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Bob Banfelder

Bob is an award-winning crime-thriller novelist and outdoors writer. "The Fishing Smart Anywhere Handbook for Salt Water & Fresh Water" is endorsed by Lefty Kreh and Angelo Peluso~online at Amazon.

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July 02, 2016

A Rodeo of Rhetoric Re the U.S. Navy ~ Yet Hope Springs Eternal

by Bob Banfelder

We are continuing with the United States Navy's initial procrastination (2009) referencing the cleanup operation of the toxic plume discovered in the upper section of the Peconic River—affecting the Calverton/Manorville areas. We'll learn what transpired at one of the Restoration Advisory Board meetings that Donna and I attended. I'll, again, be going back in time, excerpting from another article I had written for Red Room (a literary on-line magazine for writers), focusing on the Navy's deplorable behavior in treating a most serious matter.

U.S. NAVY: PROGRESS OR PANACHE?

April 27, 2010

On April 22nd, 2010, Donna Derasmo and I attended a three-hour Restoration Advisory Board meeting at the Calverton Community Center. In attendance was Suffolk County's Republican Legislator, Ed Romaine. Mr. Romaine could not stay for the meeting but said his peace at the start of the talk. He did not mince words, making it quite clear that the United States Navy, " ...did not catch the [toxic plume] problem...early enough; it was the Suffolk County Health Department that caught it [the toxic contamination] through groundwater monitoring."

Lora Fly, who heads the Navy's remedial project and oversees the federal cleanup efforts at the Calverton site, talked-the-talk, responding that, "There were no environmental laws in the 40's or 50's," and "only in the 70's were there laws to protect the environment." As a reminder, the toxic plume that exists and persists is the result of Volatile Organic Compounds, VOCs, derived from solvents that were used to clean airplanes [parts] at the now defunct Grumman Naval Weapons Reserve Plant in Calverton, almost six decades ago. The VOCs have leached into the groundwater. The Navy certainly had to have known about this when there were laws in place to protect the health of the public and the environment. Not only did the Navy bury their collective heads in the proverbial sand, they arrogantly and unequivocally stated that "the problem will eventually dissipate via natural attenuation."

The only element that was going to go away was the Navy, and stay away, if not for the collective voices of concerned citizens who brought pressure to bear on our politicians who in turn brought pressure to bear upon the United States Navy. Still, it became a stalemate until the powers that be realized that we the people were not going to go away. Senator Charles Schumer had called for the Navy to commence clean-up operations of the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Calverton so as to prevent further contamination of our waterways [the Peconic River and drinking water wells]. To quote from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Schumer's propensity for publicity is the subject of a running joke among many commentators, leading Bob Dole to quip: ‘The most dangerous place in Washington is between Charles Schumer and a television camera.'" President Barack Obama joked that "Schumer brought along the press to a banquet as his ‘loved ones'." Laugh if you will, but Senator Charles Schumer does know how to bring attention to important issues.

New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, along with Congressman Tim Bishop, "demanded" that the United States Navy stop insisting that the toxic chemicals found in the Peconic River are simply going to go away. The United States Navy had taken a firm stand well into 2009 that the contamination will eventually disperse. The fact is that the toxic chemicals found in one well was two hundred (200) times the state's drinking water standards. Of the number of wells tested—fifty two of them—all of them contained Volatile Organic Compounds, VOCs.

However, a Navy spokeswoman, Lieutenant j.g. Laura Steghrr, had reinforced the Navy's position stating, "The Calverton site does not present a health or safety risk." The woman went on to say, "Current sampling shows the concentration of volatile organic compounds detected in the Peconic River is lower than appreciable values and ecological values." Additionally, she continued, "Concentration levels in the groundwater have remained steady or decreased over time."

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, along with [then] Assistant Navy Secretary for Installations and Environment, BJ Penn, and Navy spokeswoman Lieutenant j.g. Steghrr, had apparently lost sight of the facts. The truth concerning this horrendous matter is that the toxic chemicals found in the Peconic River [and wells] most definitely posed and still pose a considerable public health issue and an environmental threat. The toxic plume was known to be more than a quarter of a mile wide then was later reported to extend better than a third of a mile. Further analyses and studies revealed that the volatile substances ran a half mile south of the plant and had found their way into the banks of the Peconic River. It was then that the Secretary of the Navy woke up, did a 180, pledging to clean up the toxic plume in the Peconic River, promising to do whatever it takes to rectify the matter and restore the area to the way it was originally.

