There was an unusually high turnout for the Navy's semiannual meeting of the Restoration Advisory Board on Jan. 29 , 2020 n Manorville. File photo: Denise Civiletti

The Navy is conducting an “environmental concerns” survey it says will be used to update its community involvement plan for the cleanup and restoration of the former Grumman site in Calverton.

The Navy did not provide details on what a community involvement plan update would look like, why it is being updated now and how the update would be used; it did not respond to questions submitted to its public affiars office earlier this week.

However, the continued existence of an official community advisory board may be at stake, according to a presentation given by the Navy at its most recent community meeting about the site.

At the last Calverton Restoration Advisory Board meeting on April 29, Navy representative Jennifer Zingalie said if there is no longer “sufficient, sustained community interest,” the Navy could dissolve the Calverton Restoration Advisory Board. Community membership on the RAB has dwindled to five people and the advisory board needs to have “at least 10 to 20 members,” Zingalie said.

The RAB is supposed to provide the Navy with citizen input on the environmental cleanup and restoration of the former military manufacturing and testing facility — a state Superfund site that has been undergoing remediation by the Navy for more than two decades.

According to critics — including at least two current members of the advisory board — the Navy has not made a good-faith effort to solicit members for the board — it hasn’t publicized board vacancies beyond announcing the need for members at the most recent virtual RAB meeting — and the survey method it’s using guarantees there won’t be much public participation.

“I would say the Navy’s community outreach is as anemic as its cleanup plan,” said Adrienne Esposito, RAB member and executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “They do as little as possible in order to get the results that they want,” she said.

Kelly McClinchy, a Manorville resident and activist who was recently appointed to the Calverton Restoration advisory Board, said the Navy initially sought to conduct the survey by telephone only, requiring local residents to call Zingalie for an interview — during regular business hours.

The “implication” was that a lack of survey responses would indicate lack of community interest, McClinchy said. And that could lead to the RAB being dissolved, so RAB members pushed back on the telephone-only method. As a result, the survey can be printed out, completed and faxed to Zingalie — or filled out online, then downloaded and emailed to her. It cannot be submitted directly online. Download the survey below.

The survey is neither mentioned nor posted to the Calverton NWIRP website, which includes a “community outreach” page and where all reports, notices, data and meeting minutes are published. The Navy did not issue a press release announcing the survey. It appeared on the Town of Riverhead’s website Friday afternoon.

Esposito called the Navy’s community outreach effort “a farce designed to achieve an outcome it desires, which is to get out of town as quickly as possible.”

Recent revelations about groundwater contamination polluting nearby residential wells south of the facility have led community members and elected officials to demand the Navy take responsibility for the contamination and fund the extension of public water mains to the community south of the site, where public water hookups are not available.

The Navy has denied responsibility for off-site groundwater pollution, though it has acknowledged on-site groundwater and soil contamination by a variety of substances, including Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFOS and PFOA) and volatile organic compounds. Site investigations for those substances and others, such as 1,4 Dioxane, are ongoing.

The Restoration Advisory Board meetings provide the community with the opportunity for periodic updates from the Navy on the status of its investigation and cleanup/restoration efforts — as well as an opportunity to give the Navy feedback and ask questions.

The first meeting of the Calverton RAB took place on April 28, 1998. The RAB initially had 14 community members. Its first community co-chair was Sherry Johnson of Manorville. She served from 1998 to 2002.

In an interview today, Johnson recalled how reluctant the Navy was to do groundwater testing, and how it refused to test off-site.

“I can’t tell you how many times I argued with them about testing,” Johnson said. “I’m sure towards the end I was screaming at them.”

Johnson said the Navy could trace the movement of contaminated groundwater plumes but “their plan was natural attenuation.”

She eventually got disgusted with the Navy’s lack of responsiveness, she said.

“I always compare them to the Department of of Energy at the lab,” she said, referring to Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton. “They bent over backwards to do whatever the people wanted. And we couldn’t get the Navy to do a damned thing.”

The Navy has convened the RAB 52 more times since its first meeting, usually about twice each year. Navy representatives and representatives of Navy contractors give reports — always quite technical and very dry — on ongoing site investigations and cleanup activities.

The Navy has largely resisted testing beyond “the fence line” along the site’s southern border, despite test results released in November showing detections of PFAS chemicals at or just north of the site boundary line.

The Navy and Grumman knew, as far back as the mid-1980s, that the Grumman’s operations on the site had contaminated groundwater, according to court documents in an insurance case between Northrop Grumman and its liability insurance companies. A 2013 federal court decision, first reported by Newsday in December, revealed that Grumman knew that groundwater contamination resulting from its operations could migrate off-site and threatened drinking water as well as the Peconic River estuary.

“It was three decades ago that the Navy first did their assessment if the Calverton site,” McClinchy said in an interview in January. “For 30 years they have known there has been contamination on that site,” she said. Yet, she said, the Navy refused to test residents’ private wells.

And the Navy has known for decades that local residents were worried the groundwater contamination would pollute their drinking water wells.

“Residents were concerned about the nature, extent, and mobility of the groundwater contamination and, its effects on the local drinking water supply and the aquifer,” the Navy noted in its July 1994 Community Relations Plan.

“Residents’ concern is elevated because some residents remain on well water,” the 1994 document said.

Twenty-seven years later, residents’ concerns are even more elevated, since the presence of PFAs has been documented at the fence line and detected in 15% of the private residential wells south of the site — some over New York’s recently adopted maximum contaminant levels for the substances.

New York last year adopted tough drinking water standards for PFOS, PFOA and 1,4 Dioxane — among the strictest in the nation. But the Navy maintains it is not bound by the state’s limits. There is no federal limit for PFOS, PFOA and 1,4 Dioxane. The EPA has set a “lifetime advisory” for exposure to the substances but no limits for drinking water.

Northrop-Grumman manufactured and tested military aircraft and equipment at the site and, among other things, also conducted fire fighting training exercises there. The company vacated the site in 1996.

Most of the land within the fenced facility was transferred to the Town of Riverhead in 1998. The Navy retained four parcels totaling approximately 356 acres for additional cleanup activity. It transferred 147 additional acres to the town in 2007 and still owns 209 acres at the site, where cleanup activities continue.

Navy Environmental Concerns Survey for Calverton by RiverheadLOCAL on Scribd

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.