Anyone who has driven along Harry Howard Avenue in recent weeks knows that work on the Empire State Trail and Safe Routes to School project has been halted.
Yesterday, a reader told Gossips that earth from the excavation along Harry Howard was being dumped at the back of the lot across from the Central Fire Station on North Seventh Street. The area was now roped off, and there were signs warning about asbestos.
Today, the same reader reported there were workers in hazmat suits at the site on North Seventh Street, and he encountered resistance and some belligerence when he asked what was going on.
These reports inspired Gossips to investigate the situation--an investigation that began and ended with DPW superintendent Rob Perry. Even though the NYS State Department of Transportation (DOT) is doing the project, I figured Perry would know what was happening, and he did.
A hundred or so years ago, when Harry Howard Avenue has being developed, transite pipe, an asbestos-cement pipe, was used, not for potable water but for storm water and sewage. Prior to the 1970s, the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma hasn't completely understood, and asbestos was used in all manner of building and construction materials. Those transite mains, relics of another time, are still in the ground along Harry Howard Avenue.
As part of constructing the sidepath along Harry Howard Avenue for the Empire State Trail, DOT is installing new drainage lines. During the excavation for the new lines, some of the old transite mains were disturbed, and it is believed that sections of the old mains may have made it into the lot on North Seventh Street. Hence the asbestos warning signs.
When this was discovered, DOT directed the contractor working on the sidepath to hire a subcontractor to remove the transite pipe on Harry Howard that interferes with the new construction and to remove the material that was dumped on North Seventh Street. Once the remediation is complete, the construction of the sidepath will resume. DOT, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Environmental Conservation are all involved in overseeing the remediation.
Addendum: When the Conservation Advisory Council first saw the rendering of the sidepath shown at the beginning of this post, members of the CAC tried to get DOT to incorporate trees into the plan. That was a little more than a year ago. They were told that it was too late in the project calendar to make changes. The CAC has not given up and intends to pursue planting trees along the trail after construction is complete, in 2021 or 2022.
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