EPA Official Confirms: Brooklyn Superfund Cleanups Will Proceed

Cleanup at three Brooklyn superfund sites will continue as planned, a Public Information Official working with the EPA told NYER last week. The work to remediate the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, and the lead-contaminated Red Hook Ballfields will move forward, despite any actions by the new Trump administration.

In recent weeks, controversy and confusion has swirled after the Trump’s transition team ordered a freeze on all EPA grants and subcontracts. According to ProPublica, the move could “affect a significant part of the agency’s budget allocations and even threaten to disrupt core operations ranging from toxic cleanups to water quality testing.”

There has been a flurry of information leaking from sources within the EPA—most unable to be officially confirmed—but an EPA employee aware of the freeze spoke with ProPublica and stated that:

“…he had never seen anything like it in nearly a decade with the agency. Hiring freezes happened, he said, but freezes on grants and contracts seemed extraordinary. The employee said the freeze appeared to be nationwide, and as of Monday night it was not clear for how long it would be in place.”

However, Elias Rodriguez, the EPA officer assigned to the Brooklyn projects, told NYER that “the EPA fully intends to continue to provide information to the public. A fresh look at public affairs and communications processes is common practice for any new administration, and a short pause in activities allows for this assessment.”

In general, Superfund cleanups are primarily funded not by the government but by “responsible parties” that contributed to the pollution.

As of press time, Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s nominee to head the EPA, had been confirmed by the Senate Committee. Republicans suspended the Environment and Public Works Committee’s rules to approve the cabinet pick despite a Democratic boycott.

Red Hook Cleanup

EPA official taking soil samples in Red Hook Park in March 2015. Photo via EPA.

In 2015, the EPA closed multiple baseball fields in Red Hook after high levels of lead were found in the soil. The contamination was caused by a former smelting and refining facility that was once sited at the corner of Hicks and Lorraine, directly atop ball field #7. The factory operated from the 1920s through the late 1930s.

The fields impacted include Ball Fields 5, 6, 7 and 8 and Soccer Field 7.

The cleanup, performed by the New York City Parks Department and overseen by the EPA, is slated to begin this fall and cost approximately $105 million.

Gowanus Cleanup

The Gowanus Canal was named a Superfund site in 2011. Cleanup is in progress, beginning with debris removal late last year, and is expected to continue until at least 2022.

 Newtown Creek

Newtown Creek competes with the Gowanus Canal for the title of the most polluted body of water in New York City. It was named a Superfund site in 2010, but studies are still ongoing; feasible cleanup recommendations are expected by 2019.


Do You Live or Work Along Newtown Creek? Your Input is Needed.

Do you live or work near Newtown Creek? Do you care about the future of the creek? How do you use, travel around, and over the creek? 

Residents living along Newtown Creek, on both the Brooklyn and Queens sides, are being asked to attend a “Bridging the Creek” community workshop TONIGHT to learn about the future of the creek and how they can help to shape it.

If you can’t make it tonight, other workshops are scheduled this month. The goal is “to connect those living and working on the Queens and Brooklyn sides of Newtown Creek with both the waterway and each other.”

Newtown Creek: Superfund site in the midst of vibrant communities

Neighborhoods such as Greenpoint (on the Brooklyn side) and Sunnyside, Dutch Kills and Hunters Point (on the Queens side) lie along the 3.8 mile long Newtown Creek.

Map of Newtown Creek. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

In September 2010, Newtown Creek was listed as a Superfund Site on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities List. According to the EPA:

“as a result of its industrial history, including countless spills, Newtown Creek is one of the nation’s most polluted waterways. Various sediment and surface water samples have been taken along the creek. Pesticides, metals, PCBs, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are potentially harmful contaminants that can easily evaporate into the air, have been detected at the creek….

EPA signed an Administrative Order on Consent with six “Potentially Responsible Parties” in 2011. The Consent Order finalized a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study process, to characterize contamination at the creek, with EPA oversight. The Remedial Investigation for the Newtown Creek Superfund site is currently ongoing.”

Arguably one of the largest environmental disasters in the vicinity of Newtown Creek was the Greenpoint oil spill, which originated from an ExxonMobil oil storage terminal, among other sites.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, an investigation concluded that the area of the spill was in excess of 52 acres and the total spill volume, as estimated in 1979, was approximately 17 million gallons of petroleum products. Other reports offer higher estimates.

