Thursday, April 23, 2009

Brooklyn Paper Makes Excuses For Superfund Cleanup Of Gowanus

I know the buyout of the Brooklyn Paper to NewsCorp was bad news, but for them to subtly side with the city over whether the EPA should come in and make Gowanus a Superfund site is just a little too unseemly. Although they do not specifically advocate for letting the city do what it wants (letting Toll Bros. develop 460 condo units and a not-so-thorough cleanup of the canal), reading between the lines in the "City could be holding bag for feds’ Gowanus clean-up" article isn't too hard to do.

From The Brooklyn Paper:

Despite its name, the Superfund is not a pool of money that federal officials tap into for environmental remediation. In fact, one goal of Superfund designation is to identify guilty polluters and get them to pay to clean up toxic sites.

But there is a long history of towns and municipalities being forced by the EPA to open up their checkbooks to pay for decontaminating polluted land. In February, for example, the upstate cities of Poughkeepsie and Newburgh were held responsible for hazardous material on a car and metal processing plant, and had to cough up $12 million.

Well since the city has pretty much neglected any kind of cleaning of the canal for decades, the city does share some of the blame here. Just because there is some concern now that developers show interest in the area doesn't mean NYC has made a good-faith effort on its own.

Cleaning up the Gowanus, with its dioxins, PCBs, coal tar — and, more important, tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage that spills into it on rainy days — would be considerably more expensive.

The EPA says local governments are usually minor defendants in their suits, but industrial companies have sought big bucks from cities to defray the costs they have to pay to the EPA. In a case from 1989, companies joined together to sue 29 California cities for $500 million as part of a Superfund battle.

The EPA says it does not yet know who would be targeted if the Gowanus Canal is added to the national priority list of Superfund sites, a controversial proposal first floated earlier this month.

Amid this new debate, a clearer picture began to emerge this week about why Gov. Paterson secretly appealed in December for federal assistance with the cleanup of Brooklyn’s infamous channel. It turns out, state officials now believe that their highly touted efforts are neither adequate to clean the area, nor powerful enough to identify parties responsible for the pollution.

Of course it is expensive! Good for Paterson for realizing what a serious job this for enlisting help from the Feds. Whoever they find liable for the damage to the area should pay for it, from the oil and chemical companies to the City of New York. Putting the area back together again should be concern #1, not giving into the Toll Brothers who do not want the stigma of a Superfund site attached to the area. The Gowanus is already toxic, the label from the feds won't change that. If anything, long-term rehab of the canal will improve lives and any living conditions that eventually take place there.

Some environmentalists say the Superfund designation is the only way to get a comprehensive clean-up of the so-called Lavender Lake. But other do-greeners point out that remediation can take decades, cost far more than anticipated, and not always work.

"Some environmentalists" links to another Brooklyn Paper article that highlights three toxic cleanup projects in New Yorkthat took years and millions upon millions of dollars to undertake. What do they expect, that the EPA can just go to an area that was polluted for decades with a magic vacuum cleaner that will suck up all the bad chemicals? Developers might like the sound of that, but it doesn't work that way in the reality-based world. The awful truth of the matter is that Gowanus is a filthy canal that needs a serious rehabilitation that will take years if not longer. Putting the wishes of developers and the politicians that love them ahead of the safety of the area is simply unacceptable.