Con Edison will pay $636G in settlement from East River oil spill

Oct3 Con Ed and Stuy Town

Con Ed’s East River substation south of Stuyvesant Town (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

As a result of a transformer malfunction at a Con Ed substation that caused 30,000 gallons of insulating oil to leak into the East River last May, the utility has entered into a settlement with the state, and will be paying $636,015 in damages and penalties.

As part of the settlement with the Department of Environmental Conservation for violating of New York State Environmental Conservation Law, Con Ed will also be required to continue the cleanup effort. The company will also be expected to assess the petroleum containment compliance at its 13 waterfront substations located throughout the boroughs.

The May 7, 2017 incident happened at the utility company’s Farragut Substation in Brooklyn, with the DEC and the U.S. Coast Guard quickly descending on the scene in Manhattan and Brooklyn to try to minimize the contamination of the river. While the substance, dielectric fluid is similar to mineral oil, as opposed to petroleum, it was still foreign to the East River. Following the leak, booms were placed in the water and absorbent pads were placed along the shorelines where much of the fluid had seeped.

The settlement payout will go towards funding for local environmental and restoration efforts. Out of the $636,015, $100,100 will go to the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy for its water-based environmental education and kayaking programs, and $71,000 in natural resource damages to New York City Audubon for its Governors Island common terns nesting project. The remaining $464,915 will go to the New York State Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund (Oil Spill Fund), New York State Conservation Fund, and the State General Fund.

“At Governor Cuomo’s direction, New York continues to prioritize improving and protecting the State’s waters,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “The funding that came out of DEC’s enforcement action and penalty against Con Edison highlights the positive investments that can be made after an unfortunate event. Settlement investments through DEC’s Environmental Benefit Projects Policy will improve and restore the environment and natural resource damages funding serves to make the public whole.”

In response to the settlement, which the DEC announced on Wednesday, Allan Drury, a spokesperson for Con Ed said, “We are pleased to have resolved issues stemming from this incident and to support valuable environmental programs.”

Drury added that there was “no long-term impact” to the East River as a result of the spill. “The cleanup process mentioned in DEC’s announcement relates only to what is left of the spill on Con Ed’s substation property, not in the river,” he said.

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Explosion snarling sales, say Flatiron businesses

A masked police officer directs traffic on Broadway on Monday. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

While the so-called “hot zone” of businesses potentially impacted by the burst of an asbestos-covered steam pipe has shrunk since last Thursday, even businesses in Flatiron that were soon able to reopen say their customers have not returned.

Since the day of the burst, the streets directly surrounding the burst pipe site have remained barricaded off as Con Ed and various cities continue their investigation. Additionally, the streets have been teeming with police and other emergency responders, some wearing masks. The police have mainly been directing traffic to prevent errant photo-snapping pedestrians from getting too close to the work site.

Meanwhile, numerous buildings in the neighborhood remained empty of residents and workers as Con Ed conducted inspections for debris from the explosion.

On Monday, Town & Village spoke with employees at several businesses located on Broadway between 20th and 22nd Street about the lack of foot traffic.

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Impacted businesses advised to file claims with Con Edison or insurance

Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Esposito speaks to building owners at a meeting held on Monday. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Flatiron businesses owners impacted by last week’s steam blast were told on Monday night that they may have some recourse for their losses in the form of insurance claims or claims with Con Edison.

Representatives from the utility, the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Health, Small Business Services and the Department of Environmental Protection offered updates on the ongoing investigation and clean-up effort during a meeting at the Clinton School in Union Square on Monday night.

Joseph Esposito, the commissioner for the Office of Emergency Management, said that as of Monday night, 17 buildings had been cleared for reoccupancy and the OEM announced that 16 additional buildings had been cleared by Wednesday morning, with 12 still needing to be cleaned and checked before they can be reoccupied.

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City putting Flatiron evacuees in hotels

Fifth Ave looking south on Monday

Con Ed crew at work at the explosion site (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

As of Tuesday afternoon, the city said it is working with the Hotel Trade Council and Hotel Association of New York City to help displaced Flatiron residents, and that 10 families and one dog had so far been assisted.

