Gowanus divided: Is the Superfund supergood or superbad?

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On the eve of Tuesday’s public forum about a proposal to declare the toxic Gowanus Canal a Superfund site, opposing factions are slinging sludge about the seemingly beneficial idea of approving the polluted channel for a federal clean-up.

The Environmental Protection Agency runs the Superfund — a pool of cash that could be made available to purify the 1.8-mile long waterway, which is clouded by industrial pollutants like PCBs, metals and pesticides.

Classifying an area as a Superfund site also empowers the EPA to force parties responsible for the dumping to pay for the clean-up.

Despite the Superfund’s benign-sounding name, the possible designation has already split the community, with some residents and developers saying it would depress property values. Last week, hours after the Superfund proposal was reported, the canal-zone’s main developer, Toll Brothers, immediately threatened to abandon its 447-unit complex on two blocks alongside the canal. And the homebuilder’s allies sounded the alarm about the so-called perils, too.

“As a lifelong resident of Carroll Gardens, a homeowner and business person in this community, a civic activist and member of Community Board [6], I am outraged that my community will become stigmatized by an unwarranted Superfund designation,” said Debra Scotto, in a statement released on Monday by Toll Brothers’ lobbying firm.

“All our decades of hard work to sustain the character and value of our community will be destroyed by the stroke of a pen.”

Toll Brothers has already won a city rezoning for its site. Larger areas of the largely manufacturing-zoned Gowanus Canal zone are also in the process of being rezoned for residential use.

Despite Toll Brothers’ objection, other neighbors hope that a Superfund classification would accelerate the canal’s transformation, saying it would be foolish to miss the chance to access federal cash to complete the formidable and long-stalled undertaking.

The city and state have plodded through years of planning and projects to improve water conditions in the Gowanus Canal by pumping cleaner water through a stagnant inlet. Those efforts have enabled some fish to live in a previously choking environment and, eventually, fish will be able to reproduce in the Gowanus. But this proposal does not deal with the ongoing city sewer problem and would not render the canal safe enough for direct human contact with the water.

Industrial activity has dropped around the canal and its is cleaner now than it has been in decades, but the Gowanus still receives 2.7-billion gallons of untreated human waste per year from the city’s sewer system, which overflows after heavy rains, and, was likely the source of gonorrhea found in the nasty canal in 2007.

Superfund community meeting, Tuesday, April 14 at PS 32 [317 Hoyt St. between Union and President streets, (718) 287-1142, 7 pm.

Updated 11:14 am, April 27, 2009
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Reasonable discourse

Steve Shooman from Boerum Hill says:
If the water is toxic, isn't the ground water nearby also toxic? Toll wants to build on this? I don't get it. Who would want to live there? Maybe they weren't going to tell the residents. Not to mention the human waste issue during heavy rain. Would superfunding solve this problem? Once again, who would want to live there? Somehow I do not think that my 150 gallon rain catcher in my backyard will help much either.
April 13, 2009, 7:08 pm
judah spechal from Bed-Stuy says:
So let me understand this, refuse the Feds $$$, give the developers tax incentives, the city will still have to clean this place up. Are they forgetting the deficit this state is running?
Where are the elected officials? I guess this is a conflict of interest, they can't oppose big pocket donors (Tolls) or go against the voters. This is so depressing! I hope they accept this fund. I hope to take a ride Venice style in a few yrs!
April 13, 2009, 9:01 pm
I.M. Green from Gowanus says:
After reading all the coverage, its a touch depressing how unorganized the opposition is. There are the dredgers who want to be able to canoe during the cleanup, some pols who wonder what will happen to the flushing tunnel money, the folks who are still pining for a manufacturing district, etc. It all is frustrating when you've already seen how quickly the Toll folks have organized to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (see the story below, which lazily quotes from a press release. we also got a flyer in our home today opposing the superfund, with some dubious claims: on the internet there are a lot of academic discrediting of the whole "superfund lowers property values" trope.)

It seems to come down to a simple question - should the canal be cleaned before or after development? All the rest is details. I think organizing around this simple principle and looping in other constituent groups would be the most helpful (don't park slopers worry about hazardous stuff in the air and in the water?) But who is taking the lead among the opposition? It seems there need to be some improved organizing and unity here - after all, who among the non-developers in the neighborhood is really against a multimillion dollar cleanup for the canal to make sure all of us residents are safe?
April 13, 2009, 9:27 pm
Ecologue from South Brooklyn says:
I.M. Green says "after all, who among the non-developers in the neighborhood is really against a multimillion dollar cleanup for the canal to make sure all of us residents are safe?"

