Superstunned! City backs fed clean-up of Newtown Creek

The Brooklyn Paper
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The Bloomberg Administration has quietly backed a federal effort to list North Brooklyn’s Newtown Creek as a toxic Superfund site — though the city continues to fight the very same classification for the Gowanus Canal.

Two days before Christmas, the city submitted its testimony in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Newtown Creek Superfund bid, citing the waterway’s pollution. Yet at the Gowanus Canal, which is similarly befouled — but ripe for luxury development along its banks — the city is bucking the feds and moving forward with its own clean-up.

“The dichotomy is striking — it’s a contradiction, really,” said Eric McClure, a member of the Park Slope Civic Council.

“It makes political sense for the mayor to support the Newtown Superfund designation because it is polluted, too, but, of course, he’s putting the interest of developers ahead of the environment with the Gowanus.”

The mayor downplayed any notion of hypocrisy.

“They are different situations, and we evaluate each one independen­tly,” said Marc La Vorgna, a mayoral spokesperson. “Each situation is not the same.”

The pollution in both waterways certainly is. The main difference is that the city, with the help of developers like Toll Brothers, is hoping to turn the rundown manufacturing zone around the Gowanus Canal into a residential, commercial and manufacturing area with thousands of luxury units and $400 million in private investment.

The fetid banks of the Newtown Creek, on the other hand, have not been eyed by high-profile developers.

City officials say that their own remediation plan will be just as effective — and faster — than the often bogged-down Superfund process. In addition, it will avoid the stigma that comes from Superfund designation, a classification that Toll Brothers has said would make the company unable to build housing.

The city’s plan calls for voluntary contributions from responsible polluters like National Grid rather than forcing what could be a lengthy legal process to drag polluters and their successor companies to court. Then again, the city itself may be named as one of the Gowanus Canal’s responsible polluters, so the city’s alternative proposal appears to be a way to avoid sticking city taxpayers with a big federal clean-up bill.

In the city’s Gowanus Canal plan, the Army Corps of Engineers would perform the work, cutting the cost to the polluters, a savings that city officials believe will encourage them to come forward without legal action.

“The Army Corps is not [involved] in the Newtown Creek and we don’t have a similar and willing group of potentially responsible parties,” added La Vorgna. “In Gowanus, we have a viable alternative plan that we believe will get the canal just as clean. There isn’t an alternative plan at Newtown Creek.”

Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D–Sunset Park) blasted the city’s “two canals, two plans” strategy.

“Superfund has a proven track record,” she said. “It is unclear why it would be permissible to utilize Superfund for one site, yet oppose using it for the other.”

Velazquez has complained that the city’s Gowanus plan would put that waterway “at the back” of a long list of backlogged environmental clean-ups seeking money under the federal Water Resources Development Act. She has said that Superfund designation would be faster.

An Army Corps official conceded that the priority level of the city’s Gowanus clean-up is up in the air.

“This (plan) would go into an environmental business line and compete with other projects,” said Tom Shea, an official with the Corps’ harbor program. “Where it would rank, I don’t know. I don’t know the parameters for how it is judged.”

Superfund supporter Linda Mariano agreed with Velazquez that the city is trying to have it both ways.

“They resist reality,” said the Gowanus area resident. “It’s all hot air.”

An EPA spokeswoman did not care to comment on the city’s support for the Newtown Creek designation.

— with Stephen Brown and Gary Buiso

Updated 5:16 pm, July 9, 2018: Updated with more information, confirmation and substantiation!
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Reasonable discourse

Eric McClure from Park Slope says:
“Each situation is not the same?”

Of course. Toll Brothers doesn't have designs on Newtown Creek.
Jan. 8, 2010, 12:18 pm
Judah Spechal from Bed-Stuy says:
Are your Superstunned or Supernaive? Well don't be Superstunned again when the Feds backs the City's plans to clean up the Gowannas. Let us your readers be Superstunned of the "bait & switch" inner workings of our government's "wink & nod" operating procedures. Being part of a Corporate structure has put your paper to sleep. You are going the way of our local radio stations. Remember them, and when they were snatched up by Corporation? There is a reason why you have Brooklyn in your title (The Brooklyn Paper) Brooklyn is Family, Small Business. You know Ma & Pa, you know the ones who display your free paper in the corner of their stores. You know what am talking about, your readers. So please no more NYPOST style naive headlines. Get back to informing the people, you know the grassroots, where this paper was born.
Jan. 9, 2010, 10:28 am
GeeGee from Brooklyn says:
The mayor is spending his capital very poorly here (and his political capital is no where near the level of his personal funds).
Everyone is aware that the city's Gowanus cleanup plan is no cleanup plan at all--no funding--no real environmental standards--no feasible time line--no program with real legal authority--all adding up to no cleanup! Combine that with the authority of the EPA to designate the site a Superfund at any time, leaves everyone questioning why the city is still standing behind any notion that they will run a Gowanus Canal cleanup. It's time for the mayor's office to step asside and stop delaying the Superfund efforts that need to take place in Gowanus.
Jan. 9, 2010, 11:30 am
Huggy Bear from Bushwick says:
Why not extract the chemicals from the canal and then sell them?