Residents seeking a temporary room were advised to visit the reception center at the Clinton School at 10 East 15th Street, which has remained open. It’s open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. each day and according to the city, has seen 362 visitors since Thursday.

Hotel 17 in Stuyvesant Square, which now has an extended stay model and offers emergency housing, is one of the hotels housing evacuees, an employee there said. However, he said he couldn’t reveal how many individuals were staying there as a result of the blast.

Out of the 49 buildings evacuated for asbestos testing, 27 have been cleared for residents to return. Twelve contained some sort of debris that must be cleaned before they can be reoccupied.

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Air asbestos free, city says, but evacuated buildings still off limits

July26 Con Ed cleanup

A Con Ed crew cleaning up the street on Friday (Photo courtesy of Con Ed)

By Sabina Mollot

The air is asbestos-free, the city said, after testing samples following the steam pipe explosion, on Friday evening. While some debris samples contained asbestos, it’s unlikely people exposed will become ill since “asbestos-related illnesses usually develop after many years of exposure,” according to an update provided by the mayor’s office and the Office of Emergency Management. The city also said irritation to the eyes, nose and throat from debris is possible, and recommends anyone with those symptoms contact doctor.

Meanwhile, the city is still keeping people out of the “hot zone” in Flatiron.

While the area continues to be cleaned up, the hot zone boundaries include:

  • Fifth Avenue from 19th Street to 22nd Street (midway down the block on 19th Street and most of 20th and 21st streets on the west side).
  • The entire block on East 20th and 21st Streets and midway down the block on East 19th Street.

Neighborhood residents whose building have been evacuated (49 buildings in total) are still displaced. Forty-four buildings had their facades visually expected. However, none were cleared for residents to return home as of Friday at 5 p.m. as testing for asbestos continues. At this time, the city doesn’t have a number as to how many buildings have been contaminated. Once a determination is made, the buildings’ facades will be washed. Con Ed has appointed outside vendors for this project.

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After asbestos confirmed, investigation continues in Flatiron

July19 Expolsion info at 22nd Con Ed

Con Ed employees accepting bagged clothing at 22nd Street and Broadway (Photo courtesy of Con Ed)

By Sabina Mollot

In the wake of Thursday’s steam-pipe explosion, the city has confirmed the presence of asbestos. Sixteen inspectors from the Department of Environmental Protection have been tasked with investigating the presence of any asbestos in nearby buildings while the site of the explosion is also being monitored.

On Friday, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality health advisory for the whole city through 11 p.m. The agency’s warning noted that active children and adults as well as anyone with respiratory problems reduce “prolonged or heavy exertion” outdoors.

The public is still being warned to stay away from the immediate area, where there are still emergency crews at work.

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Steam explosion in Flatiron shuts down nearby streets

By Sabina Mollot

Emergency responders are still trying to find out the cause behind an early morning explosion in the heart of the Flatiron District. The blast occurred at 6:40 a.m. on Fifth Avenue and 21st Street, sending a massive gray cloud shooting dozens of feet into the air and causing traffic shutdowns from 19th to 23rd Streets from Broadway to Sixth Avenue.

Eleven buildings were evacuated and surrounding streets were off limits to residents and workers until police began opening some streets at around 8:40 a.m., and office buildings began letting employees back inside. Town & Village’s block on West 22nd Street was one of those affected.

Town & Village driver Ray Pimentel was in his truck with stacks of this newspaper on his way to the office when he heard the massive “Boom!” nearby. Pimentel said had he not been caught at a red light on Sixth Avenue, “I would have been right in the hole in front of Chase Bank (on Fifth Avenue). I’m alive because of five seconds.”

He stopped his truck in the middle of Fifth Avenue and waited there for the Fire Department, which he said arrived in about seven minutes. Oddly, the blast didn’t smell too strong at that time.

“It was like cooking gas, you know like when you’re doing a barbecue, clean, not too bad,” he recalled.

