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Cleanup contest: Local environmental groups to compete for Coney creek dumping fine

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They’re finally coughing up cash for the creek!

Borough environmentalists armed with ideas for how to clean up and protect the poop-filled waters of Coney Island creek will have the chance to compete for a share of the $400,000 fine a state agency levied against the apartment complex that was caught dumping up to 200,000 gallons of raw sewage into nabe’s creek every day, according to reps at a public meeting at Liberation High School on Feb. 7.

Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island) said the fine and the cleanup and monitoring programs it will fund would deter other illegal dumpers from dirtying the waters and lead to greater accountability for those that do.

“The message has to be when you dump into this creek, there’s a price to pay,” said Treyger, adding that there are still other illegal dumpers polluting the creek. “Nothing should be hidden or kept in the dark about this. This is about public health and children in our community. The days of illegal dumping and people not being held accountable are over.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation levied the fine against Beach Haven apartments in Gravesend more than a year after regulators first discovered the dumping. The state agency announced last month that the lion’s share of the fine — $300,000 — would go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the country’s largest conservation grant-maker funding programs to protect and restore fish, wildlife, and habitats. All of those funds will be earmarked for projects at Coney Island Creek.

The foundation will begin accepting proposals for Coney creek-focused projects from community-based and regional organizations by this summer, according to Lynn Dwyer, the organization’s northeast coastal program director. The foundation will seek to fund projects that focus on water-quality testing, stormwater management, and green-jobs training, Dwyer said, adding that it will also sponsor public outreach programs for potential applicants — including application workshops, webinars, and one-on-one meetings — beginning this spring. Some of the organization’s independent experts will review applications before organization makes its recommendations to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which will ultimately award the funds.

The other $100,000 will be split between the American Littoral Society, an organization that promotes the study of coastal marine life and habitat, and the state agency, which will use the funds to pay for staff who help inspect and clean waters including Coney creek, according to an agency rep. The American Littoral Society is working to determine the specifics of how its share of the funds will be dispersed, according to Don Riepe, the organization’s Jamaica Bay program director, at the meeting. But Riepe said the funds will likely pay the salaries of staffers who will work on the cleanup and restoration of Coney Island Creek.

Locals deserve more specifics about how the funds would be spent, according to the executive director of the National Resources Protective Association, but she said she felt confident that they were moving towards the right goal.

“I think they’re on target in that they’re looking for something that specifically is going to improve water quality,” said Ida Sanoff.

But another local who previously called the sum too small and demanded the state agency offer more details on how long the dumping was going on said the state agency took far too long to issue the fine, and that it ought have cleanup programs for the creek up and running by this summer, not next.

“It’s just really a triumph of red tape and bureaucracy over common sense,” said Rob Buchanan, the co-founder of the Water Trail Association, which tests the waters every summer. “Why create a structure where it takes two years for anything to happen?”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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