Dirty Water: Pols Meet to Discuss Newtown Cleanup
After making an initial recommendation to put Newtown Creek, one of the most polluted waterways in the nation, on the federal Superfund list, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials noted that it will take approximately one year of testing to determine whether the federal government will begin cleaning pollution along the creek.
On October 2, EPA officials made a detailed presentation to several elected leaders, including Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Williamsburg), Assemblymember Joseph Lentol (D-Greenpoint), and Councilmember Diana Reyna (D-Williamsburg), in Velazquez’s Williamsburg district office regarding their recommendation for Superfund designation and the next steps for extensive testing.
Velazquez, who requested the briefing, has been working with Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Sheepshead Bay) to pressure the EPA to study the environmental impacts of contamination around the creek for much of the past decade.In 2008, Weiner and Velazquez received a commitment from the EPA to conduct initial tests at four sites along the creek, which helped pave the way for the agency’s recommendation.
“The contamination in and around Newtown Creek is of catastrophic proportions and Greenpoint residents have suffered the consequences for too long.Inclusion in EPA’s National Priorities List may help determine the best approach for cleaning up the creek,” said Velazquez.
On September 23, the agency opened the 60-day public comment period so residents can register their opinions about Superfund designation.According to an EPA spokesperson, testing has already begun on approximately 100 sites located on the banks of the 3.8-mile estuary.
“They are not Superfunding Greenpoint, just the creek,” said Lentol.“It is not for the oil spill and not on the land where people’s homes are.In advance of having a Superfund site at the end of the road, it puts more pressure on multi-national companies than the city or state ever could.”
According to several environmental advocates, two questions regarding governmental involvement at the local and federal levels are emerging as the Superfund designation process unfolds over the coming months.This year, Congress approved $1.89 billion, including $600 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to pay for Superfund sites nationwide. But according to Michael Schade, an advocate with Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), the program remains underfunded.
CHEJ is currently contemplating how to coordinate its Congressional environmental lobbying efforts regarding Superfund.Currently, Velazquez is a co-sponsor of a bill HR-564) introduced in the 101st Congress to reinstate polluter pays taxes, which CHEJ argues would help defray costs of the potential clean-up.
“Unfortunately the federal Superfund program is bankrupt and the pace of site clean-ups has slowed down in recent years,” said Schade.“Hopefully the creek will be added to the federal national parties list, which will lay the groundwork for the cleanup of the city, arguably one of the most highly contaminated sties in the city, if not the state.”
Complicating matters is the role of the city as a potentially liable party towards contamination, due to several combined sewer overflows on the creek.Even parties which polluted on one site, can be held liable for the costs of the remediation for a designated site. Administration officials have made recommendations against the EPA’s designation of the Gowanus Canal but have so far remained mum as to their position in Greenpoint.
Local environmental groups such as the Newtown Creek Alliance are closely tracking how Mayor Bloomberg’s office will proceed during the Superfund process in Newtown Creek as well as the EPA’s outreach toward local businesses on the site.The NCA has not taken a position on Superfund, choosing to wait until a public hearing set to be scheduled later this year.
“We are hugely excited about the proposal and are eager to work with EPA over the next couple months to fully explore the benefits of listing the creek and identify the concerns of both the residential and industrial community in order that any remediation proposal avoids to the extent possible negative consequences,” said NCA Director Katie Schmid.
Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee Liaison Christine Holowacz was more hesitant in her support, hoping that all levels of government work together to get the creek cleaned.
“I just am a little bit concerned about how long it takes and about the projects that are scheduled to happen, such as the dredging of the creek and building affordable housing and the MTA lot,” said Holowacz.“I hope we can do both: get our projects in and clean the creek.I hope it happens in my lifetime.”
By Aaron Short