Feds: Navy and city could foot big bill for Gowanus clean-up

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The federal government is now looking at charging the U.S. Navy and the city of New York for the clean-up of the fetid Gowanus Canal.

The Environmental Protection Agency notified the two entities last week, informing them that they potentially could be stuck with a bill if the federal government goes through with a proposal to designate the canal a Superfund site.

As The Brooklyn Paper has reported, the city’s contribution to centuries of pollution in the canal comes in the form of raw sewage that cascades into the waterway during heavy rainstorms — the result of a flawed and antiquated sewage system.

But this week, EPA spokesperson Elizabeth Totman said that the Navy may also bear some blame.

The service operated facilities adjacent to or near the Gowanus Canal and also oversaw government contractors that owned or operated facilities adjacent to the canal.

The EPA identified those sites as Navy piers at 33rd and 37th Streets; a Naval supply depot at Third Avenue near 33rd Street; the Bethlehem Shipbuilding yards at 19th and 27th Street; Sullivan Dry Dock at 23rd Street; and Todd Shipyards in Red Hook.

It is unclear how those sites — which are quite distant from the canal itself — had an affect on pollution in the Gowanus.

The Navy declined to comment.

“We are currently investigating the content of the letter and will respond to the EPA’s request for information as required by law,” said Navy spokeswoman Laura Stegherr.

The Bloomberg administration also said it was looking into the matter.

The city is on record of opposing the Superfund designation, partly because of the bill and partly because the mayor says his own clean-up plan will be faster and less expensive than a Superfund effort.

Federally overseen clean-ups tend to take decades, partly because alleged polluters and their successor companies tend to fire off lawsuits when the EPA charges them for decades-old pollution.

Con Ed, National Grid and the chemicals maker Chemtura have received prior notification from the EPA about possible charges for the clean-up. The agency has also sent letters to a variety of canal-side companies — such as Bayside Fuel Oil Corporation, Chevron, BP America, ConocoPhillips Co., Exxon Mobil, Kraft Foods, Honeywell International, and Unilever — to inquire about their practices in the canal zone.

The cost for the work on the Gowanus has not been finalized, but is expected to cost billions.

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Reader Feedback

GeeGee from on the train says:
"alleged polluters and their successor companies tend to fire off lawsuits when the EPA charges them for decades-old pollution."
Could your paper please explain this statement? It sounds here as if lawsuits are part of the process when they are actually an expensive choice companies make--they are not necessary--if they take place they are by choice. And just who do these companies take up lawsuits against? That answer tends to be: each other as the responsible parties dispute among themselves who should pay how much. And what should the general public looking for their environment to be restored care about these companies taking up law suits among themselves?
Nov. 15, 2009, 6:55 pm
sid from boerum hill says:
doesn't the Navy have sovereign immunity?

GE was sued/sued about cleaning up the Hudson. 20 years later the first cleanup is now taking place.

The issue there was whether the alternatives they proposed(sealing in place) as opposed to dredging. the dredging would cost a billion dollars, the sealing a lot less. They sued the EPA. Until the money is paid by the companies there is no money to do the clean up. The Superfund has no money only what the government gets from the "polluters" or congress specifically appropriates. The companies sometimes get to pay a lot less than originally asked when they settle. Many of the original polluters their successors and assigns are defunct. When someone buys something out of a bankruptcy they buy free and clear of all its much more complicated than one paragraph in an article
Nov. 19, 2009, 6:50 pm
sid from boerum hill says:

this is what GE says

Here is what the EPA says

and a private group
Nov. 19, 2009, 6:55 pm
g from cg says:
I am shocked that people are living in the Gowanus Canal area -- a proposed Superfund site. No children, nor anyone should be permitted to live there given the contaminant dangers. The city and state will be sued for billions when all the people living there now will die of cancer. The city must vacate the area immediately and condemn all the contaminated housing there. State legislation is necessary to that end. I will write to our legislators.
Nov. 24, 2009, 1:11 pm
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Dec. 26, 2009, 3:42 pm
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Dec. 26, 2009, 3:43 pm
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Dec. 26, 2009, 3:43 pm

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