Ambitious plans for a boathouse along the Newtown Creek ran aground this week when state officials indicated they would not fund the project because the city objects to kayaking in the fetid waterway, according to a source familiar with the project.
City environmental and health officials have been skittish about recreation on the polluted waterway for months, citing concerns that boaters could crash into larger ships in city rivers and ingest water contamined from sewage overflows.
The city has shown few signs of reversing its position this summer, arguing that health and transportation risks along the 3.8-mile waterway should be studied before anyone can set sail.
“[The proposal] does not sufficiently address the substantial public health concerns raised here,” Environmental Protection Commissioner Cas Holloway wrote on July 13 to state and city leaders, citing not just water quality, but the hazard of having recreational boaters in a still-busy industrial waterway. “[The proposal] provides an insufficient basis to make a multi-million-dollar investment.”
A state environmental spokesman denied that the city position was dictating state policy, saying only that the agency is assessing water quality data and that no decision about the boathouse has been made.
The $3-million project had been named a top finalist to receive a state grant from a pool of money collected from a $10-million a city pollution settlement in 2008.
The boathouse includes space for 60 kayaks in the first floor of a five-story industrial rental building at the corner of Manhattan Avenue and Box Street.
Neighborhood boaters argue that the project’s location is away from the pollution and offers kayakers the “perfect place to launch and explore the river.”
“People have been kayaking on the creek for decades — through periods when the creek was ostensibly more polluted and far busier with ship traffic without incident,” said Community Board 1 member Dewey Thompson, who drafted the proposal.
But the city has sought to limit recreation on Newtown Creek after the federal government declared the waterway a superfund site last September.
City workers put up “no kayaking” signs at two boat launches in October, temporarily suspending kayaking on the waterway in the winter.
In May, a city health official questioned the creek’s water quality and its effect on the health of kayakers — causing community leaders to question the city’s commitment to public recreation.
Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D–Greenpoint) accused the city of trying to “block a viable community program,” and Councilman Steve Levin (D–Greenpoint) said the state should approve the project.
“The boathouse was the community’s top choice,” said Levin. “It should be funded.”