Willets Point sewer hearing draws gripes

Rob Holbrook explains plans for a $50 million sewer project in Willets Point to a group of 11 people at a public hearing on the project.
TimesLedger Newspapers

The city Economic Development Corp. held a second public information session Monday night about the impending sewer project in Willets Point, where representatives were grilled by a small number of people opposed to the project.

The EDC announced the second hearing shortly after Mayor Michael Bloomberg broke ground on a $50 million sewer project earlier this month that will set the stage for the larger $3 billion Willets Point Redevelopment Project.

The session began with a presentation of the proposed sewers, one of which would carry rainwater out to Flushing Bay, and the other will plug into the city’s existing sewer system to whisk sewage out of the area.

But when construction crews dig the trench to put the sewer pipes in place, the EDC expects them to be inundated with contaminated water, owing to the region’s high water table and saturation with industrial waste.

The EDC needs a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to suck out the water, clean it of all toxins through a treatment process and then pump it into Flushing Bay.

The public hearing is part of the process to get that permit.

Many of the queries for the EDC representatives during the question-and-answer session were more about the redevelopment project and how it will affect businesses owners and the one resident who lives in Willets Point.

Many of the questions echoed a letter sent by a representative of Willets Point United, a group of property owners opposed to the project, that accused the EDC of not properly conducting the public hearing, a charge the EDC refutes.

One man repeatedly questioned the benefits to Willets Point businesses that are in the footprint of the first phase of the project and will be displaced in the city’s bid to turn part of the 62-acre triangle into a mixed-use residential and commercial center.

Robert LoScalzo, a documentary film producer who has studied the Willets Point project since 2007, questioned the validity of an environmental study done to assess the pros and cons of the project.

He took an EDC representative to task for saying the Willets Point Redevelopment Project would benefit the area, but did not mention the many auto body shops that would have to be displaced in order to facilitate such a project.

The EDC representatives tried to keep the meeting focused on its agenda, which was to educate the public about the storm sewer project.

“The completed mixed-use project will form a vibrant place for thousands to live, work, and visit free from environmental contamination that has plagued the area,” the EDC said in a statement. “Local, city, state, and federal elected officials overwhelmingly support this job-creating and transformative development. The City remains committed to Willets Point becoming a center of economic growth.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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