An unsightly and potentially hazardous building that once housed a prosperous business is scheduled to be demolished in September, after a few false starts, according to Nassau County officials.
One of the building’s former occupants, Rockaway Metal Products Inc., manufactured file cabinets, but after the firm went out of business 31 years ago, the property has been used intermittently. The one-story, 155,000-square-foot structure, on a 4.85-acre parcel, is a community eyesore, and was declared a Superfund site after hazardous materials were found there.
Area residents complained about the dilapidated building, which attracted squatters over the years. Last October, a section of the roof collapsed, and in March, a coastal storm blew loose pieces of the roof and other debris onto adjacent properties. Now a free-standing wall appears to be ready to crumble.
The site is in a mixed-use area where there are many homes and several businesses, including a SONY Pictures and Entertainment studio.
“Two more sections of the roof caved in, and nothing is going on,” Bayview Avenue resident Bill Poelaski said, and then summed up the sentiments of his neighbors. “It’s disgusting. It’s crazy. Everybody just shakes their head. People say stuff and nothing gets done. It’s a safety hazard.”
In April 2017, the County Legislature voted to borrow $2.1 million to demolish the building. On Jan. 30 of this year, the county began accepting bids. Initially, the work was expected to be done this spring, then county officials said it would be done this summer.
The cost of the work is now estimated at $1.27 million, and will be covered by the county’s capital budget, Department of Public Works spokeswoman Mary Studdert said. “The contractor is Watral Brothers,” she said. “We are awaiting approval from the [state] Department of Environmental Conservation before we can start, but approval from the DEC is imminent.” DEC officials said that, along with the state’s Department of Health, they are reviewing the county’s demolition-debris-disposal plan to ensure that it meets safety requirements.
County Legislator Carrié Solages, a Democrat from Elmont who represents Inwood, said he spoke to DPW Commissioner Ken Arnold on July 8 and was assured that the work was projected to be done in September. “I’ve been pushing for it to be completed ASAP, as people who live there told me about the recent storm damage [in March],” Solages said. “I pressed Arnold to expedite it because of the increased damage.”
In use since 1954, the site was a sheet metal fabrication factory from 1961 to 1971, and then Rockaway Metal occupied the parcel from 1971 to 1987. In 1992, the federal Environmental Protection Agency uncovered 240 55-gallon drums leaking hazardous waste, a 5,000-gallon tanker trailer in disrepair and dry wells that appeared to contain potentially flammable sludge on the property, according to the DEC.
From 1993 to 1995, the EPA removed the materials, but the contamination lingered. In 1995, after several years of legal wrangling involving the federal and state governments and three men who leased the property, chemical waste, contaminated equipment, four underground storage tanks and an abandoned tanker truck were also removed. From 1990 to 2004, various tenants have used the site, including Gunter Auto Shop. The county acquired the property due to nonpayment of taxes in 1995.
Considered a Class 2 site — where hazardous material is present and is a significant threat to public health — 175 Roger Ave. is ineligible for the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program, according to the DEC. The program’s goal is to encourage companies to clean up contaminated sites and promote their redevelopment with financial incentives. New owners could reapply, and the DEC would review the request.
Studdert said that the county would like to sell the site to a business that fits zoning guidelines and generates jobs, and it is already in the process of seeking a buyer. “We have put out a request for proposal to sell the property,” she said, “but a vendor has not yet been selected.”
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