One day after the federal government gave residents 30 more days to complain about the Newtown Creek, the fetid waterway’s congresswoman revealed last Friday that she supports designating the creek as a toxic Superfund site.
In doing so, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Sunset Park) linked the creek with the Gowanus Canal, its just-as-repulsive sister sluice that is nearing the end of the public comment period that is expected to result in Superfund designation by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Securing a healthy environment is the single most important factor in choosing a course of action for cleaning both the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek,” Velazquez said in a statement. “Superfund designation will thoroughly remove hazards and transform these waterways into a source of pride for our community.
“The Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek have threatened the health of New Yorkers for long enough,” she added.
Velazquez’s input followed the EPA’s decision to extend to Dec. 23 the public comment period over the creek, which separates Brooklyn from Queens, another borough.
Superfund designation begins a process that allows the EPA to hold polluters responsible for funding a clean-up the sludge stream.
The process of designating the Gowanus Canal, begun earlier this year, has been fairly controversy, as the city is hoping to spur residential development in the area and on the banks. Mayor Bloomberg has proposed his own clean-up plan in hopes of avoiding the “stigma” of Superfund designation.
Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights) is afraid that such a stigma will carry over to Newtown Creek, too.
“The Superfund is not a fund, there is no money and it can become an awful 25-year process of the federal government suing the pants off everybody,” said Yassky’s chief of staff Tim Roberts, who said that his boss is waiting for the mayor to make the first move before he makes his decision.
“Whether we support it or not depends on the alternative,” Roberts said. “If the city has a viable option that only takes 10 years, then we’ll choose that. The stigma with the Superfund is bad, and we have to do something about this disgusting mess now.”
Their paths to a clean future may diverge, but the Newtown Creek shares a few traits with the Gowanus Canal. Both are swirling with rainbows of oil and raw sewage. And both have a very long list of potentially liable polluters.
Every year, 2.7 billions of gallons of raw sewage spill into the creek. And nearby, a 30-million-gallon oil spill, attributed to decades-old leaks from oil refineries, still seeps into the waterway. The spill is three times the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster.
Samples of the creek taken in Sept. 2009 revealed the presence of “pesticides, metals, polychlorinated biphenyls, and volatile organic compounds which are potentially harmful” and “can easily evaporate into the air.”
The Bloomberg administration has yet to offer an opinion about Superfund designation for Newtown Creek. A mayoral spokesman said that the administration would weigh in during the public comment period.
To tell the EPA what you think, visit www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/pubcom.htm, call Ildefonso Acosta at (212) 637-4344 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about the Superfund process, visit: www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/npl/npl_hrs.htm.