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Red Hook Ball Fields May Get Stormwater Capture System as Part of Cleanup

 A sign posted outside Red Hook ballfields 5, 6, 7 and 8 regarding their closure due to the cleanup of lead contaminated soil.
A sign posted outside Red Hook ballfields 5, 6, 7 and 8 regarding their closure due to the cleanup of lead contaminated soil.
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DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

RED HOOK — A plan to reconstruct four lead-contaminated ball fields in Red Hook may include the addition of bioswales as a sustainable way to collect stormwater runoff, officials said Thursday night. 

The Parks Department is working on a years-long cleanup effort in Red Hook for multiple sports fields that have varying levels of soil contamination. The reconstruction is expected to continue through 2022. 

Ball fields 5, 6, 7 and 8 — bound by Lorraine, Henry, Bay and Hicks streets — as well as ball field 9 across Bay Street, have significant levels of lead contamination in the soil due to a former smelting and refining facility that was located on the site of ball field 7 in the mid-1920s to the late 1930s, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the cleanup. 

Soil sampling found that ball fields 5 through 8 had average lead levels per area at 1,580 parts per million in the first inch of soil — nearly four times the EPA and state standards of 400 parts per million. The average increased to 3,795 parts per million at two-feet deep into the soil, according to the EPA's presentation.

Ball field 9 was also found to have smelter-related contamination, although the contaminants were found deeper in the soil.

ball fields

A map of the affected fields and timeline. [Credit: Department of Parks and Recreation]

Some locals at the Thursday meeting questioned the years-long loss of the fields, but Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey said there was no way to get around it.

"We don't see any way to accelerate this time frame," he said.

In schematic design for the reconstruction of ball fields 5 through 8, the perimeter of the fields would be moved inward by six feet. Bioswales — planted areas that collect rain water — would then be built around the border of the fields, according to Imelda Bernstein, the Parks Department's project manager. 

The final design for reconstruction of ball fields 5 through 8 is still in development and will be presented in the fall, Jeffrey said.

The ball fields would also be restored with synthetic turf, new drainage layers and a barrier against the contaminated soil, new benches, new curbs, rebuilt tree pits, plus new backstops and ramps for ADA accessibility. 

While the Parks Department will work to preserve existing healthy shade trees, some trees — particularly those damaged during Hurricane Sandy — will be replaced, Bernstein said. 

Parts of the fields will also be elevated to 11 feet above sea level to comply with the base flood elevation for the 100 year storm, Bernstein said. Some areas in the field are already at or above 11 feet, but others parts are at about eight or nine feet and will be raised. 

The EPA signed and finalized a "consent order," which is an administrative agreement, with the Parks Department for fields 5 through 9 early last month.

Fields 5 through 8, which are closed to the public, will remain closed until the cleanup action is completed in 2018. Once those fields are open and safe for use, work on field 9, which remains open, will begin.

The Parks Department is also conducting cleanup efforts for several other sports fields in the Red Hook Parks complex. For the entire cleanup effort, the agency has committed $105 million.

Surrounding soccer and softball fields have lower levels of soil contamination that were likely caused by historical contaminants, not the smelting facility, EPA coordinator Margaret Gregor said.

Ball fields 1 through 4 were closed earlier this year for hydroseeding. Those fields will stay closed for the remainder of the year as another round of hydroseeding is conducted in October and November “with a real expectation that we’ll be open for baseball in the spring,” Jeffrey said.