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Contributed Photo

SIGNS WARNING ABOUT the wetlands at the SW High School site are not official indicators of protected areas – just markers, said school officials.

All Precautions Being
Taken, Say School Reps

By Dan Hust
Editor’s Note: This is the continuation of an article which ran in Tuesday’s issue.
LAKE HUNTINGTON — June 8, 2001 – The southern portion of the 68 acres the new Sullivan West High School will be built upon contains the remnants of an old hotel – including a fair amount of trash left behind by the owners after it burned in 1966.
The northern portion contains wetlands, which may or may not be federally protected.
The middle portion is simply fields and woodlands, but virtually all of it will soon disappear, to be replaced by a 133,000-square-foot high school and accompanying athletic fields.
Outspoken anti-merger activist Tony Wayne and his organization in Fremont Center called the “Committee for Reform” say the site likely contains toxic garbage and will be a breeding ground for mosquitoes, thanks to the swamps in the northern portion.
But although Wayne and his family have walked on the site and taken photos – and a short video recording – of some of that garbage, the facts, according to several officials, illustrate a diligent and successful effort to ensure student safety.
What Are the Allegations?
Wayne is concerned about lead-based paint cans and other caustic chemical products rusting away on the site, potential drainage problems, what’s possibly buried underground, and the swamps in the back.
He feels that, despite an almost complete relandscaping and excavation of the site, health dangers to schoolchildren will still exist when the high school opens in 2002.
“I found seven different dump sites throughout [the site],” he claimed. “And the mosquitoes ate us alive.”
He said he found suspicious-looking mounds of dirt and tanks buried on the property, worrying that potential excavation costs could run into the millions of dollars if workers stumble over unknown materials in the ground.
He also said he took some soil and trash samples and sent them to a laboratory in New York City for testing – and will send more to the DEC in the near future.
The results have yet to come back.
What Has Been Done?
Sullivan West Superintendent Michael Johndrow said that the school actually has gone beyond state education department requirements in assessing the site off Route 52 for potentially hazardous issues.
That process was successfully completed several months ago when the dept. signed off on the construction of the school.
And just last week, the Town of Cochecton Planning Board gave final approval to the district for the project – thus indicating no significant environmental problems exist.
A large portion of the review and permitting process included a required environmental impact statement (EIS) and an environmental site assessment, which, said Johndrow, the district chose to do for an extra measure of safety.
The more thorough assessment, conducted in the spring of 2000 by a large Syracuse-based environmental company called O’Brien and Gere Engineers, Inc., detailed much of what was stated in the EIS. From air and water quality to sewage and noise issues, most every environmental concern was addressed, and both documents noted the amount of construction and demolition debris on the southern portion of the site.
Although there is no indication that soil samples were taken, the report said that no underground or aboveground storage tanks were noted, but some shingles on the property could contain asbestos.
O’Brien and Gere engineers thus concluded that possibly hazardous materials were on site at the time and would have to be removed during the construction phase. (In fact, photos of the garbage – similar to Wayne’s – were included in the report.)
Incidentally, the firm also checked out neighboring parcels but determined that any trash left on them would not be “an obstacle to the educational adaptability of the site.”
As for stormwater drainage and the sewage system, the engineers recommended that appropriate measures be taken to ensure no environmental damage would occur.
What Do People Say?
For his part, Johndrow has reiterated several times that the school was under the gun from the state education dept. to prove that the site would be a safe and economically feasible place to build a new high school.
“We went above and beyond what we were required to do,” he said while touring the site last week. “We wanted to be doubly sure [of its environmental safety].”
Although the Department of Environmental Conservation was involved in the review process, actual site assessments were conducted by national environmental engineering firm O’Brien and Gere, said Johndrow, because “state ed. requirements are so far above even what towns or corporations are typically requested to meet.”
And besides, he added, the only underground storage tanks – three that stored oil – are already gone, and any garbage on the site will be legally removed and disposed of as part of the construction of the school – a statement backed up by Turner Construction Company spokesperson Steve Lundgren.
As for drainage, Lundgren said, “Right now, it’s uncontrolled runoff. Everything we do here can only improve runoff.”
A stormwater runoff plan has been submitted to authorities, said Johndrow, and the school will be tapping into the Lake Huntington municipal sewer system, which is being upgraded to handle the increased flow.
How about the wetlands?
Johndrow said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is scheduled to come up soon and determine if any wetlands must be protected instead of being bulldozed over. If they are deemed protected, their presence will only slightly change the configuration of an athletic field or two, said Johndrow.
And the mosquitoes?
“I don’t think we’ve honestly given it any thought,” said Johndrow, who was not afflicted by the pests during his most recent visit to the site. “I don’t think the concern here is any higher than in the rest of the county.”
Both Johndrow and Lundgren adamantly deny any toxic waste is on or under the site, and two prior owners agree.
“There’s nothing toxic up there,” said Lake Huntington native Bill Boucher, who donated the property to the school and owns several adjoining parcels (which he said he now does not plan to develop due to the country’s economic condition). “I think everything’s going well and quickly.”
“There was never toxic waste on the site,” agreed Esterita “Cissie” Blumberg of Liberty, whose parents built the Green Acres Hotel on the property in the 1920s. “Where could it have come from?
“It was a healthy place for us to grow up all those years,” she added.
Blumberg and her husband owned the 52-room hotel at the time of its disastrous 1966 fire, and she had a simple explanation for much of the bedframes, chairs and appliances littering the southern portion of the site.
“It would have cost $50,000 to have it removed,” she said. “At the time, we didn’t have 50,000 cents.”
Town of Cochecton Supervisor Sal Indelicato said that he, too, has no concerns over the environmental condition of the property.
“To my knowledge, it’s not polluted,” he said. “I think it’s a nice site myself.”
Wayne’s Reaction
Tony Wayne disagrees and thinks school officials should stop the process and choose another site.
“We’d back them 100 percent on the merger if they wouldn’t use this site,” he remarked, adding that he was speaking on behalf of his committee and Noel van Swol, another longtime anti-merger activist.
He remains adamant about it, despite the fact that at least some of the photographs he took turned out to not be on school property, and several others were deliberately posed – done, said Wayne, not to be misleading but to illustrate the various types of trash found at the site. (The photos can be found on the web at sw.htm – which is a site put together by Fremont Center resident Elaine Dantzler.)
In addition, according to district records, he never accessed the public environmental review documents, though Wayne said he has seen them.
Groundbreaking Is Coming
SW district officials plan to go ahead with a groundbreaking ceremony at the site on June 16 at 11 a.m. In fact, officials are confident enough of the site’s viability that the pavilion which will host the ceremony is not far from where most of the visible garbage is piled up. The proceedings are open to the public.
“We’re planning to send out invitations to every taxpayer in the district,” said Johndrow.
* * *
NOTE: School and construction officials urge the public not to attempt to enter or walk the site without prior school district permission. Construction equipment and debris on the site could be hazardous, said officials. Requests to view the property should be directed to the superintendent’s office at 482-4610, ext. 258.

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