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Cops investigate suspicious package at First Avenue L train station

Aug17 bomb scare

By Sabina Mollot

At around 5 p.m. on Tuesday, the NYPD Bomb Squad cordoned off First Avenue near the L train station on East 14th Street and the station itself after getting a 911 call about a suspicious package. However, by 5:40 p.m., the NYPD gave the all clear. As for what the package, which had been seen under a bench on the southbound platform was, a spokesperson for the department said he didn’t know other than “It wasn’t a bomb.” The photo, taken by Stuyvesant Town resident Henry Beck shows a traffic-free First Avenue at around 15th Street at 5:30 p.m. today.

 

Sinkhole on E. 23rd turns into gurgling tub

July27 Sinkhole July25

Men work at the sinkhole on the bike lane at 23rd Street and the East River on Tuesday. (Photo by Janet Handal)

By Sabina Mollot

A sinkhole that’s been on the bike lane at 23rd Street along the East River for weeks now has grown from being a few feet across to a ten-foot-wide gurgling geyser. It has also been an active worksite manned by a plumbing crew from the Economic Development Corporation, which manages the nearby city-owned Skyport garage. It’s a broken, leaking pipe underneath the garage that has been blamed for the problem.

Town & Village first reported on the sinkhole last week, when a then two-week-old 311 complaint had yet to spur any action from the city. The relevant city agencies finally arrived at the scene last Wednesday evening (following T&V’s press time) to barricade off the area. Additionally, at that time, a spokesperson for the DEP told us the Skyport garage had been ordered to fix the pipe as well as well as the sinkhole.

But by Tuesday evening of this week, a spokesperson for the EDC, Shavone Williams, still couldn’t say exactly when the damaged water line would be fixed, although the expectation was sometime this week. Williams added that the EDC was planning with the Department of Environmental Preservation to shut down a main on Wednesday morning so contractors could repair the line and repave the surface later in the week. Until it’s repaired, Williams said, the crew would remain onsite and keep the area surrounding the water hole secured with cones and tape.

Meanwhile, water service was completely shut off at Waterside Plaza on Wednesday by 8:30 a.m., according to the management office. General Manager Peter Davis said he didn’t know if it was related to the sinkhole, since the property hadn’t gotten a notice from any agency. UPDATE at 10:54 a.m. Water service has been restored to Waterside, and a DEP representative said the agency was looking into why it happened and why residents were not notified.

Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Association, first reported the sinkhole to the city on July 5, fearing it would become a deathtrap for cyclists and the usual crowds of people headed to the party boats at the marina next to the garage.

However, there was no visible response from the city on the growing hole until Handal reached out to a number of city agencies and elected officials as well as Town & Village. Only then did teams from the DEP and the Department of Transportation arrive to completely barricade off the sinkhole, which had been only partially surrounded by tape.

As of this Tuesday, Handal said it didn’t appear the workers knew yet where the water main actually was. After stopping by the site, Handal said she was shocked by the force and sound of the gushing water in the hole, as thick cords from six water pumps snaked their way inside. The width of the hole, which had originally just been in the bike lane, had stretched across two traffic lanes by then. This may have been done intentionally to allow the workers access, however.

Based on her observations, though, the water pumps didn’t appear to be doing much. She said she was told by a worker that the EDC was waiting for the DEP to turn off the water and that the collapsed pipe was believed to be about 80 years old.

Oil spills into East River after Con Ed transformer failure

May11 Con Ed

Con Ed substation in Manhattan (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

A failure of equipment at a Con Ed substation in Brooklyn has led to a so far unknown amount of oil to leak into the East River.

The U.S. Coast Guard has been responding to the problem since it was reported on Sunday afternoon, though as of Tuesday afternoon, it was unclear if the substance, dielectric fluid, was still leaking into the river in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The fluid, which is used to insulate transformer cables, is a kind of mineral oil, so “It’s not like sludge or petroleum,” said Coast Guard Public Affairs Chief Warrant Officer Allyson Conroy. However, she added, “It’s still not native to the environment it’s leeching into.”

Additionally, while the Coast Guard is not aware of just how much of the oil has been spilled so far, she referred to the failure of a Con Ed transformer that led to the incident as “catastrophic.

“The transformer is caput,” she added.