As a point of comparison, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska released an estimated 11 million gallons.

Map of the Greenpoint oil spill, which occurred over several decades. Clean-up began in 1979. Credit: PRPblog.com

Despite decades of contamination, residents throughout the Creek’s watershed are actively engaged in efforts to create a healthier Creek and a more liveable environment.

Tonight: “Bridging the Creek” Workshop #1

Date: Wednesday, June 10th at 6:30pm

Location: Sunnyside Community Services, 43-31 39th Street, Sunnyside, Queens

Workshops will also be held Wednesday, June 17th in Hunters Point, and Wednesday, June 24th in Ridgewood.

Bridging the Creek also sponsors walking, bike and boat tours in the Newtown Creek watershed. For events listings and Bridging the Creek news, click here.

Bridging the Creek is a project of Green Shores NYC, “an all-volunteer parks advocacy organization that works to enliven the Astoria/LIC waterfront by caring and advocating for safe public parks, green spaces, waterways, and a waterfront greenway.”



Beyond Cleaning Up the Canal- The Future of Gowanus

Federal Superfund site, manufacturing and arts hub, and working class community in the midst of gentrification- the area around the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn is undergoing a historic transformation.

In response to these changes, a “planning framework” for the neighborhood has been developed which organizers, like the office of Council Member Brad Lander, say heavily incorporates public input.

A draft of the framework, called Bridging Gowanus, was released by local elected officials and community leaders just before Thanksgiving. Public participation in the planning process was facilitated by the Pratt Center for Community Development.

Described as a “drastic change from a polluted, toxic, EPA Superfund, the Bridging Gowanus framework imagines a neighborhood with parks, open space, and public canal access.”

The plan calls for existing public parks in Gowanus to be renovated and connected via a “Gowanus Greenscape” network that includes access to the Canal at public sites, historic interpretation at preserved buildings and other locations, and a public arts program.

In a statement, Council Member Lander’s office said the project’s ultimate goal is a “community-supported blueprint to inform the de Blasio Administration’s decisions about land use in the area.”

Infrastructure Investment & Managed Growth in Gowanus

The Bridging Gowanus plan calls for infrastructure investments and land use regulations which community leaders say are needed to “insure a sustainable, vibrant, and inclusive future” for the area.

The plan is organized around five principles:

  • Investing in sustainable infrastructure;
  • Strengthening local manufacturing through the creation of a new Gowanus Manufacturing Zone restricting hotels, big box retail, self-storage facilities, nightclubs and large-scale offices;
  • Maintaining the area’s current mix of uses– light industry, artistic and cultural activities, retail and housing;
  • Preserving and creating affordable housing;
  • Developing a “pathway for responsible growth,” such as residential development in taller buildings, but only if community goals for “infrastructure, resiliency, sustainability, a genuine mix of uses, good jobs, and affordability” are also met.

Sustainable infrastructure is a critical part of the plan due to the area’s growing vulnerability to flooding and storm surges.

Infrastructure projects, such as Canal cleanup, flood mitigation, new parks and green spaces, improvements to public transportation and new school seats, will receive at least partial support from Superfund resources and existing public investments, say planners.

A new Gowanus “tax increment financing” (TIF) mechanism, capturing increases in property value, has also been proposed to help finance area-wide infrastructure improvements.

“Preserving the Character” of Gowanus

The framework includes a range of urban planning strategies which planners say are designed to “preserve the character” of Gowanus.

This includes the Gowanus Green Affordable Housing Development, proposed for the six-acre “Public Place” site along the west side of the Canal, between 5th and 7th Streets.

Council Member Lander’s office says the development would include a waterfront park, and 8 buildings ranging from 5 to 14 stories, creating 774 units of rental and for-sale housing and 65,000 square feet of community and retail space.

Seventy percent, 540, of the units will be “affordable to households at a very wide range of incomes,” with more than 100 apartments designated as “affordable rentals for seniors.”

According to Lander’s office, Bridging Gowanus received input from more than 300 community “stakeholders” – including long-time and newer homeowners, tenants and NYCHA residents, small business owners, environmental activists, artists, affordable housing advocates, and others.

The “comprehensive” plan has community consensus says Council Member Lander. However, the document itself notes that some local residents do not support more residential development in the Gowanus area.

The planning framework could eventually become the basis for a full-fledged area plan created by the New York City Department of City Planning.

The public can comment on the draft planning framework through the end of the year.