Newtown Creek’s cleanup could begin 5 years ahead of schedule

September 20, 2019 Scott Enman
Newtown Creek. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
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Environmental Protection Agency employees told residents at a Wednesday meeting that they were reviewing a plan that could potentially clean up the first two miles of Newtown Creek at least five years ahead of schedule.

The proposal, known as Early Action, would start remediation of the federal Superfund site as early as winter of 2021 or spring of 2022 — well ahead of the EPA’s conservative 2027 predicted start date for the overall cleanup.

The plan — initiated by the groups responsible for the 3.5-mile creek’s contamination (called Potentially Responsible Parties) — was likely put forward for financial reasons, according to EPA Section Chief Stephanie Vaughn.

Vaughn said that if the plan moves forward, it would offer a lot of benefits for the EPA, including starting the remediation early and aiding future cleanup efforts.

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“If we think it seems reasonable, and we’re going to make them do a lot of sampling to test it, then as long as it doesn’t delay the process, then it might make sense to allow this to go forward,” Vaughn said. “We would learn a lot.”

Related: There are 3 active oil spills on Newtown Creek

The lower two miles of the waterway were selected because they are less complicated environmentally and have fewer tributaries.

Members of the local Community Advisory Group, however, expressed concern at the meeting that if EPA officials devote their time and resources to assessing the Early Action plan, it might delay long-term remediation efforts.

“There is definitely a lot of questions at this point and while we look forward to working with EPA and the PRPs to learn more in the coming months, we must ensure that this does not distract from, slow down or weaken the primary investigation and cleanup for the entire Creek,” Willis Elkins, co-chairperson of the CAG, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Newtown Creek at sunset. Photo by Ines Leong

Vaughn, however, vowed that her agency’s number one goal was to prevent any interruption to the overall cleanup.

“We made it absolutely clear to [the PRPs] that our Record of Decision for the entire site takes precedence over this,” Vaughn said. “This cannot delay our work on the site-wide remedy. It does mean we have to commit more resources to review this.”

Related: Newtown Creek: How to fix the combined sewage overflow problem

A Record of Decision is a legally binding agreement for how a federal Superfund site will be cleaned up.

The polluters completed sediment sampling of the first two miles of the creek in July and August to help refine areas of contamination. The EPA will now review the results, and determine if it makes sense to move forward with Early Action.

If they elect to do so, the PRPs will submit a Focused Feasibility Study, which outlines how the groups intend to clean up that portion of the creek.

If supported, EPA will select a remediation plan and use the results to help inform the overall cleanup.

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  1. It’s not entirely clear what the proposal means when it says “the first two miles” of Newtown Creek. Is that the western portion extending directly from the East River?
    The clarification that says “there is less tributaries there” would seem to indicate that this instead means that one of the eastern segments of the creek would be the first two miles treated.
    Which is it- east or west?
    It would seem that either way, the untreated areas will re-contaminate the treated areas, since the creek is influenced by the tides rushing in and out, via the East River (which is not really a river but a tidal waterway). In other words, Newtown Creek is not a stagnant body of water whose segments can be neatly contained.
    Perhaps a wholesale cleanup of the entire creek would be more effective and the best overall plan.
    Having said that, have we already stopped all current industrial & other sources of contamination of the creek before we try to clean it up?
    I doubt it. Every time it rains, even a quarter of an inch, advisories are issued for wastewater overflow into the creek.
    Wasn’t the prevention of that sort of thing the very excuse that was given to build the enormous sewage treatment plant in the community, on the banks of Newtown Creek?
    Methinks that the Government Man speaks with forked tongue.
    By which I don’t mean to encourage or validate those far-out conservative/libertarians who think that all government should be drowned in a bathtub, while corporations do what they please, and the rich avoid paying taxes. It’s really all about the question that Elizabeth Warren poses: Who does the government work for, the common people, or the big moneyed interests? Does it work to provide a level playing field for the all those who struggle to live on wages that have not increased in real terms for decades, does it work to insure their health & safety & opportunities – or does it work for the very same irresponsible corporations who did not give a damn and left us with a polluted Newtown Creek? Donald Trump vowed to drain the swamp. Instead we found out that he IS the swamp, and that his con-man lying corruption smells worse than Newtown Creek ever did. In fact I am surprised that there still IS an E.P.A. under his so-called leadership, not that he isn’t doing his very best to undermine it for the benefit of his rich fossil-fuel planet-destroying buddies.