Gowanus Canal clean up tab for city?
The city could be on the hook to help pay for a federal Superfund cleanup of the Gowanus Canal, officials said.
“It’s within the realm of possibility,” that the city could be forced to pay up, if the feds move ahead with plans to list the canal as a Superfund site, said Environmental Protection Agency official Walter Mugdan.
While the EPA will mostly be going after industrial polluters who spewed chemicals and heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic into the canal, city-owned sewers cause additional pollution when they overflow into the waterway.
Millions of gallons of waste water – laced with raw human waste and oil, pesticides and other chemicals from street runoff – can end up in the canal when heavy rains cause sewers to overflow.
“As little as a tenth of an inch of rain can cause [sewer overflows] in New York City,” said attorney Josh Verleun, who represents environmental advocacy group Riverkeeper. “Any contaminants that are coming out of their pipes and that are ending up in the sediments, [the city] could be held responsible for.”
Sewers overflow into the Gowanus up to 75 times a year, dumping some 300 million gallons of sewage into the waterway, said Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Mercedes Padilla.
The city hopes to reduce the frequency of overflows by 30% through a four-year, $160 million project to upgrade the canal’s flushing tunnel and pumping station.
The Blooomberg administration is scrambling to keep the canal from being listed as a Superfund site, arguing that $400 million in planned private development could be derailed.
City officials denied that fear of having to help pay for a Superfund cleanup is driving their opposition.
“The site needs to be cleaned one way or another, and we plan to play a leading role in making it happen as quickly and safely as possible,” said mayoral spokesman Andrew Brent.
Even if the EPA doesn’t go after the city for cleanup costs, any private company fingered as a responsible party could sue the city to defray its own costs, Verleun said.
The EPA and other polluters have sued municipal governments for Superfund cleanup costs in the past. In a case that was settled in February, the cities of Newburgh and Poughkeepsie, along with several private companies, reached a $12 million settlement to clean up the site of an upstate metal processing plant.
EPA officials also said Wednesday they would extend the comment period on the Superfund proposal by 30 days – until July 8 – before making a final decision.
BY Erin Durkin