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Abbey Duncan Scholarship Recipients Chime In About Career Aspirations

18 Aug 2020 10:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

By Steve Dwyer 

Kate Abazis has a stated career goal to reduce urban sprawl by turning around brownfields, and is on track to become a geologist. 

Emma Garrison is a firm believer that remediation and redevelopment can spark the introduction of new green technologies in order to build a brighter and more sustainable future for cities.

Meantime, Taylor Hard advocates for brownfields as affordable housing end uses, as well as outlets to serve as emergency shelters, housing for military veterans and an overarching objective to “assist residents.” 

These three young professionals are among seven of the most recent Abbey Duncan Brownfield Scholarship Program recipients, an annual event designed to provide financial support to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing careers in the brownfield industry in New York City.

The scholarship was named in honor of Ms. Duncan, an avid environmentalist, talented dancer and tireless community supporter who died in 2010. 

The scholarship awardees, along with three of the other four recipients, joined Partnership board members for a Zoom video conference in mid-July to discuss how the scholarship money will enable them to further their career paths as urban redevelopment change-makers—the new generation of brownfield practitioners. 

On the Zoom call representing the Partnership were President Ernie Rossano, Vice President: Ezgi Karayel, Treasurer Michele Rogers, Secretary Laura Senkevitch, and Executive Director Susan Boyle. 

The team asked broader questions of the recipients about their studies and how they were coping within the COVID-19 pandemic era. The conversation dovetailed into urban redevelopment and, for Kate Abazis (CUNY Queens College, Master of Science in Applied Environmental Geosciences), the region where she went to college,  Broome County, N.Y., saw large employer-corporations such as IBM depart the area and also leave heavy contamination in its wake. 

In the county, the city of Binghamton, N.Y. is turning a very long and twisting corner with the recent launch of a construction project that will ultimately be a $20.5-million affordable housing development at Canal Plaza. The project is poised to deliver 48 apartments and new commercial space—built on a former brownfield and answering a regional need for quality and affordable housing. 

To Kate, “Broome County is a beautiful part of New York state but the economic potential of the region went unnoticed for too long. Recently Binghamton University became a recipient of the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program and several new businesses have opened nearby. I believe that remediation and redevelopment of the brownfields in Broome county are the key to revitalizing the region for the long term and reducing urban sprawl. This would also decrease the reliance on the university as the sole source of funds, building a stronger community.”

In addressing pollution and remediation of contaminants, the “transformation of brownfields is a burden on local communities that entails time, money and many agencies to fix the problem. It may be difficult to convince companies to address the issue in a community that might not have immediate economic potential.”

The trend of potential developers cutting and running is a sad narrative across the U.S. “Companies might not want to address the issue for fear of being blamed for the problem. It is imperative that these regions are cleaned up and reused instead of moving industries to greenfields where issues can expand,” Kate states. 

Emma Garrison (CUNY Queens College, Earth and Environmental Sciences career path pursing a master of arts degree in geological and environmental science) talked about sites in her New York community as case studies for younger students to learn about themes such as biodiversity and green infrastructure. 

Emma has a vast interest in rectifying NYC pollution that greatly impacts local organisms and ecosystems, and how these ecosystems are able to cope with the stressors of wide-ranging carbon impacts, but also how using data can help produce better resiliency in future designs.

Taylor Hard (CUNY, Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, pursing a master’s degree in public health) has closely been watching the collaborative efforts between the public/private partnership to generate brownfield opportunity—with end result being projects that are cost effective and protective.

Taylor has an inside track about the process: She works for the New York City Mayor’s office within the Office of Environmental Remediation (OER), and spoke on Zoom about wanting to become more involved in tackling urban air pollution and carbon reductions, with an emphasis on mitigating lead exposure later found in children. The remedy would start with a “multi-disciplinary approach to tackling this issue,” Taylor said.  

