EPA officials to Trump: Stay away from Newtown Creek
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials reassured dozens of concerned North Brooklyn residents on Wednesday at a Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) meeting that the Superfund cleanup of the waterway would continue as planned, despite President Donald Trump’s freeze on EPA grants.
“EPA and the Superfund projects are moving forward,” said EPA Project Manager Stephanie Vaughn. “It’s full steam ahead on Newtown Creek until we hear otherwise.”
In addition to the freeze, residents also showed concern over Trump’s order for EPA officials to stop speaking with the media. Trump and Congress are unable to delay the Superfund cleanup of Newtown Creek — for the most part — due to the fact that the responsible parties for polluting the site, not the government, are paying for it.
While many Brooklynites know of the Gowanus Canal — arguably one of the dirtiest waterways in America — fewer are aware of Brooklyn’s almost equally toxic body of water: Newtown Creek. The 3.5-mile estuary runs through a part of the border between Brooklyn and Queens and along the edges of Greenpoint and East Williamsburg.
The creek was proposed as a potential Superfund site in September 2009, and it officially became one in September 2010.
“We have been very concerned that the Trump administration might get in the way of the Superfund cleanups on the Gowanus [Canal] and Newtown [Creek] and we’re delighted to hear that the EPA staff at the CAG meeting are reassuring the public that that’s not the case,” Riverkeeper Patrol Boat Capt. John Lipscomb told the Brooklyn Eagle. “That’s great news.”
Riverkeeper is a member-supported watchdog organization that calls itself “New York’s clean water advocate” and whose mission, according to its website, is “to protect the environmental, recreational and commercial integrity of the Hudson River and its tributaries.”
CAG meetings give constituents an opportunity to learn about the latest developments on a particular Superfund site, including the investigation and cleanup processes of that site. One CAG member described it as the “Community voice for the process.”
The meeting, which was the first of 2017, took place at the McCarren Park Pool Community Room in Williamsburg. At the gathering, EPA officials fielded questions from residents and local organizations like the Newtown Creek Alliance, which is a “community-based organization dedicated to restoring, revealing and revitalizing Newtown Creek.”
EPA also provided an update on the draft baseline ecological risk assessment and the human health risk assessment of the creek. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the Newtown Creek Group, which is a collection of the five named polluters, were also present and provided updates.
“I thought the meeting went well,” said Willis Elkins, program manager of Newtown Creek Alliance. “It is encouraging to see the EPA take serious consideration of the comments and concerns generated by the community. The Superfund process is a marathon for community engagement and keeping up with the amount of highly technical and legal information generated by the responsible parties and multiple agencies involved can be difficult and, at times, overwhelming for us on the community side.
“Fortunately, there are some great people that are a part of the CAG, and I feel we have a very solidified voice,” he continued. “Having open channels of communication with the EPA is crucial in ensuring a just and proper cleanup of Newtown Creek and I look forward to the next stages of review and feedback.”
At a Gowanus Canal CAG meeting on Jan. 24, EPA officials also reassured residents that the $506 million Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup would move ahead as planned.
For more information on the next Newtown Creek CAG meeting, go to newtowncreekcag.wordpress.com/. The next Gowanus CAG meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 28 at Mary Star of the Sea at 41 First St.
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