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Major explosion causes building collapse, fire on Second Ave. at East 7th

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By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A building on Second Avenue near East 7th Street has collapsed due to an explosion and fire earlier this afternoon, the FDNY confirmed. The collapse occurred at 123 Second Avenue and  FDNY said that 121 Second Avenue had also partially collapsed, but it was unclear whether this was a direct result of the explosion or occurred later. Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference on Thursday evening that 119 and 125 Second Avenue have also been affected, and FDNY said that the emergency call came from 125 Second Avenue at 3:17 p.m. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said that the area around 119 Second Avenue was vacated because of a possible collapse of that building as well, as a result of the fire that extended there following the explosion.

The FDNY does not know the cause of the incident yet but police at the scene said that it was consistent with a gas explosion. The mayor confirmed that explosion appears to have been caused by plumbing and gas work that was going on in 121 Second Avenue, but the investigation is still ongoing. The mayor added that the FDNY is dealing with a seven-alarm incident and have contained fires in all four of the buildings so far. 

Second Avenue was closed from East 14th Street to Houston after the explosion. The affected buildings included a number of apartments as well as restaurants Sushi Park at 121 Second Ave. and Pommes Frites at 123 Second Ave.

Notify NYC reported that the New York City Unified Victim Identification System (UVIS) was activated in response to the fire. Anyone concerned about the welfare of someone who may have been affected by the collapse and are unable to contact them should call 311. From outside of NYC, relatives and friends can call (212) 639-9675. The American Red Cross has also opened a reception center at P.S. 63 at 121 East 3rd Street in Manhattan.

“Today our community’s heart is breaking,” Council Member Rosie Mendez said in response to the tragedy. “My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by this tragedy. I am working closely with emergency services, my colleagues in government and with community leaders to respond to this horrible event. I thank the people of New York for the outpouring of concern and support. We pray for the victims and their families.”

On Thursday evening, Con Ed also issued a statement, noting the building had failed an inspection.

“Con Edison is working with fire officials and other agencies at the scene of today’s explosion and building collapse on 2nd Avenue near 7th Street in the East Village neighborhood in Manhattan,” the utility said.

“Earlier today, Con Edison personnel were at the location to evaluate work the building plumber was doing inside 121 2nd Ave. in connection with a gas service upgrade. The work failed our inspection for several reasons, including insufficient spacing for the installation of the meter in the basement.

“We had no reports of gas odors in the area prior to the fire and explosion. A survey conducted yesterday of the gas mains on the block found no leaks. We continue to work with all agencies on the investigation into the cause, and we are praying for the recovery of all the injured.”

Teen from Riis Houses missing

Jemancey Vadon

Jemancey Vadon

Police are looking for an Alphabet City teen who’s been missing since Friday.

Fourteen-year-old Jamancey Vadon was last seen at home at Riis Houses building 90 Avenue D at around 11:30 p.m.

He is described as being black, approximately 5’6″ tall, weighing 115 lbs. With a thin build and black hair.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at nypdcrimestoppers.com or by texting tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.

Police looking for a man last seen at Bellevue

Photo of Elliot Baez provided by NYPD

Photo of Elliot Baez provided by NYPD

Police are looking for a man who was last seen strolling out of Bellevue Hospital on the afternoon of Saturday, July 5.

Elliot Baez, 57, is 5’8″ tall, weighs 150 pounds and has brown hair. He was last seen wearing a blue dress with yellow flowers, yellow socks and black sneakers.

Anyone with information is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS or text tips to 274637(CRIMES) then enter TIP577.

 

East Village senior missing

 

Carlos Pena

Carlos Pena

Police are looking for an East Village senior who’s been missing since Tuesday evening.

Sixty-one-year-old Carlos Pena of 620 East 13th Street was last seen on Tuesday at 9 p.m. at home. He is described as 5’8″, 185 lbs. with a stocky build, Hispanic with a light complexion, brown eyes and gray hair. He was last seen wearing tan colored pants with a white belt and a tan button down shirt.

Anyone with information in regards to this missing is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 800-577-TIPS or submit tips online at www.nypdcrimestoppers.com.