DEC: Careful review of Gowanus alternative needed
The agency that initially requested the feds to include the Gowanus Canal in the Superfund program is now advising careful consideration of the city’s alternative clean-up plan.
“Without expressing a substantive opinion on the proposed alternate plan, we believe that it is appropriate for the Environmental Protection Agency to carefully review and consider the proposal, to determine whether it in fact will reliably result in an investigation and remediation plan fully consistent with what would otherwise be required if the site is listed, and whether that plan can be carried out more efficiently and speedily than would be the case if the site were listed, without adversely impacting on the ultimate cleanup should the site be listed in the future,” writes state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) executive deputy commissioner Stuart Gruskin in a Aug. 6 letter to Caswell Holloway, chief of staff to the deputy mayor for operations.
Holloway, the public face of the alternative plan, has said the scheme will clean the canal as well as the EPA, while avoiding the stigma associated with the designation, thereby retaining some $400 million in private investment along the polluted waterway.
In April, DEC spokesperson Yancey Roy said his agency chose to nominate the canal because “it’s a very complicated site, because it involves multiple entities — state and New York City agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the parties responsible for the pollution — DEC believes this is the type of cleanup project that is best suited for EPA oversight.”
The alternative relies on the Water Resources Development Act, which would allow the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the canal, which is considered a navigable channel.Up to 65 percent of the work could be federally funded, which could reduce clean-up costs for those responsible for polluting the canal, the city argues.
Under the Superfund program, those responsible for the pollution pay for the clean-up or face still penalties. The EPA has criticized the city’s plan as overly complex, replying on a host of parts to move synchronously to succeed.
“It is of course up to the EPA whether to accept the alternative proposal,” Gruskin wrote. “There are many assumptions in the proposal, including among other things, a requirement for a very high degree of cooperation among responsible parties.”
Still, City Hall cheered Gruskin’s letter. “DEC’s support for a careful review of the city’s plan shows that the state, like the city, is focused on the right goal — identifying and implementing the fastest, most efficient way to cleanup the canal,” said mayoral spokesperson Farrell Sklerov.“We believe the city’s alternative plan will clearly achieve that goal and we hope EPA will follow DEC’s suggestion and, after careful consideration, draw the same conclusion that the city has reached.”
Helping to craft the city’s alternative plan is former DEC staffer Daniel Walsh, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation. Walsh once served as chief of the New York City Superfund and Brownfield Program.
EPA spokesperson Beth Totman said the letter is not incongruous with the DEC’s initial recommendation for the canal’s inclusion in the Superfund program. “I think the letter is pretty balanced and speaks for itself,” she said, adding that her agency has said all along that it would carefully review any alternative proposals. “Our goals are the same as the city’s,” she said. “Our main concern is that the canal is cleaned up quickly and effectively.” The EPA could hand down a decision on the clean-up as early as mid-September.
By Gary Buiso