Mayor Bloomberg’s environmental officials have erred greatly — and acted hypocritically — by continuing to reject federal Superfund designation for the Gowanus Canal even as they prodded the feds last month to go ahead with the very same toxic designation for the Newtown Creek on the Brooklyn-Queens border.
This two canals, two strategies approaches raises one central question: if Superfund is good enough for the Newtown Creek, Mr. Mayor, why isn’t it good enough for the Gowanus Canal?
The mayor’s office says that the conditions in both waterways are different, but that’s bureaucratic balderdash. The canals are both horrifically polluted and need to be cleaned up at once.
The main difference is that the Gowanus is sought after by developers who want to build luxury housing along its banks. The mayor supports that effort.
We’ve long backed private housing development in the canal zone, too, but because no developer controls the waterway itself, the government must step up and do the job. Last year, we backed the federal Environmental Protection Agency over the city, which has failed to clean the canal under this mayor, his predecessor, his predecessor’s predecessor and all the predecessors going back to the final mayor of an independent Brooklyn, Frederick Wurster.
The city’s two-pronged approach would first seek voluntary contributions from responsible polluters and then tap into the federal Water Resources Development Act as a funding stream for dredging the canal.
But that funding requires annual Congressional approval — like hundreds of other worthy clean-up sites all over the country. Even the Army Corps of Engineer official who would oversee the Gowanus clean-up can’t predict what would happen.
Where would the canal rank? We asked the official, Tom Shea. “I don’t know,” he said.
He doesn’t know? And this is the program that is the main pillar of the mayor’s plan?
At this point, the mayor needs to set aside the turf battle. Superfund designation is best for the Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal.