Developer digs deeper into pockets for Gowanus cleanup deal

The Brooklyn Paper
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A developer has inked a deal with the feds to cover tens of millions of dollars worth of Gowanus Canal-side cleanup in exchange for immunity from future pollution lawsuits.

Lightstone Group, which plans to build a 12-story, 700-apartment luxury housing complex on a canal-front site bounded by Carroll and Second streets, has agreed to foot the bill for removing toxic soil on the site and building a new bulkhead along the canal. The deal between the developer and the Enviornmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the Superfund scrub-down of the fetid inlet, heightens Lightstone’s cleanup commitment and lets it off the hook from making additional pollution-cleaning payouts in the future. One longtime neighborhood activist who opposes the development said anything that heals Gowanus and hurts Lightstone’s bottom line is just fine with her.

“Any more money that Lightstone has to pay out is good by me,” said Linda Mariano, a member of the group Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus. “This is definitely a step in the right direction.”

Anti-Lightstone neighbors say the project will crowd neighborhood schools and subways, cause traffic jams, stress already over-taxed sewers, and help price people out of the neighborhood.

The agreement with the feds calls for Lightstone to spend $20 million mopping up the Bond Street lots it is set to build on, including underwriting the removal of 17,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil, enough to fill about 17,500 pickup trucks.

The company had previously been cleaning up the lots in keeping with its state designation as a brownfield site. The new deal will wrap the process into the larger Superfund cleanup, which is supposed to start in earnest in 2016 or 2017 and take 8–10 years to complete.

A Lightstone spokesman was quick to say that the agreement simply puts in writing the commitment to appeasing the environmentally-minded arm of the government that the company has had all along.

“Look, the bottom line is that from day one Lightstone met with the EPA and said ‘What do you need us to do to be comfortable with this deal?’ ” Lightstone’s Ethan Geto said.

But the Environmental Protection Agency says the agreement binds Lightstone to cleanup efforts beyond those it originally promised. Lightstone was already planning to build a bulkhead along the canal to prevent further contamination. The settlement, however, mandates building a deeper-than-planned bulkhead, which will allow a deeper dredging of so-called “black mayonnaise,” the putrid, poisonous sediment lurking at the bottom of the waterway, according to an agency spokesman.

“This agreement will greatly enhance the cleanup work they are doing,” agency rep Elias Rodriguez said. “They were going to have to build a bulkhead anyway, but this is going to be much deeper and more enhanced than what they would have otherwise done. That is a big deal.”

The amount of soil to be removed also goes beyond the quantity originally pledged, Rodriguez said.

The Bond Street site’s original developer Toll Brothers fought the Superfund designation and ultimately followed through on a promise to ditch the development if it went through, bailing on its $5.75 million down payment in 2010.

Environmental Protection Agency officials cheered the Lighstone conrtact as proof that private efforts to clean up along the canal can coexist with their program.

“These settlements illustrate that the Superfund program can work in parallel with redevelopm­ent,” said Judith Enck, regional director of the agency

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

not fair from Brooklyn says:
Private owners shouldn't be unfairly TAXED with enviro cleanups they didn't cause.

If anything, private owners real-estate taxes should be abated for their willingness to invest in high risk contaminated lands.

We don't want investments in enviro compromised land to come from only the billionaire firms like Lightstone, who can afford to and must build monstrosities to get a return on their investments. But rather anyone who seeks to invest in the community, including private row houses that made the community the beautiful and desirable one it is today.

Think outside the box! Be fair to everyone...
Sept. 15, 2014, 9:15 am
Charles from Bklyn says:
Private owners should also not be allowed to building on toxic superfund sites. And I love the picture rendering of the Gowanus. What an true and accurate reflection of the canal.
Sept. 15, 2014, 9:51 am
Me from Gowanus says:
Lightstone is participating in the Brownfield program and will be receiving tax incentives/credits for that.

I think the larger issue is whether Toll Brothers, Lightstone, and our local elected officials mislead the Gowanus community about the severity of the contamination on the site. At the various hearings during the ULURP, Toll Brothers indicated that there were one or two "hot spots" that were nothing out of the ordinary for sites of this type. For whatever reason, Toll opted not to participate in the Brownfield program.

The building envelope is the same for Lightstone as for Toll Brothers and was approved before the canal was placed on the national priorities list. The scale has nothing to do with the clean up.
Sept. 15, 2014, 9:58 am
ty from pps says:
Not Fair -- They are not being "taxed." They made a deal with the EPA to accelerate the process for their mutual benefit. The alternative would be the EPA doing all of this work, paid for by the tax payers, and taking a much much longer time.
Sept. 15, 2014, 10:05 am
samuele from bklyn says:
Lightstone is attempting to pay a mere pittance of the actual cleanup cost by the developers and not to mention the avoidance of forseeable legal issues to follow. The fact that Toll Brothers have decided not to get involved should indicate the potential issues that would surface decades after construction. Gowanus is a Super Fund Site for a reason, that is, hazardous conditions. It will not be easily remedied due to increasing frequency of combined sewage overflows and untested hazardous material mitigation strategies that could slowly resurface decades later. This seems to be just another example of a short sighted development placing money above people.
Sept. 15, 2014, 12:06 pm
not fair to taxpayers from New York State says:
The NY Taxpayers are paying for this cleanup and then covering the developer on all future liability issues for people who suffer from any exposures.

The cost of remaking a industrial lot into a residential lot should be part of the developer's market value costs and not covered by taxpayers.

If the site needs a lot of lean up that all should be part of the developer's costs.

And the developer must be accountable for future liabilities since they are the ones running the operation on the ground.

Why are the tax payers continually asked to contribute in this way to the top 1%?
Sept. 16, 2014, 9:49 am

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