Tennis courts

Long-delayed soil tests performed on Memorial Field tennis courts


The city finally complied with state-required soil tests Friday under the Memorial Field tennis courts to determine if any contaminated debris has reached that distance north on the property.

Three 12-foot holes were dug in a four-foot space in the southeast corner of the courts to collect enough soil for Cornerstone Engineering to carry out chemical and physical tests. Soil testing is part of the city’s agreement with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to test and remove contaminants.

Much of what was removed was the courts’ Har-Tru surface. Excavators from subcontractor Summit Drilling had to dig three holes to get enough samples without damaging the ground too much.

Cornerstone’s John Giuliano then separated worthless chunks of rock before placing samples for chemical testing in foil packets, a pill box and three jars which he stored in a cooler. The tests should last a few weeks.

John Giuliano of Cornerstone Engineering works with a soil sample at the Mount Vernon Tennis Center after soil was removed from below the tennis court surface, August 17, 2018.

DIRTY SECRETS: Unanswered questions about contaminated soil

TENNIS CENTER: What happened at Memorial Field?

DEC LETTER: City has no records of source of tainted dirt

Testing under the courts has been long delayed but further complicated by the middle of the night demolition of the tennis bubble on June 1, which resulted in a $27 million breach of contract lawsuit by the center’s operator, Kelly Tennis.

The deflated bubble of the Mount Vernon Tennis Center and the demolished grandstand, in the foreground, are seen at Memorial Field, August 2, 2018.

Kela Simunyola and her daughter watched the holes dug and samples taken, as did a DEC representative, city public works commissioner Joseph Nigro and city council members Marcus Griffith and Janice Duarte.

Simunyola said he believed the tests would not show contamination because the fill under the courts was from the north end of the property where there had been no illegal dumping.

“If they find something, it means it could have been there for 30 years and was untested when the courts were built,” he said.

The city claimed the bubble needed to be removed urgently, but had threatened for months to terminate the center’s licensing agreement and shut it down for non-payment.

Kela Tennis insists he had stopped making payments with the understanding of city officials. The company incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in unforeseen expenses because the city did not fulfill its part of the license agreement, in particular the completion of a clubhouse for the tennis center.

The handling of the bubble removal also prompted the City Council to seek and obtain a restraining order prohibiting the Thomas administration from continuing work on Memorial Field.

The soil test was part of the negotiations in the court cases but was initially delayed when the city refused to return the parts needed to lift the bubble. Threatened with contempt, the city asked the contractor to return the parts on August 1.

Kela Simunyola, right, operator of Kela Tennis at the Mount Vernon Tennis Center, watches as workers prepare to remove dirt from beneath the surface of the tennis court, August 17, 2018.

Kela Tennis finally hired a contractor and was still removing rainwater from the sunken bubble on Thursday afternoon. On Friday morning, the bubble was still saturated with water, but they had removed enough from the area to be tested.

How the ground got there

The field has been closed for a decade, and in 2015 the DEC inspected the site and found construction debris that had been left there without the necessary solid waste permits. The city received a notice of violation after tests confirmed the presence of coal, ash and slag, which the DEC considers non-toxic contaminants.

Former Mayor Ernie Davis ignored the 2009 agreement between then-Mayor Clinton Young and Westchester County using much of the money to add more tennis courts to the property.

Davis has admitted to having struck a handshake agreement with a contractor to bring fill to the site, but denies any knowledge of illegal debris being dumped there.

In March 2017, the city paid a $40,000 fine after reaching an agreement with the state agreeing to test and clean up construction and demolition debris that had been dumped at the site.

The remediation was supposed to be done by the end of 2017, and last month DEC fined the city $10,000 for noncompliance and threatened legal action to force the cleanup.

Cornerstone had previously dug and tested 15 pits on the dirt mound, uncovering non-hazardous asphalt, brick and glass and suggesting the 12,000 cubic yards, or 18,000 tons, may be a low estimate.

They estimated the cost of excavating and transporting the materials at over $2 million, but suggested that some of the materials could be used as backfill at the site and covered.

Twitter: @jonbandler

Source link