Disgraced former Gov. Eliot Spitzer at least did one good thing before sending himself into the dustbin of history — he approved a grant to identify toxic brownfields around the Gowanus Canal just days before revelations about his sexcapades caused his downfall.
The grant of $275,000 for three community groups will help determine the extent of pollution in the formerly industrial wasteland at a time when the city and developers are beginning to transform the area into a residential neighborhood.
The potential environmental pitfalls have not diminished interest in the local real estate. Several sites already redeveloped or planned for redevelopment have been identified as local brownfields, including the so-called Public Place, which is bounded by Smith, Fifth and Huntington streets, and the canal; the Lowe’s store on Ninth Street; the planned Toll Brothers project, which is between Bond, Carroll and First streets and the canal; and the proposed “Gowanus Village,” which fronts Third Avenue between Carroll and Second streets, but backs up onto the canal.
At the same time, the Whole Foods grocery planned for the Third Avenue and Third Street has been stalled due to high level of benzene pollution. As such, area residents were pleased to hear that Spitzer had allocated the cash.
“It’s scary to think that economic and political forces could create another Love Canal situation at the Gowanus,” said Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman, referring to the Niagara Falls neighborhood that was built above 20,000 tons of leaking chemical waste.
There is more awareness now, but the extent of environmental problems could still have gone undetected because no city or state agency is mandated to pinpoint hazardous locations on industrial land, said members of the three groups, which include Friends and Residents of the Greater Gowanus and the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, in addition to the community board.
The study will “explore all contaminant pathways [in the waterway and on terra firma] to develop a strategic plan for permanent, sustainable improvements to the ambient quality of the Gowanus Canal and its environs,” Hammerman said.