STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – The other day, Leonello Savo, owner of Woodrow Plaza in Rossville, was hit with six violations for dumping raw sewage into the Lemon Creek part of the Bluebelt.
The violations add up to a total of $5.1 million in potential fines. Savo has until the end of August to settle up with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) or he could face criminal charges.
It’s just the latest reminder of the threats faced by Staten Island’s ecosystem.
The environment has always been a major topic in our bucolic borough. We are the "Borough of Parks," after all. But the issue hasn’t always been at the top of the agenda lately, replaced by talk about the coming development to the North Shore waterfront, and new shopping plazas elsewhere.
Or by the seemingly never-ending battle against tolls and potholes.
Or our need for more transit options.
And, in the last few weeks, the traffic mess on the Staten Island Expressway has been front and center.
But percolating underneath all of it has been multiplying concerns about the environment.
How did we learn about this Lemon Creek travesty? Neighbors reported a stench so bad that they couldn’t use the outdoor areas of their homes. A prom party was cancelled. After months of complaints, the DEC stepped in and dropped some enforcement on Savo.
Meanwhile, at the Mount Manresa site in Fort Wadsworth, where 250 townhomes are slated to be built, a father-son engineering team got slammed with a 31-count indictment. It is alleged that they lied on city reports that said the site was free of asbestos. Borough President James Oddo has refused to release house address numbers for the project in the wake of the indictment.
The asbestos problem was an offshoot of the controversial building project being done at Mount Manresa by some other members of the Savo family, who have not been cited in the asbestos investigation.
Those Savos had bought the property from the Society of Jesus for $15 million, and were moving ahead with a plan to build on the site, as was their right. Because the development was permitted, local officials said there was ultimately nothing they could do to stop the building, despite local protests.
But those local activists kept the pressure on, and it was later discovered that they were right that the buildings on the site were being torn down even though the structures had not been cleared of asbestos.
Another environmental problem that could have been avoided. Just like dumping raw sewage into environmentally sensitive waters could have been avoided.
And there are other environmental concerns, concerns that are sometimes getting drowned out by some of the other talk going on out there.
West Nile has reared its head again, with the disease found in mosquitoes here. Talk about a blast from the past.
Resiliency plans are being formulated to protect the Island from Hurricane Sandy-like events in the future. North Shore residents were dissatisfied with answers they got from the city during a meeting this week.
There is concern that a building project could adversely impact sensitive lands in Chapin Woods.
Bluebelt expansion plans are underway.
There are concerns about illegal dumping all over the Island, including the dumping of electronic devices.
And we still have populations of wild deer, turkeys and peacocks to contend with. And one of the biggest parks in city history coming on line at the old Fresh Kills landfill.
Our environment is a big part of what makes the Island unique among the boroughs. It’s one of the reasons that people want to come here. They can get a little bit of the rural, but remain close to the city.
Let’s not forget that that environment needs our protection. People who despoil it or who play fast and loose with the rules, like developers and those who work for them, need to be punished.