Lora Fly had said that the Navy's goal with regard to the toxic groundwater "... is to reach levels that are in the [state] regulations. The overall goal is to do that," she continued. "But just like anything else, you're going to have to do it in stages. I'm not saying by tomorrow we're going to have that done, but that's the overall goal, and we will be working toward that goal."

Yet, at a November 5th, 2009 meeting between community members on the Navy's Restoration Advisory Board and the Navy's remedial cleanup project team, procrastination, at the Navy's behest, continued. Advisory board members had requested that the Navy install a "Pump-and-Treat System" in the midst of the extensive toxic plume, which is polluting the Peconic River. However, Lora Fly denied the Board's temporary measure, and the Navy continued to drag its feet.

Two discharge points of VOCs had been found along the banks of the Peconic River. Reporting on the health department's findings, geologist Andrew Rapiejko stated, "We've identified, in this sampling round, two distinct discharge points . . . it [the plume] is getting into the river. It is discharging."

After the start of the April 22nd, 2010 Restoration Advisory Board meeting (a commission composed of Navy personnel and concerned community members), I addressed the group and explained the Gary Berntsen/Ray Mabus connection, the letter that I sent to the Secretary of the Navy, and an Acting Assistant's response to that letter. I finished by expressing both Donna's and my feelings on the matter, briefly stating what we had witnessed over a 13-month period: rhetoric and procrastination personified on behalf of the United States Navy.

As the meeting moved forward, I was pleasantly surprised yet cautiously optimistic to learn that the Navy is making some headway between its analyses and studies. A cleanup has begun. However, the heavy rains we endured this past fortnight have placed matters on hold until the waters recede. It's always something, isn't it? Still, we can't put this delay on the Navy. Although there was a distinct line of demarcation drawn between the two factions that evening, Navy and neighborhood watchdogs, members of the community realized a concerted effort is in effect. Crews of contractors brought in by the Navy have begun excavating and removing toxic earth, it was learned. Hot spots have been identified, and ways to deal with them are being explored. Technical information, questions and answers flooded the minds of the knowledgeable men and women in the group. It appeared to be a productive meeting.

Still, an important point that evening unnerves me. An opinion, based on the current analyses and studies, is that we have three years to nip this matter in the bud. The issue was postulated by an engineer from Tetra Tech, a worldwide consulting and engineering firm. Yet, I wonder if there is literally an end to this plume, or is this the beginning of an inevitable and irreversible disaster. It is my belief that we are at a very critical juncture. The next Restoration Advisory Board meeting is tentatively scheduled for December 2010. Stay tuned.

This is my ninth report on the Peconic River's toxic plume, and I have received supportive comments from across the country—from California and as far north as Canada.

*******


Our Cablevision Channel 20 TV show, Special Interests with Bob & Donna, continues to address the toxic water pollution issues referencing both the upper and lower reaches of the Peconic River; namely, the toxic plume in the Calverton/Manorville areas as well as the dumping of raw and partially treated sewage in the lower region, stemming from the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant. Our shows appear every month, running each consecutive Saturday at 4 p.m. The program reaches viewers residing in Wading River to Orient Point and Eastport to Montauk. If you reside out of area, please ask an in-area friend to tape these shows for you.

Stay tuned.



Robert Banfelder
www.robertbanfelder.com

Award-Winning Crime-Thriller Novelist & Outdoors Writer
Member: Outdoors Writers Association of America
New York State Outdoor Writers Association
Long Island Outdoor Communicators Network
Cablevision TV Host Special Interests with Robert Banfelder & Donna Derasmo
Bi-monthly contributor to Nor'east Saltwater






Bob's nine novels

July 01, 2016

Putting in My 2 Cents Worth, Too

by Bob Banfelder

The Department of Environmental Conservation in conjunction with Riverhead Town had each agreed to put up two cents per pound to help subsidize commercial fishermen seine net the prodigious schools of bunker (menhaden) from the Peconic River so as to avert a noxious fish die-off. Southampton Town had initially declined to contribute their fair share, but its town board finally agreed (after public pressure) to split the cost, each anteing in one cent per pound. The undertaking was initiated to hopefully thwart a repeat of the immense fish-kill of bunker as had happened in 2009 and then again in 2015. I spoke with several commercial fishermen who said that they are hauling, on average, 25,000 pounds of bunker per day, divided among four boats. Two of the larger boats average approximately 10,000 pounds each, while two of the smaller boats average 2,000 pounds each. At the height of the bunker season, these commercial fishermen—if at all even interested—receive a nominal 8 cents per pound for bunker because at that point the market is already saturated. The additional 4 cents per pound, bringing the total to 12 cents per pound, now makes it worthwhile for the commercial fishermen to ply their trade. Collectively, the two towns will cap the removal at a cost of $15,000; that is, $7,500 each.

