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

The seven most disgusting plots along the Gowanus Canal have been identified. Please don't rush to visit.
The Brooklyn Paper / Bess Adler

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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