Locals want Albany to deem Coney Creek a ‘state Superfund’

Clean up: Charles Denson and Pamela Pettyjohn are pushing the state to consider Coney Island Creek as a superfund site.
Brooklyn Daily
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Coney Islanders want the state to clean their namesake creek.

Members of Community Board 13 voted unanimously on Nov. 30 to ask Albany to make Coney Island Creek a so-called “state Superfund” site — meaning regulators would figure out who was responsible for the dirty waterway’s deplorable condition and bill them for the clean-up. For decades massive amounts of toxic chemicals poured into the creek from industrial facilities that lined its shores. But the October discovery that an apartment complex was dumping 200,000 gallons of raw sewage per day into the water was the last straw, said one board member.

“Things have reached a turning pointing,” said Brighton Beach environmental activist Ida Sanoff. “In the past few months an awful lot of new information has turned up about the creek and what a danger it represents to the people who swim there, fish there, and live there — it’s time to clean up that creek.”

The flow became a chemical dumping ground starting at the turn of the 20th century, when the Brooklyn Yard Dye Company and the Brooklyn Union Gas Company, as well as various waste transfer stations and oil depots, began operating on its shores, according to Coney Island Historian Charles Denson. Toxic sludge containing notoriously noxious chemicals such as arsenic, cyanide, and benzene flooded the river for more than 50 years, he said. And as several facilities shuttered, illegal shipbreaking operations popped up and used the creek as a dumping ground for boat debris in ’70s. Today auto shops line the creek on Neptune Avenue and often trash whole cars into the creek, he said.

But a state-led cleanup is a long ways off. First the Department of Environmental Conservation must locate the most contaminated pockets of shore and riverbed — then it must determine if the contaminants pose a significant-enough threat to trigger a clean-up. Then it has to figure out what group or groups are responsible so it can charge them for the remediation. If it cannot find the culprit, state taxpayers will foot the bill, according to a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Conservation.

The state has designated or is considering designating roughly 100 sites in Brooklyn as state Superfunds. One nearby example is the former site of the Dangman Park Manufactured Gas Plant on Neptune Avenue in Brighton Beach, where developers are erecting a shopping center and residential tower. National Grid must pay for the clean-up, because it is successor to Brooklyn Union Gas Company, which ran the plant and caused the contamination.

State Sen. Diane Savino (D–Coney Island) and Assemblywoman Pamela Harris (D–Coney Island) are working with the community board to dig up dirt on the cruddy creek before they formally ask the state to designate it a Superfund site.

“The scope of the situation requires all involved parties to come together at the table,” said Savino. “And we are fully committed to exploring all possible options for a safer environment for the surrounding residents of Coney Island Creek.”

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at or by calling (718) 260–2523. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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