Mayor Bloomberg’s administration wants Newtown Creek cleaned up, but they are not sold on Superfund just yet.
At a public forum in Williamsburg this week at Automotive High School (50 Bedford Ave.), members of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the mayor’s environmental remediation and economic development teams gave a comprehensive presentation about the different aspects of urban life along the creek that would likely be affected by federal environmental remediation.
“The first thing we want to say is that the city is very supportive of the cleanup of Newtown Creek,” said Dan Walsh, who heads the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation. “Among the things we are asking the EPA to do is to make sure that they create a process where the polluter pays for the cleanup and a transparent process that enables elected officials and the public at large to be aware of what is happening.”
On September 23, the Environmental Protection Agency made its recommendation to add the 3.1 mile waterway between Brooklyn and Queens to the national Superfund priorities list, following a year of soil sampling. The recommendation is not an official listing, which would begin the process of sediment removal and site remediation, but is a strong indicator that the government is leaning towards allocating federal resources to clean the bottom of the creek.
The public comment period remains open until December 23, and the city’s presentation to the community was part of its effort to compile a report to submit to the EPA before that deadline.
“We have yet to receive any formal comments from the city, but as always, EPA will carefully consider and review any formal comments that we receive within the time frame of the public comment period,” said EPA spokesperson Beth Totman.
During their presentation, city officials noted some of the potential economic, environmental and quality of life impacts that a decade-long remediation would have towards residents and businesses near the creek. According to the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, 33,000 people are employed within a one-quarter mile radius of the creek, including 26,000 industrial jobs and 1,000 businesses.
“We are studying impacts and we are not supporting Superfund at this time but are looking for a comprehensive solution for this site,” said Johanna Greenbaum, assistant counsel to the Deputy Mayor, who later clarified that the city has not taken a position regarding the EPA’s Superfund recommendation, unlike the Gowanus Canal, whose Superfund listing the city opposes.
While the EPA is likely to focus on dredging sediment at the bottom of the creek, city officials and community leaders hope that the agency will pay attention to issues of water quality, wildlife, sewage discharge, transportation, and oil contamination, and their effects on affordable housing, open space, economic development, and public health in North Brooklyn.
“The way the EPA handles this is going to make every difference in the world,” said Walsh. “We’re looking for a natural collaborative-type model.”
The city stressed the importance of collaboration among the different levels of bureaucracy towards finding an efficient and workable solution towards cleaning the creek without delaying existing capital projects or endangering the viability local businesses.
“Whether the designation happens or not, the cleanup is going to happen,” said Tricia Zenobio, from the Mayor’s Office for NYC Capital Project Development, who encourages members of the public to send comments to the EPA about the Superfund designation. “Tell them what you need and how you might be affected. We need you as partners as much as the state regulators.”
The EPA is accepting comments regarding Newtown Creek until December 23. To submit comments, e-mail Dennis Munhall at munhall.de