Gowanus developer to pull out if EPA designates polluted canal a Superfund site
A developer approved to build controversial housing along the Gowanus Canal says it will likely abandon the project if the feds designate the polluted waterway a Superfund site.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced a proposal Wednesday to give the canal Superfund designation, which would launch a lengthy federal investigation and cleanup effort.
“I don’t think we would go forward with the development if they were to designate this as a Superfund site,” said David Von Spreckelsen, a vice president at Toll Brothers, which got city approval last month to build 460 condos and townhouses.
“The stigma attached to the property by being adjacent to a Superfund site I don’t think is something that you could really overcome,” said Von Spreckelsen, who added the federal effort would add years of delays.
“This is a real extreme measure to be taken. It’s really not that dirty.”
But environmental advocates said the water is dangerously dirty – and were happy to kiss Toll Brothers goodbye.
“This is a wise move by the EPA,” said Riverkeeper investigator Craig Michaels.
“We’ve got to make sure those waterways are clean and safe before we start building condominiums.”
Over the years, many city and state agencies, along with private companies and Toll Brothers, have tried to clean up the canal or said they would remediate portions of it.
If the federal proposal is approved, the EPA would try to track down companies – most of them long gone – that polluted the canal with pesticides, coal tar and metals, and force them to pay for the cleanup. If the companies can’t be found, the feds would foot the bill.
“The kind of cleanup that the Gowanus Canal needs . . . would require a tremendous amount of funding, and that kind of funding can only come from the federal government,” said Gowanus resident and Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy Director Ludger Balan.
“There’s over 21 dioxins in the Gowanus Canal. It’s a toxic soup.”
Carroll Gardens community activist Buddy Scotto, a backer of Toll Brothers, charged that the federal proposal was politically motivated.
“There are political people who, for their own reasons, don’t want development to happen on the Gowanus Canal,” he said.
Scotto pointed the finger at Rep. Nydia Velazquez, whose spokewoman denied Velazquez asked the EPA to give the canal Superfund designation.
In a statement, Velazquez made it clear she supports the cleanup.
“The Superfund nomination is an important step toward reclaiming the canal for valuable community development, and restoring contaminated waters to health,” she said.
“But it must be done in a way that protects the needs and interests of the local community.”
BY Erin Durkin