At least four Sheepshead Bay businesses, including a United Artists multiplex, have been dumping waste like raw sewage, grease and fecal matter into Shell Bank Creek near Knapp Street for the past seven years, authorities say.
Three business managers and one landlord were arrested Dec. 7 for violations that included ignoring leaks in their businesses’ sewage pipes and failing to install grease traps, insuring that human waste, toilet paper scraps, lard and oil was dumped into the creek, which flows into a popular swim area used by local kids before reaching Jamaica Bay.
The build-up of sludge gave off rancid odors that residents have been complaining about for years, said District Attorney Charles Hynes.
“Brooklyn suffered from a horrible stench,” said Hynes. “The conditions at Shell Bank Creek were appalling as a result of the conduct of these establishments.”
The movie theater’s manager, Craig Novoa, Simon Shin of Knapp Street Bagels, TGIFriday’s landlord Alex Spivack, and Deauville Marina manager David Matalon were all arrested for polluting water and dumping sewage, which are felonies. In addition to the bad plumbing, one toilet had none at all: an outhouse at the marina let waste dropped straight into the creek, the D.A. said.
Those arrested for dumping and polluting the creek face fines and up to four years in prison. The businesses may be fined up to $75,000 for each day that the dumping occurred — which could go back seven years, Hynes said.
As such, the arrests have been a long time coming, say residents who have been fed up with the stench coming from the creek.
“We have sent the Department of Environmental Protection to the creek to inspect the source of those odors many times,” said Community Board 15 Chairwoman Theresa Scavo. “But it took way too long for the city to get everything together and involve the police. A snail could move faster than that.”
These particular Sheepshead Bay businesses are required to maintain their own sewage lines, which lead to a waste transfer station in Coney Island. But the theater, which owns the building and land, ignored the leaks, authorities say, and it wasn’t until this year that state and city environmental agencies traced the discharges from the United Artists’ waste water pipes to Shell Bank Creek. Officials performed additional tests and learned that the other three businesses also had damaged pipes that bled into the water.
But it’s not the first time the theater has been cited.
In 2003, the leaky pipes were blamed for flooding that occurred in the movie theater’s parking lot.
City Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Cas Halloway added that the businesses’ faulty pipes have all been recently fixed and no more waste is seeping into the creek.
“We have already started to see an improvement in the conditions of the water and the area should be cleaned out in a couple of weeks,” Halloway said.
At least two of the men arrested — Craig Novoa of United Artists and David Matalon of Deauville Marina — say that they repaired their damaged sewer lines a year ago.
“Mr. Novoa categorically denies any guilt with respect to this matter,” said Novoa’s lawyer, Austin Campriello. “[United Artists owner Regal Cinemas] spent close to $2 million to repair a leak in its waste water line in 2009. We look forward to dealing with this matter in court.”
Matalon’s lawyer, Steven Russo, also denied that his client’s outhouse has been dropping garbage into the water.
“The criminal charges in this matter are utterly baseless,” Russo said.
TGIFriday’s, which does not own or maintain the sewer pipe for the property it leases from Spivack, is trying to distance itself from the matter.
“We are taking these charges very seriously and are cooperating fully with the investigation,” said the company’s spokeswoman, Amy Freshwater. “We are confident that once the facts are fully known, it will be proven that Friday’s has not engaged in any wrongdoing.”
Regal Entertainment Group and the remaining men arrested could not be reached for comment.
With the leaks fixed, the creek should clean itself up, according to officials.
“The impact on the environment is devastating, but it is reversible,” Hynes said.
But the news of the leaks had at least one woman changing her summer plans.
“This is not good at all,” said Maryanne McLinden, a Gerritsen Beach resident and mother of two children who says she won’t let her kids swim in the creek anymore. “That was our summer getaway!”
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