The point of all this is to see if the experiment will put a dent in stemming the tide of bunker that die and further pollute the Peconic River and its neighboring bays. I say "further pollute" because these bodies of water are subject to pollution derived from the faulty Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant at the lower reach of the Peconic River. The commercial fishermen are telling me that they are hardly making a dent in the many millions of bunker that are schooled up in the river. The big question is will the plan head off the invasion of predator fish (namely bluefish) if and when they arrive on the scene, corralling and bottlenecking the bunker in the narrow stretch of the Peconic River, thus preventing the schools from escaping and winding up dead along the river banks and neighboring bays' shorelines. Note that for several weeks, May into June of this year, the bunker have been slowly dying along both shores of the Peconic River because of low dissolved oxygen levels as the result of high nitrogen output. The major culprit is the Riverhead Sewage Treatment Plant, operating at half capacity until it is fixed and functional [upgraded, actually], which was supposed to happen back in March of 2016. The new projected date is August, 2016. Don't hold your breath . . . which you may have to do if an invasion of bluefish suddenly happen upon the scene.


May 31, 2016. Commercial fishermen seine netting live bunker from the Peconic River so as to alleviate a massive bunker die-off. These guys should be praised, applauded, and paid top dollar.


June 29, 2016. Even with the efforts of commercial fishermen seine netting bunker from the Peconic River, we're still seeing dead bunker along the shoreline. Admittedly, not like in 2009 and 2015, but still unsightly and unhealthy.

You may recall that the Riverhead Town Cardboard Boat Races were postponed in 2015 until the Suffolk County Department of Health Services deemed it safe for humans to come in contact with what was two months earlier an obnoxiously odoriferous, slimy mess along both shores of the Peconic River and its neighboring bays—all the way out to Mattituck! The entire area was contaminated with bacteria, parasites, algae Gymnodinium (nitrogen assimilation), and more than a handful of other harmful microorganisms—harmful to humans and/or the environment.

Let's continue back in time to my reporting on the pollution of the upper reaches of the Peconic River, which appeared in Red Room, an on-line literary magazine. In the upper reaches of the Peconic River, a toxic plume comprised of heavy metals (Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) was discovered at the United States Navy's former Northrop Grumman Site in Calverton in 2009.

WHO'S ON FIRST

April 15, 2010

If you recall my letter that I mailed on February 23rd, 2010 to The Honorable Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, I had requested that Mr. Mabus respond after speaking with Gary Berntsen, who is running for Congress, Congressional District 1. I had posed the problem to Mr. Berntsen during the launching of his GOP campaign back in February. At the beginning of April, I received a letter, not from Mr. Mabus, but from a Mr. Roger M. Natsuhara (Acting). That is how he signed off: (Acting). The letterhead reads: THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF THE NAVY (ENERGY, INSTALLATIONS & ENVIRONMENT). A quick check on the Internet verified that he was, indeed, the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Navy. I mention this because assistants and acting assistants seem to change as frequently as folks change their underwear. On March 5, 2010, Jackalyne Pfannensteil was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy, Installation and Environment). That appointment occurred 21 days before Mr. Natsuhara sent his letter to me. Isn't that interesting? Anyhow, here is the man's letter to Donna and me:

March 26, 2010

Dear Mr. Banfelder and Ms. Derasmo:

Thank you for your February 23, 2010 letter regarding environmental investigations and cleanup at the Naval Weapons Industrial Reserve Plant in Calverton, New York. I am responding on behalf on [sic] the Secretary of the Navy. The Navy is taking all appropriate actions to investigate and cleanup [sic] this site as quickly as possible.

