Fight Over Superfunding Grows
It’s the battle for the Gowanus Canal.
The controversy surrounding the polluted waterway has inspired great passions on both sides in Carroll Gardens, complete with posters, buttons, flyers, marathon meetings and YouTube videos.
“I’ve never seen a campaign like this ever, anywhere,” said federal Superfund Director Walter Mugdan. “I’ve never heard of one ever, anywhere.”
In the past few weeks, the Bloomberg administration has held two public meetings with residents and business owners in its campaign to stop the Gowanus from being designated a federal Superfund site.
City officials have also put together a voluminous 100-page comment to submit to the federal Environmental Protection Agency by Wednesday’s deadline, with a final decision not expected until at least September.
Superfund supporters, meanwhile, have been going door-to-door with their “Superfund Me!” posters and buttons.
At a meeting with business owners, Bloomberg official Cas Holloway said a Superfund designation for the canal would drive away development.
“There is in fact a stigma attached to a Superfund listing,” said Holloway. “Property values decline and they generally don’t bounce back. . . . There is difficulty refinancing, securing loans and obtaining insurance.”
But Mugdan said the city’s appeals to locals rest on claims that range from “a little bit misleading” to “just point-blank wrong.”
At an earlier meeting with homeowners, most weren’t buying the city’s cleanup plan, which hinges on getting congressional funding for a cleanup and convincing past polluters to voluntarily help pay for it.
“Why is the city expending our money trying to talk us out of what we’re being given by the EPA?” said Rita Miller, 54, who owns a home on Second Place. “They want to clean it up, let them clean it up.”
Kevin Duffy, 42, brandished a city flyer with anti-Superfund talking points and said, “It’s a lie. It’s spin.”
Some business owners were more receptive to the alternative plan. Daniel Tinneny said two of the 10 commercial tenants at the property he owns along the canal have already threatened to leave because of the Superfund listing and rising taxes.
“They were leery of it from the beginning,” he said. “I’m lucky if I can hang on to my tenants.”
A group of businesses and developers called the Clean Gowanus Now! Coalition has collected hundreds of postcards to send to the EPA opposing Superfund, according to local activist Buddy Scotto, a coalition member.
“You designate it a Superfund site and every private developer along the canal is going to hit the panic button,” he said. “How are they going to sell apartments next to a Love Canal?”
On the other side, more than 600 people have signed a petition supporting the Superfund listing.
Linda Mariano, a founder of Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, has gone door-to-door passing out the “Superfund Me!” posters that have popped up in windows of homes and businesses in the area. The pro-Superfund faction also sports buttons touting its cause and has posted videos on YouTube.
“The Gowanus Canal has always been stigmatized,” Mariano said, adding that city officials “have no real plan.”
“It’s a question of contaminated water or clean water,” Mariano said. “Who would choose contaminated water?”
By Erin Durkin