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Complete Cleanup of Notorious Rondout Creek Pollution Needed

A state plan for an overdue cleanup of a scrapyard leaching hazardous waste into the Rondout Creek near its mouth at the Hudson River is welcome. But the extensive public use of the creek, its critical importance for spawning herring and other river life, and the City of Kingston’s future plans for the site’s redevelopment require the state to take a more aggressive approach.

Riverkeeper is calling for several improvements to the proposed Interim Remedial Measures for the B. Millens Scrap Yard under the state Superfund program. The owner of the site repeatedly violated consent orders with the DEC to address known problems, and Riverkeeper has since at least 2001 argued for the enforcement of waste handling laws and the cleanup of the site.

In 2010, 2,800 tons of soil were removed due to high levels of hazardous contamination with compounds found in gasoline (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), metals (copper, cadmium, lead, mercury, and zinc), and PCBs. Much contamination remains, and exposure to these chemicals can increase the risk of cancer, brain and nervous system impairments and other serious health problems. The site remains as a state-designated “significant threat to public health or the environment.”

The DEC’s proposal calls for consolidating contaminated soils — including transportation to the site of contaminated soils from adjacent properties — and capping of contaminated sediments so that the site can be used in the future for commercial development or passive recreation.

The Kingston Hudson River Port plan envisions an “eco hotel” and parkland at the site as a new gateway for public enjoyment of the tidal wetlands and shoreline associated around Kingston Point. The city’s admirable vision for its waterfront places high priority on habitat, water quality and public access to the creek and river. That vision is not fully supported by the proposed cleanup plan.

Kingston has also led the drafting of a Tidal Rondout Creek Watershed Management plan, and there is growing citizen involvement in watershed protection upstream, including the formation this year of the Wallkill River Watershed Alliance — demonstrating that there is widespread public interest in ensuring the Rondout Creek is teeming with wildlife, safe for recreation, and the centerpiece of a vibrant waterfront district.

To meet the community’s vision, adequately protect and restore this beleaguered stretch of the Rondout, and comply with the law, the DEC must:

  • Assess contamination in both the Rondout Creek and Hudson River, and their sediments, to assess the need for remediation to protect wildlife and the public from exposure to hazardous chemicals that have or continue to leach from the site.
  • Comply with Clean Water Act effluent controls and water quality standards, including the erosion prevention and sediment control measures and other best management practices required in connection with rain and snow melt, which can cause runoff of contamination to the creek.
  • Re-assess cleanup procedures and goals based on the reality that the public uses the Rondout Creek and its shoreline extensively, particularly during warmer months, when people row, swim, boat, fish and kayak daily; and that the tidal nature of the creek as an arm of the Hudson River Estuary mean that there are users “downstream” in both directions.

Read Riverkeeper’s comment letter.

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