Save the eerie canal: Leave the cleanup of Gowanus waters to the city
The blossoming neighborhoods along Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal face becoming dead zones – but not because of anything in the waterway’s famously polluted murk.
No, the threat has been visited upon newly vibrant communities by the short-sighted, high-handedness of state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alexander (Pete) Grannis, who asked the U.S. to declare the canal one of its so-called Superfund sites.
Without, apparently, a moment’s consideration of the disastrous consequences of unnecessarily declaring the heart of Brooklyn a toxic waste zone, or of the far more effective cleanup that City Hall is planning.
Despite the Gowanus’ ripe reputation, neighborhoods along the 1.5-mile canal are on the rise. Superfund designation would kill the bloom. Builder Toll Brothers says it would scrap a 500-unit development along the waterway, and banks say flatly that they would refuse to invest in the area.
What would the city gain? Nothing. The “fund” part of Superfund is an extreme misnomer. No money comes with the listing.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency sues the polluters to make them pay for remediation. If the polluters still exist and if they have money.
A Superfund listing leads to years of litigation. With a history going back to 1869 and a roster of some 200 of what the feds call potentially responsible parties, a canal cleanup would take a quarter century at Superfund speed.
And, critically, it wouldn’t deal with the current pollution from untreated sewage that gets discharged during heavy rainstorms.
On the other hand, the Bloomberg administration believes it can get enough responsible parties to pay their shares of a cleanup to raise $400 million without litigation and the deadly stigma of a Superfund designation. City Hall has also prepared a plan to get developers to upgrade the sewage system to eliminate the untreated discharges.
That’s the way to go.
The federal EPA must give the city first shot at cleaning the Gowanus.
And Gov. Paterson needs to say so out loud before a big swath of Brooklyn is damaged by the handiwork of one of his aides.