State caught in ‘Superflop’
The Paterson administration has backed away from its surprise call last year to have the federal government lead a Superfund clean-up of the Gowanus Canal — and now says the Environmental Protection Agency should “carefully review” an alternate proposal from Mayor Bloomberg for decontaminating the waterway.
The EPA will decide the 1-1/2-mile long canal’s destiny this fall, choosing whether to remove the waterway’s bed of toxic sediment via the Superfund program, which forces polluters to pay often after a lengthy and litigious effort, or by letting the city go ahead with its proposal, an untested arrangement that uses federal money and voluntary contributions from polluters to cover the estimated $400-million clean-up cost.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation told the Bloomberg administration that it was not opposed to the mayor’s plan — as long as it sought a comprehensiv e clean-up. That Aug. 6 letter was a departure from the state’s December request to add it to the Superfund list.
“The Department remains committed to the need for a clean-up to Superfund standards,” wrote Stuart Gruskin, executive deputy commissioner. “We believe that it is appropriate for the EPA to carefully review and consider the [city] proposal.”
Gruskin’s correspondence said that the EPA should investigate if the mayor’s claims are true that his plan will be faster and more efficient than the Superfund and to make sure that the city approach won’t delay or hinder the clean-up if a Superfund designation is later deemed necessary.
The Bloomberg administration heralded the letter as a vindication of its idea, which has been criticized by the EPA and Gowanus Canal zone neighbors who doubt the city has the ability or the interest in fully restoring the channel.
But the letter raised some of the recurring doubts that have nagged the mayor’s plan from the start, such as the difficult balancing act of coordinating the polluters with the city, state and federal agencies.
“There are many assumptions in the proposal, including among other things, a requirement for a very high degree of cooperation responsible parties,” Gruskin wrote.
In December, the state requested adding the Gowanus Canal to the Superfund list, a move that sent the mayor’s office scrambling. Bloomberg said Superfund designation would scare off the $400 million in private investment in the neighborhood that will pour into the neighborhood after the city rezones the old manufacturing district.
Some real-estate developers confirmed the mayor’s doubts and said they won’t build if the Gowanus becomes a Superfund site.
On Friday, a day after the online version of this story was published on BrooklynPaper.com, Josh Skaller, a candidate for the City Council seat that includes the canal, condemned Paterson for “buckl[ing] under pressure from a developer-loving mayor.”
“Governor Paterson has not knocked on thousands of doors in Carroll Gardens, but I have,” said Skaller, who is running in the Democratic primary for the seat currently occupied by Bill DeBlasio. “It is clear the community supports Superfund status. [Superfund] is not a perfect solution, but it’s the best way to make sure the Canal gets the clean-up needed before we can build along its banks.”
By Mike McLaughlin