The Public Wades Into Newtown Creek

While community leaders throughout North Brooklyn are encouraged about the eventual cleanup of Newtown Creek, many caution the federal agency about harming small businesses and endangering affordable housing projects during the process.

On December 23, scores of Brooklyn residents submitted their comments to the EPA regarding Newtown Creek’s Superfund recommendation. The results were a mixed bag that ranged from excited over Superfund to cautious and fearful.

Among those most supportive of the EPA’s recommendation included environmental advocates Newtown Creek Alliance President Katie Schmid, Riverkeeper’s Philip Musegaas, and NAG Co-Chair Susan Albrecht who all wrote that they were fully in support of Superfund designation for Newtown Creek.

Echoing the comments of many Newtown Creek Alliance members, Schmid wrote that federal support is “absolutely necessary” if the creek is ever to become healthy and fully-functioning but that any planning must be done “in a manner that minimizes the consequences on the people and businesses surrounding the creek,” as well as development projects nearby.

Laura Hofmann, a member of the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee and several other groups who grew up within a few blocks of the creek, wrote a personal response about her family’s history of illness which she associated towards living near the waterway.

“I wish my ancestors had thought of me and my children when conducting business along the Newtown Creek. I wish that city, state and federal agencies had stepped in a lot sooner so that my daughter could enjoy a disease free life. It is that thought I hope to embed in your conscience for when you decide what course to take when cleaning up the Newtown Creek,” said Hofmann.

Among those opposed to federal designation included several business owners large and small. Thomas Fusillo, Managing Partner, ENVIRON International Corporation noted his objection to the implied designation of Newtown Creek to Superfund on the grounds that “the available data do not support the inclusion of the lower reach of Newtown Creek,” as part of a contaminated area.

Big businesses, such as Texaco and the four other companies of the Newtown Creek Group, are currently negotiating with the EPA to conduct further studies along Newtown Creek, but that did not stop them from making their suggestions to delay Superfund consideration.

“The proposal for listing should either be withdrawn or the site should remain as “proposed” pending the outcome of the RI/FS, associated evaluations of risk, and remedy implementability in view of continuing discharges,” said Jerry Ross, an attorney with Texaco.

Some community leaders while supportive of federal clean-up efforts, listed their specific concerns to remediation. Open Space Alliance’s Stephanie Thayer wrote that the EPA ensure that Superfund designation “does not create delays in approving permits necessary to create new parks and waterfront access,” while EWVIDCO Executive Director Leah Archibald urged the EPA to consider the concerns of small businesses located along the Creek.

“Given the specter of potential liability it is unlikely that any of the area companies will be able to access credit markets, particularly in context of the current economic conditions,” said Archibald.

Assemblymember Joseph Lentol (D-Williamsburg) said that while he was inclined to support the EPA’s proposal, he remained concerned over the Bloomberg administration’s statements regarding delays in community plans for open space and affordable housing development.

“I believe more time is needed to disseminate facts and information directly to the residents about the effect such a designation will have on the communities surrounding the creek,” said Lentol.

Council member Steve Levin (D-Williamsburg) was more optimistic, urging the EPA to continue to work with the community and local officials if it chose to designate the site for Superfund.

“I believe that one should not have to choose between a clean Newtown Creek and long planned and desperately needed community projects,” said Levin. “I believe that both are worthy goals and that, if all parties collaborate in the proper spirit towards those same goals, that both can be achieved.”