic dumping ground for nearly 100 years. In addition to a lack of sewers, there is widespread petroleum contamination, with additional potential contamination from paints, cleaning solvents, and automotive fluids.
Some of the problems persist today, as existing businesses operate with almost no regulation. Imagine people spray-painting cars without taking air quality precautions or changing oil with no regard for safe disposal procedures!
Further exacerbating these environmental hazards is a high water table that spreads pollution throughout the Willets Point site. This means that as contaminants continue to fester in the soil and groundwater, nearby Flushing Creek and Flushing Bay become dirtier and more dangerous by the day.
Brownfields are a serious impediment to redeveloping a property, making them the target of a number of federal and state programs. But their potential to endanger public health and contaminate groundwater, surface water and soils is a far greater concern. Without action, Willets Point will in all likelihood remain an unusable, contaminated public health hazard.
The time has come to transform Willets Point from a toxic wasteland into an environmentally conscious, 21st century community.
In an area that is clamoring for open space and recreational opportunities, the cleanup and redevelopment of Willets Point means that the waterfront on Flushing Creek and Flushing Bay will finally become safe and accessible to the community.
This is also a great opportunity to redesign Willets Point in a smarter and more holistic manner. Willets Point is close to the No. 7 train, so people can leave their cars at home more often. And it’s near major highways, meaning that people can get in and out of the neighborhood quickly without further straining traffic in downtown Flushing. The development will also create approximately 12,000 construction jobs and 7,100 permanent jobs, as well as lead to a $3 billion private investment.
This is clearly a redevelopment project where the economic and environmental benefits work hand-in-hand to improve the health, well-being and vibrancy of the neighborhood, and for the entire borough of Queens.
Marcia Bystryn is president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, a statewide environmental organization.
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