Work to remove contaminated soil from the site of a former gas station ended up being more dangerous than workers expected, causing a small explosion and fire that closed Broadway for more than an hour Sept. 11.
A construction vehicle digging on the site where gas pumps once fueled cars at 6161 Broadway apparently ignited some unidentified chemicals in the soil, creating an explosion and even a fire that was quickly put out by first responders just after lunch time, according to firefighters on the scene.
The site is just a couple lots down from The Park, an apartment building at 6155 Broadway just south of West 251st Street that was the site of a 1989 explosion after someone firebombed the former offices of The Riverdale Press, likely in retaliation for the newspaper's printing of an editorial supporting the free speech of authors like Salman Rushdie. One of the residents of that building, Will Lawrence, said he was walking his dog on the Van Cortlandt Park side of Broadway when he heard — and felt — the explosion.
"It was pretty loud, because you could hear it echo down the block," Lawrence said.
At first, he thought maybe it was just noise from the construction, but then he could see a pillar of black smoke rise from above the green construction fence that separates the old Mobil station from the sidewalk on the west side of Broadway.
No one was injured in the explosion, according to one of the construction workers at the scene.
The city fire department immediately requested a stability inspection of the single-story gas station structure and garage that still exists on the site, according to buildings department records. Once firefighters were sure the ground would not reignite, they packed up and re-opened Broadway.
The property was purchased by Park View AH Realty in February 2017 for $3.1 million, according to city property records. Sales listings for the property at the time advertised an opportunity to build a residential structure on the site of up to 34,000 buildable square feet.
Park View owner Aftab Hussein filed permits with the buildings department last June to "excavate and properly dispose of contaminated soil," according to city records. That included treating, storing and discharging all collected groundwater, and backfilling the excavated area with clean stone and recycled concrete aggregate — a material typically produced by crushing concrete that was once part of roadways, bridges and buildings.
A request for comment from Hussein late Wednesday was pending return.