The city is trying to sink its own boathouse.
City environmental and health officials are pressuring the state to defund a Greenpoint boathouse project over concerns that kayakers might come into contact with Newtown Creek’s toxic water and get in the way of larger ships.
Two months ago, state environmental officials declared the $3-million waterfront project at the end of Manhattan Avenue a finalist for funding.
But now the two city agencies are quietly trying to make sure the boathouse does not win the grant. The result is an intercity agency battle that is apparently pitting the departments of Health and Environmental Protection against the departments of Parks and City Planning.
A boat launch on Newtown Creek at Manhattan Avenue is one of the city’s priorities in its 20-year waterfront development plan, according to city planning records.
And city parks officials have long backed recreational boating in Brooklyn waterways — the agency would manage the lease of the boathouse and the esplanade adjacent to the creek if it does get built.
So far, none of the agencies have talked about the backchannel effort to torpedo the boathouse, a campaign which began last month, when a Department of Environmental Protection deputy commissioner asked health officials to respond to his agency’s concerns about kayaking in Newtown Creek.
Office of Public Health Engineering Director Christopher Boyd told the Department of Environmental Protection that the city should not support building a boathouse at the end of Manhattan Avenue because of the potential risks for boaters.
“In light of ship traffic, water quality samples with very high fecal coliform counts, and pending assessments of public health risks, the Department recommends that the Department of Environmental Protection not encourage or facilitate recreational contact in the waters of Newtown Creek,” Boyd wrote on May 3.
Three days later, the city’s Law Department forwarded that letter to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Environmental advocates say that the Department of Environmental Protection’s concerns are misplaced and the move is the “height of hypocrisy.”
“The city’s goal should be to facilitate access where and when the water is safe, provide effective notification when it’s not safe, and invest in long-term efforts to clean it all up — not lament that conditions as a rationale to keep people out,” said Kate Zidar, a Greenpoint environmental activist.
But boaters say they know the risks and the project should not be scrapped because of the city’s warnings.
“We’re going to fight this tooth and nail,” said Greenpoint kayaker Dewey Thompson, who proposed the boat launch project. “There’s no indication that casual recreational boating gives exposure that you would consider dangerous and nobody is suggesting we go swimming in Newtown Creek.”
When reached on Monday, a Department of Environmental Protection spokesman denied that the agency was trying to disrupt the boat launch project, noting that boating is still allowed on Newtown Creek.
“We agree that there should be a full assessment of any public health risks before public funds are devoted,” said agency spokesman Farrell Sklerov. “If an analysis shows that those risks are insignificant, then we are not opposed to the project moving forward.”
This isn’t the first time the city has inserted itself in environmental discussions in its region’s waterways to the public’s consternation.
The Department of Environmental Protection has discouraged recreational boating on Newtown Creek for months — even temporarily cutting off access to the creek by posting signs at the waterway’s nature walk in October.
And the city reluctantly supported the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to declare Newtown Creek a Superfund site last September, though expressing deep concerns over potential liability during the clean-up.
The EPA commissioned a study of Newtown Creek’s water quality late last year, but it has not yet been released.