Less than two weeks on the job, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Cas Holloway is already receiving pressure from North Brooklyn community activists to reduce odors from the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and expedite city construction projects nearby.
At a Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee (NCMC) meeting on January 14, Holloway was confronted with a laundry list of ongoing concerns that members of the committee had over the construction of the $4 billion sewage plant. It marked his third visit to the plant in the past three weeks.
“The community has been putting up with this for years. It has been noisy, dusty and smelly,” said NCMC member Laura Hofmann. “This community, after all the environmental impacts we have gone through should be prioritized.”
NCMC members emphasized controlling odors from the plant’s digesters, redesigning Kingsland Avenue to allow better access to the Newtown Creek Nature Walk, adding a comfort station to the Nature Walk, and removing the DEP’s sludge tank among their top priorities to the new Commissioner and his staff.
“I guess we see the irony of having the city’s largest wastewater treatment plant and being unable to put a bathroom there,” said Paul Turci, co-chair of NCMC.
Holloway noted that a redesign for the streets surrounding the Nature Walk would not begin within the next two years as funding was not available for building Phase 2 and 3 of the project, but that did not necessarily endanger its completion.
“You want to do it and we want to do it also,” said Holloway
That did little to dissuade residents, including Dorothy Swick, who has pressed for improved access to the Nature Walk from all points in North Brooklyn.
“I suggest you find the money or this community will be really upset,” said Swick.
When pressed about sewage stench, Holloway noted that complaints to 311 regarding the plant’s odors had decreased from 29 to 7 and that plant operators had been responsive. NCMC Co-Chair Irene Klementowicz, however, questioned those numbers, explaining that many longtime residents may have given up making complaints out of frustration with the 311 system.
“We’ve been doing it for so many years, many people have stopped calling,” said Klementowicz. “What’s the point in calling when (the DEP) does so little about it?”
Council member Steve Levin and several NCMC members brought up the progress surrounding the removal of the DEP sludge tank and dredging along Newtown Creek, which both agency officials and committee members agreed is a critical cog towards creating more open space and affordable housing in North Brooklyn. Holloway said that the city remained committed to dredging the Creek and that the EPA has signaled that it will not get in the way of the work the DEP will be doing along the Creek.
“If you can’t do the dredging, you can’t bring in the new ships. If you can’t bring in the ships, you can’t build the dock,” said Holloway.
Despite their concerns, NCMC members wished Holloway well and hoped that he would advance projects further than previous DEP Commissioners had.
“This is your first visit in the new year. Remember the address,” said Klementowicz.
Holloway promised to return to the committee at least one more time within the year.
“Some things are a pain in this job, but this is not one of them,” said Holloway. “I’ll be back.”