Taylor detailed solutions to reconcile the financial risks of a project and the potential rewards that can be realized. It’s a chronic issue when documenting the many projects nationwide that start but are later aborted, but then perhaps jump-started again under new development regimes. 

She also talked about the State Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP) and the way the best and most savvy developers have been able to maximize tax credits to use for remediation purposes. Drilling down further this effort was recently spotlighted as a Partnership blog and how BCP has evolved over the years, marked by better accountability and overall efficiency. 

Following are snapshots of four other Abbey Duncan scholarship recipients and some insights into where they have been and where they hope to go. 

Francesca King

Pursuing a degree in Applied Environmental Geoscience. She is currently employed with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services in the Water Resources Group as a Public Health Sanitarian.

Francesca spoke about the legal liability of businesses for their role in contamination and about the drinking water contamination crisis. “Many businesses go to great lengths to avoid the liability, which makes the push forward counter-productive. My primary responsibility is the enforcement of the sanitary code on businesses that utilize private wells as a drinking water source. I also assist with the private well survey program, and find this work to be the most rewarding. If a potential drinking water contaminant is identified, our group goes door-to-door notifying homeowners and collecting water samples.” 

Francesca finds that “one of the main challenges with brownfield site redevelopment is legal liability, especially concerning the funding for remediation. This is most evident with the controversies and lawsuits concerning emerging contaminants, such as PFOAs and 1,4-dioxane,” she said. 

Michelle Ren 

(New York University, pursuing a civil engineering degree) 

Michelle decided to major in civil engineering because “it would allow me to have the tools and knowledge to understand impacts of structural and environmental improvements. However, I am interested in eventually becoming an environmental engineer in order to contribute to the efforts in solving pressing concerns around providing access to clean water.”

Her long-term interest lies in designing and enacting cost-efficient and practical solutions to water pollution “while also making clean water accessible to struggling communities. This also means finding ways to protect existing water resources such as groundwater, which can be contaminated if they lie under brownfields. Working as an environmental engineer would give me the opportunity to not only pursue my passions in improving the environment but also contribute to the health and living standards of my community.” 

Claire Siegrist 

(NYU, pursuing a master of science in Environmental Science)

As an Assistant Project Manager with GBTS, Claire has assisted in managing multiple remedial investigations and remedial actions in New York and New Jersey. “I have overseen the in-situ chemical oxidation of chlorinated volatile organic compounds, petroleum spill delineation through soil borings and laser-induced fluorescence, and the in-situ solidification/stabilization of purifier waste and coal tar contaminants at two parcels within the former Hunts Point Manufactured Gas Plant.” 

Through her work at GBTS, Claire continues to expand her managerial skills and portfolio of contaminated sites. “My fascination, however, lies in the science of contaminant fate and transport and the design of cleanup actions,” she says. 

Kennly Weerasinghe

(CUNY Queens College Biology, Geological and Environmental Studies)

Kennly’s goals in starting and completing the MA program “is to become well versed in hydrogeological field work, laboratory work and modelling techniques. With the acquired data, I want to be able to write and publish a thesis related to an aspect of environmental remediation with respect to water and soil contamination.” 

Upon completing her graduate studies at CUNY Queens College, she plans on either continuing her education in a PhD program or pursuing a career in the private or public sector related to environmental remediation.

“Brownfield sites are impacted by the real or perceived environmental contamination present and the associated challenges with respect to remediation strategies,” she says. “These sites exhibit contamination by compounds such as lead, petroleum spills, PCBs, PAHs and VOCs. The contaminants found at these sites may pose a significant health risk to individuals through prolonged exposure and thus render brownfield sites unsuitable for residential and or commercial use in its present condition. The physical and chemical properties of the contaminants and the degree of contaminant penetration at the sites often complicate remediation efforts.”

Over the next year, we will try and stay in touch with the seven scholarship recipients as they blaze their respective trails in becoming the future spear carriers for this industry in New York City and New York State.

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