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Brooklyn Broadside: EPA Superfund for Gowanus Creates Problems for City

Dennis Holt

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The chickens have almost come to roost for those concerned about the EPA plan to clean up the Gowanus Canal. Those who wanted the canal to be cleaned up, but not by the federal EPA, have just discovered reason to worry.
 
Last week the federal government came out with a 108-page report outlining the thinking about the canal and the options for cleanup that have been studied. The city and many observers feared the EPA would suggest the most thorough job of dredging the old canal, which would also be the most costly. This is what the EPA has done.
 
The scope of the plan calls for dredging about 10 feet of whatever is down there and covering what is left with about three layers of material, which in turn would be covered by native soil. No one argues that this wouldn’t do the job, but it is too extreme, will take too long and will cost too much.

Most major EPA Superfund site projects have resulted in legal conflicts over the cost of cleanup, and thus the job takes even longer.
 
This is because the funding process is based on the premise that those entities that caused the pollution in the first place have to pay for the cleanup. This is even so if the companies that caused the pollution no longer exist but if some legal connection can be made. EPA believes that National Grid, the company once known as Brooklyn Union Gas, is responsible for most of the pollution because Brooklyn Union’s predecessor operated three coal gasification plants that produced coal tars as a residue.
 
National Grid does not deny the existence of those plants nor that they were polluters. The case the company makes is that the EPA’s preferred cleanup process is not necessary, and that other dredging approaches are better and far less costly. At this date no one knows how that will be resolved.
 
The city is also not happy because the EPA believes the city should also be charged some of the cost. This is because the city’s outmoded sewage system leads to sewage outflows into the area and into the canal, which also causes some of the pollution.
 
The city has agreed to mitigate that problem, and an upgrading of the sewer system was a part of its own cleanup plan. However, the city doesn’t feel it should also pay a penalty to the EPA. This, too, has to be resolved. These subjects, plus many more, will be discussed at a Jan. 24 public meeting.
 
The underlying concern by some residents, by developers and by the city is that these controversies will drag out the remedial process, as has happened with some other Superfund sites. Thus, some development opportunities will be lost, not just delayed.
January 11, 2012 - 1:45pm


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