Clean up or pay up! Gowanus polluters threatened with penalties for delaying canal cleanse

Gowanus Canal cleanup begins
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It’s time to pay the piper.

The Environmental Protection Agency will start issuing penalties to polluters who continue to stall the Gowanus Canal cleanup, said the man in charge of the cleanse at Tuesday night’s monthly community advisory group meeting.

“I’ve worked for a long time with them and it’s come to the point where we mean business,” said Christos Tsiamis, the agency’s project manager. “I’ve listed six or seven actions they need to do in a time frame. Any time they do not respond to that, they’re in noncompliance, so then we go to the legal part and there are penalties that accrue.”

A group of polluters including National Grid, Amareda Hess, and Honeywell refuse to follow the Feds’ timeline for cleaning the noxious waterway and insist on repeating already completed studies to drag out the process, according to Tsiamis, who first reported news of the delay at April’s meeting. Now the cleanse, instead of finishing in 2022 as scheduled, likely will not be complete until at least the later half of the decade — even if the polluters decide to cooperate.

“I can tell you right now it’s not going to happen in 2022,” he said.

Tsiamis told the room he hoped the contaminators would get their act together, but they still refuse to play ball. In one case, they wanted to use one general contractor for the work required in the Fourth Street Basin, despite the Feds’ demand the job be divided among several — and now the agency is tired of tapping its toes.

“We basically received a response to our comments saying they don’t agree with us,” said Tsiamis. “We have been very patient in that process. The patience stops here.”

Tsiamis sent an e-mail to the polluters on May 19 to inform them they are on notice and will rack up penalties — which will be decided later — each time they refuse to cooperate.

“Please consider this to be an advance notice that any future failure to fully and timely comply with EPA’s directives related to the dredging pilot may result in a formal determination of noncompliance,” he said in the e-mail.

The polluters have yet to respond to Tsiamis’s letter.

A spokeswoman for National Grid claims the utility company is doing what it can to push the process along, but is being held to a “more ambitious timeline” than typical Superfund clean ups.

The company received approval from the Public Service Commission — which oversees the state’s utilities — in December to add a two percent surcharge to customers’ monthly bills to pay for the cleanup. But the regulatory arm will review the increase before National Grid can implement it, to ensure the company is not wasting money on expenses unnecessary to the cleanup, according to a commission spokesman.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Detox: Workers started cleaning up the fetid canal last year.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini