ITHACA, N.Y. — In a Record Of Decision released earlier this week, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) announced that cleanup of the Ithaca Falls Overlook site is complete, and no further remedial action is needed.
The DEC notice states the “No Further Action” decision was made based on their own investigations, public comment and interim remedial measures (IRMs) performed or to be performed at the overlook. An IRM is used to make cleanup happen sooner, if a source of contamination or exposure pathway (the way in which someone may become contaminated, like soil or water) can be effectively addressed prior to completion of site remediation and review.
The decision comes with the implementation of institutional controls and engineering controls. the engineering control involves a clean soil cover and erosion control system installed over excavated portions of the site. On the institutional (bureaucratic) end, restrictions are being maintained or tightened on land, soil and water uses, and an environmental easement will prevent the land from being used for anything besides a low-impact park. A full copy of the ROD and “responsiveness summary” are available at the Tompkins County Public Library, and online here.
“One of the things you can take away from this is that remedial actions have already been done,” said DEC Property Manager Gary Priscott in a previous interview. “Surface soils on the site meet the objectives, but the site is going to be looked at in the future by site management. If anything we see is contradictory for what we want the outcomes to be, we will address that.”
One local activist is unlikely to be pleased with the decision. Walter Hang, President of Toxics Targeting, had been pushing to have the site scored high enough to be declared an EPA Superfund hazardous contamination site. Hang accused the city of incompetence, and the state and Cornell University of negligence, at a press conference back in June.
The simple summary of the formal paperwork is that the DEC announced a public comment period from June to mid-July saying they planned to declare cleanup complete, Hang argued otherwise, and the DEC was not swayed, saying the methods were sufficient and that the lead and chemical concentrations were low enough for the public park use intended. They are covering the excavated area with clean fill, erosion control mats and vegetation, and afterward the DEC is shifting back into monitoring mode. The falls overlook site is not 100% clean to the last part per billion; the DEC is stating that their remediation has cleaned it to a sufficient level for park visitors to be safe.
Ithaca Gun, a specialty armament manufacturer, operated a factory above the falls from 1880 to 1986. Workers used to test the guns by firing them into the air over the gorge. Over time, lead shot accumulated to toxic levels, 500 times the “action level” where government steps in to demand or undertake cleanup.
The first cleanup attempt lasted from 2002-2004, removed 6,000 tons of material and cost about $4.8 million at the time. However, high lead levels were discovered after the initial remediation, leading to further excavation and removal operations in 2014 and 2015. In the latest round, 2,652 tons of contaminated soil and 327 tons of concrete were excavated and disposed, while another 600 square foot area of contaminated thin soil layer was removed from a steeply sloped area in April 2017.