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The other dead zone around the Gowanus

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Opponents of designating the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site have long claimed it will harm investment in the area. Now, those opponents are pointing to a new federal policy that backs up their claim.

“New federal regulations will block the construction — and possibly the renovation — of thousands of homes within 3,000 feet of the Gowanus Canal if it is designated a Superfund site,” the group, Clean Gowanus Now!, said in a statement.

The 3,000-foot zone refers to a figure in a 2008 overhaul of lending regulations that puts new restrictions on mortgages for properties “within 3,000 feet of a dump or landfill, or … an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund” site.

With the statement, the group created a rendering of just how much territory would be included in a 3,000-foot lending dead zone. It extends from Fort Greene to Sunset Park, and from Park Slope deep into Red Hook.

Superfund supporters were quick to point out that Clean Gowanus Now! is not a grass-roots housing advocacy group, but a shell organization funded by companies that have a financial interest in staying the course along the canal, including the Bayside Fuel Oil company, several construction companies, and Toll Brothers, a development company that has said it will not move ahead with its plan for condominiums along the fetid canal should the designation move ahead.

“It’s just a scare tactic,” said Linda Mariano, a Superfund advocate. “The Gowanus [has been considered for Superfund since] last year, and you don’t see residents or developers fleeing the neighborho­od.”

Regardless of the criticism of Clean Gowanus Now!, the group’s claim is backed up by the change in federal housing policy that anti-Superfunders see as posing a major problem for the economies of the surrounding neighborhoods.

“It is astonishing that the EPA has either not read, or does not understand the new Federal Housing Administration regulations, which plainly and clearly state that there is a new, much higher standard and risk evaluation for making loans at Superfund sites,” said Ethan Geto, a spokesperson for Clean Gowanus Now!

But EPA officials caution that the Superfund designation would not change the fact that the Gowanus Canal — which runs roughly parallel to Third Avenue from Douglas to Ninth streets — is terribly contaminated.

In other words, the environmental issues that lenders would have to examine prior to issuing a loan are not just limited to the Superfund label.

“None of the environmental conditions — including proximity to a Superfund site — prohibit loans from being made,” said EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears. “What is required is that the lender determines that there are mitigants to address such conditions.”

At the root of the debate are the dueling plans from the feds and the city to clean up the canal. Mayor Bloomberg says his plan, which developers support, would clean the canal faster — and without the Superfund label that scares off developers.

The EPA points to its experience in over 25 years of Superfund projects as proof of its superior ability to clean the canal.

The EPA has scheduled a conference call with reporters for Tuesday at 10 am. It is expected that the agency will release its determination about Superfund designation at that time.

— with Gary Buiso

Updated 5:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Margaret from Gowanus says:
Even if the canal were pristine clean, was not near a highway (wanna try to change the Gowanus Expressway location?), and not near a railroad (any of these 3 conditions nixes the loan), Gowanus is and will forever be in a floodzone and as such condos built along its banks will not be able to get these loans. I don't know what can be gained by trying to blame negation of these loans on Superfund designation. Wake up "Clean Gowanus Now" - (we all know who makes up your group, and you are NOT about cleaning up the canal), quit with the scare tactics. The canal WILL BE Superfunded. And the community of people who live and work here have fought hard for this, and I, for one, will be grateful!
March 2, 2010, 8:38 am
R from Greenpoint says:
I don't understand how the Gowanus is now suddenly in focus over the Newton Creek issues. They are much more severe, long standing, and still not drawing the appropriate attention from the city. Get your priorities straight!
March 2, 2010, 9:31 am
Super(Fund)Man from Gowanus says:
Guess the last-minute scare tactics didn't do the job.

Let the clean-up begin!
March 2, 2010, 10:21 am
CG from Carroll Gardens says:
"Gowanus is and will forever be in a floodzone and as such condos built along its banks will not be able to get these loans. "

Yes you can, there have been projects built and sold along there and people are getting mortgages for them with no problem.

If it's a flood zone, your bank may require you to get flood insurance, but you can get a mortgage. If not, then you'd have no one living in on that side of Carroll Gardens or in parts of Park Slope.
March 2, 2010, 12:05 pm

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