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City hopes Grid can sidestep Superfund

The Brooklyn Paper
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The city is close to reaching a commitment from energy giant National Grid to take the first steps toward doing its part to clean the Gowanus Canal, a move that officials hope could thwart the waterway’s designation as a Superfund site.

At a City Hall briefing this week, Caswell Holloway, chief of staff to Ed Skyler, the deputy mayor for operations, said the city has been engaged in several meetings with the gas company, considered to be one of the largest single entities responsible for the present state of the canal — one of the most polluted waterways in the nation.

Holloway said on Wednesday that the city is “just about there” in securing an agreement with National Grid, which through corporate lineage is connected to Brooklyn Union Gas, an outfit that operated three manufactured gas plants along the canal’s edge. The plants belched out coal tars and other hazardous materials, which ultimately leached into the 1.8−mile waterway. Under the Superfund program, those responsible for polluting a site are compelled to clean it — or face stiff penalties. But the city is determined to clean the fouled waterway to the same standard as an Environmental Protection Agency supervised clean−up, only without the designation, which it feels will stigmatize the entire area, jeopardizing up to $400 million in private investment.

The city’s alternative plan relies on the Water Resources Development Act, allowing the Army Corps of Engineers to perform environmental restoration in a navigable channel, which the Gowanus is considered. Up to 65 percent of that work could be federally funded, theoretically reducing the clean−up costs for those responsible or polluting the canal and giving them incentive to sign binding agreements and get the work done, the city argues.

National Grid spokesperson Karen Young told this paper that the company has been in discussions with the Army Corps of Engineers and New York City regarding remedial alternatives. “We believe that given the Corps expertise in harbor, waterway and canal dynamics and dredging, they would be an extremely valuable member of a team to address the canal.”

“We will work cooperatively with the parties under whatever regulatory process in cleaning up the canal,” she stated.

As this paper reported in April, National Grid contends that it will not be alone in any clean−up scheme, as myriad industries have plied their trade along the canal, including petrochemical and chemical operations. The company is already working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation to clean up Public Place, a massive parcel abutting the canal that could one day be home to Gowanus Green, a housing and parks project.

Young said it is still too early to determine a dollar amount for the work, as the scope has yet to be determined.

The city’s alternative plan is contingent on the money being available: The program has only $50 million to spend each year, nationwide.

The proposed designation has been undergoing a public review, which ends July 8. For information, go to regulations.gov, and use the keyword ‘gowanus.’

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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