Ithaca, N.Y. — One day, Ithaca officials were saying that the state had closed its review of toxic contaminants found at a controversial housing development on Spencer Road.

The next, they were saying that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation was in fact reviewing the site as an open spill.

Now, the question is why city officials — including Mayor Svante Myrick — were wrong about the status of the review. Are they to blame for incorrectly saying the spill was closed, or were they hung out to dry by misinformation stemming from the state?

Designs for the proposed affordable housing complex on Ithaca’s Spencer Road.
Designs for the proposed affordable housing complex on Ithaca’s Spencer Road.

DEC officials have not provided an explanation of how multiple sources attributed widely divergent information to their agency in the same day.

In an interview on Tuesday, Tim Seeler, the project’s consulting engineer, said he is curious why the state said it had closed its review of the spill site if it was still open.

“We’re expecting a full explanation from the DEC,” Seeler said.

The state has said that there were two spill numbers, one closed and one opened. Seeler said he didn’t know that there was a second, open spill number when reporting that the state review of the site had been closed.

“We were looking at the closed one and thinking that was it,” Seeler said. “We were unaware that they had opened up a separate number. Why would we know that?”

But Alderperson Cynthia Brock argues that it was city developers’ responsibility to know about both spill numbers.

Tim Seeler, right, speaks at the city’s planning board meeting. (Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice)
Tim Seeler, right, speaks at the city’s planning board meeting. (Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice)

She said that the open spill, while initially giving the wrong address, still came up as part of the development site. The engineers and city therefore should have known about it, she said.

“You must investigate the surrounding properties to fully evaluate if there is contamination on the site,” said Brock, whose district includes the development, “so they should have been searching the properties within the radius of the proposed site.”

The matter is crucial to the future of the affordable housing complex, known as the Stone Quarry Apartments, that has drawn strenuous opposition from neighbors of the development.

Ithaca’s planning board voted to table approval of the development until next month, pending further clarification of the site’s status from the DEC.

Much of neighbors’ opposition to the affordable housing project predates the environmental concerns about the site, though the recent events have been incorporated into their complaints.

Charsleissa King, a DEC spokesperson, released a statement on Monday to The Ithaca Voice saying that there had been two spill sites, one closed and one open. Repeating information already released by Alderperson Brock, King said that the spill sites had been consolidated into one, open site.

King did not respond to questions about what caused the confusion. Follow-up requests for interviews with state officials have not been returned.

The city is also left waiting for word from the state.

“We’ve asked the state to clearly articulate what happened,” Seeler said. “Hopefully, when they do, it will become clear what happened.”

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.