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Dirt Pile Is Road Block at Sag Harbor Gas Ball Lot

Thu, 11/30/2023 - 08:50
National Grid says there's likely no safety concern with the fill left in a pile on the property known as the gas ball lot in Sag Harbor, but it is being tested anyway.
Christopher Gangemi

The much-fought-over gas ball lot at 5 Bridge Street in Sag Harbor may not be much to look at, but it contains 93 parking spaces valuable both to the village and to Adam Potter, a developer who outbid the village to win the lease on the lot from National Grid earlier this year. 

The stretch of gravel surrounded by a chain-link fence and adjacent to a Superfund site at 31 Long Island Avenue was to be taken over by Mr. Potter on Nov. 16, when the village’s lease with National Grid expired, but after a pile of dirt was dumped there without permission or explanation, he refused to take possession of the lot. The village’s lease has now been extended through Dec. 16. 

Loosely covered by a tarp, the dirt pile takes up roughly eight parking spaces. 

The Public Service Commission awarded Mr. Potter the lease to the lot over the summer. “The dirt doesn’t belong there, and it needs to be tested to determine whether it is clean or contaminated,” Mr. Potter said in a phone call this week. He believed the fill came from the construction project at 31 Long Island Avenue, where a one-story retail building is under construction, and feared it had mixed with contaminated soil. “It should be tested so we know what we’re dealing with. What would happen if that dirt was dumped at Steinbeck Park?” 

In a Nov. 8 email sent to Mayor Tom Gardella, he wrote, “For the past few weeks, if not longer, the village has allowed a large amount of fill to be stored in the parking lot. To ensure a smooth transition, can you please have the fill removed prior to the commencement date?” 

Days later, after not hearing back from the village, Mr. Potter wrote directly to Teresa Mauro, the New York gas portfolio real estate right-of-way manager for National Grid. “We are concerned about the contents of the fill and ask that the village provide an indemnification for future issues.” 

Liz Vail, the village attorney responding to the email chain, wrote, “My understanding is that no one at the Village of Sag Harbor gave 31 Long Island Avenue permission to put fill on the property located at 5 Bridge Street.” 

“What does a pile of dirt have to do with the village?” Christopher Talbot, the building inspector for Sag Harbor, asked in a phone call. “It’s National Grid that has to move it. I called the Schiavonis. They said it was theirs, and they were waiting for National Grid. I don’t know why they don’t just come and pick it up. Once Schiavoni gets his D.E.C. paperwork straightened out, they can go back to work.” 

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued a stop work order on Oct. 11 to VACS Enterprises L.L.C., the owner of 31 Long Island Avenue, after it failed to provide the D.E.C. with 15 days’ advance notice prior to commencing intrusive work on the site, a portion of the former Sag Harbor Manufactured Gas Plant. 

“Protocols in the property’s approved Site Management Plan must be followed if intrusive actions, such as digging, occur through a site cover. This includes prohibiting pedestrian access during intrusive activities to prevent exposure to potentially contaminated soil. Air-monitoring protocols are also required during any ground-intrusive work as specified in the Site Management Plan,” a spokesman for the D.E.C. wrote in an email. 

“D.E.C. requested revocation of the construction permit and on-site construction activities cease until the property owners come into compliance with the Site Management Plan. The pile of soil observed at the site is clean fill used as soil cover,” said the spokesperson. 

For his part, David Schiavoni, who is managing the construction project, said in a text that the pile belonged to National Grid. He provided a 108-page document from GEI Consultants from June to support his assertion that the fill is clean. Speaking about Mr. Potter, he said, “If he was a normal businessman, he would get on the phone and call them [National Grid] and say, ‘When are you getting this dirt on my property,’ and if you get someone to pick up the dirt, have them pick up all the dirt on my property too because I’ve been waiting.” 

Mr. Schiavoni contends that he’s been waiting 16 weeks for National Grid to remove the pile. In other words, he says it was there before Mr. Potter was supposed to take control of the lot, and before the stop-work order was issued by the D.E.C. He would not say when exactly the pile was dumped there, or why. 

“The key is the dirt belongs to National Grid,” he said. “The dirt is cleaned, it’s been approved. It has to be moved off site and only Keyspan can do it.” 

“The fill was put on the property without our approval,” said Wendy Frigeria, a spokeswoman for the company. “We don’t believe there are any safety concerns, but as a precaution we are in the process of testing it. We are also taking responsibility to remove it.” 

Mr. Potter said once the dirt is removed, and he receives an indemnification, he’ll take over the lot. “I’m 100 percent confident based on our legal research that we can operate it as a parking lot.” The village might disagree with his assessment. Operating a private parking lot is not a recognized “use” in the office district the lot is part of. 

“We tried to put legislation forward this fall allowing for the use of a parking lot as long as it was kept open to the public,” said Mayor Gardella. “His attorney challenged the legislation, so we withdrew it. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Right now, the village is still exercising the lease.” 

“If the village wants to shut me down after I take over the lot,” said Mr. Potter, “they can issue a citation and we’ll go to court.” 

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