Good question.
Please tell me why "industrial pollutants," "PCBs, metals and pesticides," and "untreated human waste" are preferable to a fed-funded cleanup.
Or are those things an integral part of "the character and value of our community"?
April 14, 2009, 12:31 am
TomTom from Park Slope says:
I.M. Green??? Maybe if you're being paid in greenbacks to spout that nonsense! "Before or after!?" The cleanup HAS TO HAPPEN BEFORE! The soil around the canal is contaminated for 50 yards on either side and 35 feet down. It has to go or be neutralized before being sealed. It's called SCIENCE.

So did Debra Scotto recuse herself from all the discussions at CB6, or does conflict of interest mean nothing in the Markowitz purged Board? As a resident I am outraged that she is allowing herself to be used as a mouthpiece by the Toll Brothers PR firm!

How about you, I.M. Green? And the rest of the boys back at the PR factory?
April 14, 2009, 7:36 am
gowanusdog from gowanus says:
There are more members of CB6 besides Deb Scotto that give the appearance of a conflict of interest. They advocated for the Toll project and have ties to the real estate industry and the carpenters union.
I am property owner practically across the street from the canal and I welcome a proper and comprehensive clean up. Isn't this what the Scotto group has advocated for for all these years? You would think they would welcome this. Something stinks and it ain't the canal.
April 14, 2009, 9:50 am
I.M. Green from Gowanus says:
TomTom - you read my post too quickly - I totally agree with you!!! I'm just stating how simple an issue it really is! I'm lamenting that the cleanup supporters are a bit more disorganized than the development folks, which is not a good thing this late in the process.
April 14, 2009, 11:02 am
Judah Spechal from Bed-Stuy says:
I hear you I.M. , but what have we elected our officials for?
To worry about political donations, re-elections, lining pockets or to do the peoples work? It is very frustrating. Imagine these people are worry about reduce property value. Who in this Country who have heard of this water way not know about its contamination? It's not like this place have a sterling rep. to ruin to begin with.
That's why conflict of interest is so easy to see hear. And some of these Toll Bros. defenders came from the grassroots??? Unbelieverable!!!
April 14, 2009, 1:09 pm
TomTom from Park Slope says:
Sorry to have misread you, IM.

The opposition hasn't been all that disorganized at all; the big money has been trying to silence them, is what's been going on. FROGG (Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus) has been all over this farce for years, but they have been routinely portrayed as fringe eco-freaks. Just like the opposition to Atlantic Yards was called a "few malcontents", by the same pro-idiot-developers powers that be, and their newspapers.

Let's see what happens tonight. I hope it won't be a big joke jammed with union members trucked in from Long Island or poor people bribed with sandwiches and T-shirts. Maybe people have learned that Ratner tactics backfire...ah, hope!
April 14, 2009, 1:52 pm
Judah Spechal from Bed-Stuy says:
Tom Tom, while I'm on your side in this debate let's not classified poor people who speak out as being bribed. They have opinions too. You don't hear their opinions because they don't organized or have the free time to do the grassroots thing like most do. Grassroots people can speak on the time and dedication it takes to be heard.

These poor people may take all day to hunt in the forest for food to feed their family.

Classifying them as such you are reducing your words to the level of those who tries to silence organization like FROGG.

These same poor people hungers for the same advancement and to be heard as anyone in this city. Let's not pre-classify/reduce their positions. Lest we all be classified/reduced!
April 14, 2009, 4:17 pm
sid from Boerum Hill says:
what Federal money? there is no money in the Fund now and the Gowanus would not be eligible for Stimulus money through the Superfund or will be so far down on the list as new as to be an after thought.
It will take the EPA three years at least to study what should be done...That isn't my estimate it what the EPA guy said on Leonard Lopate(wnyc)
April 16, 2009, 11:31 am
Alice from Gowanus says:
FROGG has done amazing work keeping on the environmental issues. Unlike the Gowanus Conservancy, this group has no other agenda. "Clean water/Clean land" is their mantra.
April 18, 2009, 7:48 pm
Ecstatic from Gowanus says:
Hey, I.M. Green - the beauty of this is that everyone can respond to the EPA to voice pro and anti Superfund ( No organized opposition is really needed, because as I see it, the pro-Superfund people are WAY ahead. Why do you think there is so much fear-mongering being created now? That's all the anti-Superfund people have left! Pro Superfunders don't need to pay lawyers and lobbyists etc etc. to fear monger and twist the facts. Pro Superfunders have the irrefutable SCIENCE! And the EPA is hip to what developers scramble to do when Superfund is upon them!
April 18, 2009, 8:43 pm
MIke D. from Carroll Gardens says:
No one drinks groundwater in NYC. Clean up or shut up. The place is a mess and nothing is going to get done unless it starts with a cleanup for future generations. Toll Bros. has McMansioned most available properties in Westchester and Northern Jersey - do we want them to do that in Brooklyn too? NO WAY.
April 20, 2009, 4:19 pm

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