Or use the acidic water for some industrial purpose?
Jan. 13, 2010, 5:56 am
d from cg says:
I am not surprised that the residents of Carroll Gardens are so stupid -- because stupid they are; and the residents who live n the polluted Gowanus area seem to like pollution so they should eat —— and die.
This is not abuse -- this is a democratic opinion
Jan. 18, 2010, 5:58 pm
gowanee from gowanus says:
d from cg - democratic opinion is a new one. I am a Gowanus resident, I will die one day, as will you. Meanwhile, I hope I am contributing in some way to the society in which I live. Your name calling shows you are resentful You must be one of those people who stood to gain financially from the development plans that have now gone bust. Too, too bad, for you.
Feb. 13, 2010, 9:10 am
Buddy Scotto from Carroll Gardens says:
-Salvatore J. Scotto
106 1st Place
Brooklyn, NY 11231
(718) 875-2515

June 23, 2009

Docket Coordinator, Headquarters
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
CERCLA Docket Office
(Mail Code 5305T)
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20460.

Re: Docket ID: EPA-HQ-SFUND-2009-0063
Proposed Listing of Gowanus Canal on the National Priorities List

Dear Sir/Madam:

I have been a community activist in Carroll Gardens since my return to the neighborhood after serving our country in the Korean War. In fact it was the local civic association that I cofounded from which our neighborhood has taken its name.

My resume includes the cofounding of two neighborhood development corporations including the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, and Conservancy, the cofounding of the Independent Neighborhood Democrats, the cofounding of merchants’ associations along Court Street and Columbia Street in addition to the civic association mentioned above. I am a board member on the Board of Directors of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and have until recently been on the Boards of the Partnership for the City of New York, Brooklyn Public Library and Long Island College Hospital. I am no stranger to civic life or controversy.

I have worked tirelessly to preserve our neighborhood in difficult times, to reduce poverty, and to find affordable places for those being pushed aside during the best of times. I have always tried to be local without being NIMBY, but I am afraid that many of my neighbors have crossed this line in their uncritical support for “superfund” designation for the Gowanus Canal.

Our small band of activists in the now seemingly distant past were the first ones to commission bacteriological studies of the waters of the canal. The self styled “Friends of the Gowanus” unwittingly honor their predecessors by publicizing the bacteriological stew that is concocted from the ingredients entering the canal after significant rainfalls.

The difference between then and now is that we used these methods to provoke action and our efforts resulted in the building of the Red Hook Sewer Treatment facility, the construction of the Columbia Street Interceptor, and the revival of the flushing tunnel. How we all would have unanimously welcomed your involvement back in those days. Our past actions which were directed towards important and achievable goals contrasts with the “environmentalists” of today who contrive with a couple of retro politicians to retard a fix for the CSO problem and put off into an indefinite future the economic development that we so desperately need today.

It is shameful that you have come in kicking down the door like any other arrogant distant authority instead of first having taken the time to sit down and work out an approach that brings together the various social, economic and political elements of our community. You have torn the fabric of our community and I fear irreparably.

As someone who has spent a long lifetime in the rough and tumble of local politics along the Brooklyn waterfront, I have learned that the only way to counter powerful forces is through an unflinching loyalty to the truth of a matter.

I have studied your position and that of the Mayor’s office and the truth is that their plan holds out a far greater prospect of comprehensive and concise remediation of our canal area then does your plan. By the time that you are finished spreading the dissension that lengthy litigation that alienates neighbor from neighbor (for we believe the landowner/businessmen along the canal are also our neighbors) it will be far more than a decade before real action on the canal commences. You scrupulously avoid any promise of real dates and time frames because therein rests real accountability.

I take a back seat to no one with regard to my commitment to our environment and if I believed that you had a better way, I would willingly accept the fact that I might never see the affordable housing and other economic development initiatives along the canal that I long ago envisioned. You, however, come to us not with an open hand bearing gifts but with a hammer growling threats. I willingly reach out my hand to receive the $175 million dollars offered by our City, and I would be more than pleased to accept federal funds to move the remediation of the canal forward, but instead you only offer us the prospect of years of delay through litigation.

Please take a step back and redirect your course toward a path where you can move forward in tandem with our City administration.


Salvatore J. “Buddy” Scotto

March 1, 2010, 3:55 pm

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