The Navy is required to follow specific environmental cleanup laws and regulations and has obtained concurrence from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) to conduct investigation and cleanup actions. NYSDEC concurred in the Navy's short-term remedy to protect the drinking water at the Peconic River Sportsman's Club (PRSC), which consisted of groundwater treatment and monitoring. The PRSC well is the only affected potable water supply in the area. The short-term remedy is in place and Navy is working with PRSC to install a new potable water line. NYSDEC also concurred in removal of 21,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil. That project is scheduled to be completed by May 2010. In December 2009, NYSDEC found that all water samples collected to date were well below water quality standards for the Peconic River. NYSDEC requested Navy to collect additional samples for inclusion in the site cleanup plan, which will be submitted to NYSDEC for concurrence later this year.

The New York State Department of Health is the appropriate agency to address your concerns regarding cancer rates in Suffolk County and fish advisories. Mr. Steve Karpinski has indicated he can address these issues for you and can be reached at (518) 402-7880.

Thank you for sharing your concerns regarding this site. For more detailed and technical information on this matter, I encourage you to attend the next Restoration Advisory Board meeting on April 22, at 7:00 pm at the Calverton Community Center.

Sincerely,
Roger M. Natsuhara
(Acting)

*******


As you will note from Mr. Natsuhara's letter, the man says that, "The PRSC well is the only affected potable water supply in the area." The fact of the matter is that of the fifty-two (52) wells tested in the Calverton/Manorville area, conducted by the Navy and the Suffolk County Health Department, all fifty-two were found to have concentrations of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)—some as high as two-hundred (200) times the state's allowable drinking water standards. Mr. Natsuhara conveniently limits the testing to a single well and a single property, not the surrounding areas. Be reminded of the Navy's denials and rhetoric that we have heard in the past. The toxic plume in the Calverton/Manorville area threatens the groundwater in the Peconic River here in Suffolk County, Long Island, New York. We are dealing with Volatile Organic Compounds leaching into the Peconic River. Mr. Berntsen had stated to me at the launching of his campaign that he knows Mr. Mabus personally and would address the matter with him directly.

I waited two weeks and a day before e-mailing Mr. Berntsen, copying him with my letter to the Secretary of the Navy, in order for Mr. Mabus and Mr. Berntsen to converse with regard to this deplorable situation. I did not receive a reply from Mr. Berntsen. After receiving Mr. Natsuhara's letter, not Mr. Mabus's response, I can only assume that a conversation between Mr. Mabus and Mr. Berntsen never transpired. Nor do I think that Mr. Natsuhara was acting in good faith because of the time frame mentioned above. Is this politics as usual? It's a good bet. Here's my e-mail to Mr. Berntsen. We are on a first-name basis; hence the informality:

Original Message

From: Robert Banfelder
Sent: Monday, March 08, 2010 9:38 AM
Subject: US Navy — Toxic Plume

Dear Gary,

At your campaign kick-off meeting at Polish Hall in Riverhead, I mentioned the toxic plume that is caused by the US Navy's cleaning of aircraft [parts] at the Grumman facility in Calverton. You had said that you would get in touch with the Secretary of the Navy regarding this health-threatening issue.

Below is the letter, which I sent to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, regarding the issue: [Inserted February 23, 2010 letter]

Donna and I wholeheartedly believe in you as the candidate that will bring us forward while honoring the principles established by our forefathers.

Very best regards,
Bob Banfelder
Donna Derasmo

P.S. Finished Jawbreaker (as you may recall); halfway finished with Human Intelligence, Counterterrorism & National Leadership: A Practical Guide; will start Walk-In shortly.

With regard to the conclusion of Mr. Natsuhara's letter to Donna and me, we will most assuredly attend the next scheduled Restoration Advisory Board's meeting on April 22nd, 2010.

*******

Note: Mr. Berntsen is a former CIA officer, CIA Station Chief of Counterintelligence, and the author of the above-mentioned nonfiction books.

Tomorrow, in sum and substance, we'll take a look at what transpired at one of the Restoration Advisory Board meetings that Donna and I attended.

Stay tuned.

Robert Banfelder:
www.robertbanfelder.com

Award-Winning Crime-Thriller Novelist & Outdoors Writer
Member: Outdoors Writers Association of America
New York State Outdoor Writers Association
Long Island Outdoor Communicators Network
Cablevision TV Host Special Interests with Robert Banfelder & Donna Derasmo
Bi-monthly contributor to Nor'east Saltwater








Bob's nine novels—including two award winners




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