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Sleepy Hollow Likely to See Tree Deaths in Duracell Cleanup

SLEEPY HOLLOW, N.Y. – A problem grows in Sleepy Hollow: trees on properties set for pollution remediation involving the former Duracell battery plant won't survive the soil cleanup process, officials announced Tuesday.

Gillette officials are asking the village to streamline the permit process for properties that will need to be remediated, including allowing crews to take down trees so that the cleanup process can be faster and less intrusive on homeowners.

“We're going to have to take down trees that are in good standing,” Gillette project leader Victor Miles said during a recent board of trustees meeting, noting that some of the trees include oak trees that have been alive for decades.

Gillette is the company legally and financially responsible for the cleanup. The company has hired AECOM to conduct the actual remediation efforts. A soil investigation on 146 properties within the village has shown that about 75 homes have enough mercury pollution to warrant remediation. Gillette is working with homeowners on the process, which is not mandatory.

The problem, Miles said, is that the remediation process involves removing all the polluted soil and replacing it with clean topsoil. This includes the soil in a tree's root system, which it cannot survive without.

“If you remove certain amounts of soil within the root zone,” Miles said, “you will kill the tree.”

Miles said Gillette will be replacing trees and other plants as best as it can once the polluted soil is taken away. But he also noted that Gillette cannot force homeowners to have their property cleaned and all plans must be approved with homeowners before remediation can begin on a property.

Miles said it will be up to the homeowners to decide if they want crews taking away the polluted soil within a tree's root system. If the soil remains, Miles noted it would have to be disclosed to potential home buyers.

Tree Commission member Francois Rejeli told Gillette officials during a recent meeting that the commission would not deny requests to take down trees, but he asked that Gillette provide appropriate documentation for their files.

“We'd like to be in the loop,” he said.

Sleepy Hollow Mayor Ken Wray said he didn't think the tree removal requests would be denied because the village recognizes the importance of remediated polluted properties.

Other trustees questioned what would happen if homeowners had a tree taken down and then didn't want another put in its place, asking whether Gillette would be amenable to donating trees to the village.

Miles said he didn't foresee a problem with the company replacing lost trees in other areas of the village if homeowners did not want them. He acknowledged the entire remediation process would be “very traumatic for everyone,” adding that Gillette hopes to reduce its impact.

Cleanup efforts are set to begin in May once Gillette officials speak with homeowners about proposed plans. Each property will be addressed individually. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has noted cleanup efforts will begin on the block adjacent to the former battery site, bounded by Andrews Lane, Elm Street, Kendal Avenue and Beekman Avenue, and spread out from there. 

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