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Newtown Creek, Here Comes the EPA
September 24th, 2009

Six months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency started exploring a Superfund designation for Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, they have launched a second investigation into Newtown Creek.

Today the agency announced it has nominated the creek for the controversial Superfund title, which will kick off a series of public hearings and discussion on the drawbacks and the benefits of being named a Superfund site. Already, several representatives of the area support the designation, including Reps. Anthony D. Weiner and Nydia Velzquez.

We covered the story of Newtown Creek (and other potential superfund sites) here.

In a prepared statement, Weiner said, “I am pleased to see that while the oil companies lag in their cleanup responsibilities and put the health and safety of Newtown Creek’s residents at further risk, the EPA has decide to take action and hold these companies responsible for their negligence. Newton Creek is the single most polluted waterway in New York City, a legacy left by more than a century of heavy industrial activity.

Just approximately 5 miles north of the Gowanus, Newtown Creek is the site of the country’s largest coastal oil spill, dating back to the 1950s when the site was the home of a refinery operation by Standard Oil — Exxon Mobil’s predecessor. Still, oil companies line its shores and putrid stenches typically overpower the adjacent neighborhood of Greenpoint.

When a site is designated as a superfund, the federal government officially takes over the cleanup of the area. They hunt down the responsible parties (in this case most likely oil companies) and make them pay for the entire cleanup. Most often, this means years of lawsuits.

Which is why the designation is so controversial. In the Gowanus, local developers are looking to build condominiums along its polluted shoreways, so they have committed to cleaning up the canal sans Superfund. In that case, the Bloomberg administration is against the designation, while many local advocates and residents are for it.

It is unlikely that Newtown Creek will be as controversial, because the area is not being eyed by the Bloomberg administration for development.

When we reported on the creek in May, a Bloomberg administration spokesperson said, “The city hasn’t yet taken a position on the potential Superfund designation of Newtown Creek. Were doing internal analysis now and plan to meet with the EPA next month before expressing any view. The city plans to invest nearly $1.9 billion in Newtown Creek related projects over the next decade.”

For years advocates have been urging government officials to do more. First in the 1990s, the state and the oil companies came to an agreement that would eventually lead to the cleanup of the oil spill. Advocates today question whether that agreement will really complete the job.

By on September 24, 2009, 11:09 am
In category: City Hall,Environment,Gotham City,Health,Housing,nextNY,Parks,Waterfront | 6 Comments »

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6 Responses to “Newtown Creek, Here Comes the EPA”

  1. John Brandt Says:
    September 25th, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    When I was a child in the 50s and 60s, we would often travel along Greenpoint Ave on our way from Clinton Hill to my grandmother’s home in Sunnyside, Queens. This necessitated a trip over the Greenpoint Ave Bridge which crosses Newtown Creek. There was a glue factory on the east side of the shore that appeared to be the primary source of the “fragrance” that was everpresent in that location. From the back seat of the car we kids would announce in unison, “Gluey the glue-worker’s working!”

    Glad to see someone has finally done something about it. But, I suspect it will be another 50 years before the smell goes away.

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