The clock is ticking.
With less than two weeks before the deadline for public comment closes, city officials are trying to convince Brooklyn residents to voice their concerns over Superfund’s influence on commerce and public health along Newtown Creek, without revealing their position on how to best clean up the polluted waterway.
On December 10, members of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation visited the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee (NCMC) at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (Greenpoint Avenue and Provost Street) to make a presentation about Superfund and Newtown Creek, the fourth-such presentation in the past 10 days.
City officials urged NCMC members to submit comments regarding how local businesses and long-term DEP capital projects, such as the removal of a noisome sludge tank off Commercial Street would be affected if the EPA had to dredge the creek.
“We want to work with the EPA to ensure that the dock work does not contribute to contamination,” said Johanna Greenbaum, assistant council to the Deputy Mayor. “We do not want to press pause on the many great things happening on the creek and we want an open collaboration with the EPA.”
NCMC members, some of whose environmental advocacy predates the EPA, used the opportunity to grill city officials about construction delays regarding several projects, the city’s responsibility regarding the clean-up and whether the Bloomberg administration had a back-up plan if the creek were not listed as a Superfund site.
“If the creek isn’t listed, what are the city’s plans to clean up the creek?” asked NCMC member Paul Turci.
DEP officials noted that such concerns were premature, since the EPA’s public comment period has not ended yet and the city is still formulating its formal response. Greenbaum also revealed that the city may take a different view of remediation strategies along the creek than it did along the Gowanus, where it opposed the EPA’s Superfund recommendation and instead put together an alternative clean-up plan.
“We’re doing everything we can to work with the EPA. We’re asking them to have the necessary staff available and to get a reasonable time on their response,” said Greenbaum, who did not delve into alternative clean-up strategies. “The creek needs to be cleaned up and it needs to be done comprehensively.”
One of the most significant concerns for North Brooklyn environmental advocates is how the EPA’s remediation and regulatory authority along the creek will affect projects such as the construction on a new sludge boat dock near the sewage treatment plant. If dredging along the mouth of the creek delays dock construction plans or if costs escalate, several community leaders believe it would have a domino effect on a slew of additional projects in North Brooklyn including affordable housing development along the waterfront, park space on 65 Commercial Street, and additional funding for community based tenant advocacy organizations.
“How do you protect yourselves from prices regarding navigational dredging going higher? What protections can the city put into contracts so costs can’t rise up?” asked NCMC member Laura Truettner.
When asked whether the EPA could assist local businesses along the creek impacted by potential dredging or through a banks refusal to loan funding for expansion, Greenbaum noted that there is currently no mechanism for assisting commerce within Superfund, and that the agency “doesn’t recognize there is a stigma with Superfund designation.”
However, Greenbaun said that EPA officials have promised that DEP dredging along the mouth of the creek to deepen the waterway for sludge boat vessels could continue.
“Now we need to get that in writing before we can move forward,” said Greenbaum.