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Could Coney Island Creek become Brooklyn’s next Superfund site?

"Southern Brooklyn — we don’t get any respect."

March 23, 2020 Scott Enman
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A highly polluted waterway in Southern Brooklyn is being evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency to determine if federal funds should be used to clean it up.

EPA spokesperson Elias Rodriguez recently told the Brooklyn Eagle that his agency received a new request from the public on March 3 to determine whether Coney Island Creek is eligible to become a federal Superfund site.

“Currently, EPA is evaluating this request and will also be consulting with our federal, state and local partner agencies to determine what, if any, response actions EPA might undertake,” Rodriguez said.

Superfund designation indicates that a body of water is so polluted that it poses health risks to the public and the government needs to intervene. The program, which started in 1980, “forces the parties responsible for the contamination to either perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-led cleanup work,” according to the agency’s website.

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Brooklyn currently has two federal Superfund sites: the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek.

Coney Island Creek is being evaluated to see if it should become a federal Superfund site, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Coney Island Creek has a long history of legacy pollution, and its historical uses are similar to that of the Gowanus Canal. Both waterways, for example, had manufactured dye and gas plants along their shores, and each have numerous combined sewer overflow outfalls.

The creek also has outfalls that run off from the Belt Parkway and from the MTA’s rail yard.

An aerial shot of where the ocean and Coney Island Creek meet. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Residents and elected officials have long called for the 1.8-mile-long creek to receive Superfund designation, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears, according to activist and Brighton Beach resident Ida Sanoff.

“I’m surprised that all of a sudden there’s an interest,” she said. “This is a good thing because Coney Island Creek needs all the help it can get, but where is the sense of urgency here? All of the elected officials, they’re well aware that people get baptized in that creek, that people swim in that creek, that people are catching fish and feeding it to their families, that fish are being caught there and sold commercially.

“Everyone and their mother know of this. We brought this up at numerous meetings, we’ve talked about this ad nauseam.”

Trash and shopping carts float in Coney Island Creek. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

In October 2018, U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries told Community Board 13 that he would push to get the creek designated as a Superfund site, but almost a year and a half later, the site still sits toxic as ever with no plan in place to clean it up.

Jeff Sanoff, executive secretary of Community Board 13 and co-chair of the environmental and sanitation committee, recalled speaking with Jeffries at that meeting,

“It was a very honest conversation that he was going down to congress to clean up the swamp, meaning Trump and his allies there,” he said. “I said it’s a great idea to clean up the swamp there, but we have a bigger swamp over here in Coney Island Creek.

“But it seems to be a dead end. Newtown Creek is a Superfund site. Gowanus Canal is a superfund site, but Southern Brooklyn — we don’t get any respect.”

Jeffries said he hasn’t given up on the plan.

“I remain committed to making sure we do everything on the federal level to clean up Coney Island Creek. Designating the creek as a Superfund site is an option that my office continues to explore,” the member of Congress told the Eagle.

Coney Island Creek. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

Coney Island historian Charles Denson said that because there are no large-scale residential projects along the shores of Coney Island Creek, it doesn’t get the same type of attention as the Gowanus Canal where there is a lot of development and a rezoning looming on the horizon.

“Coney Island Creek, a lot of people don’t even know what it is or where it is. It’s just been ignored for so long, it’s just not on the radar,” he said. “It’s an underserved community. The neighborhood is easily ignored, there’s not a lot of public access to Coney Island Creek, and so people only know it from going across on the subway.”

Coney Island Creek. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle

He argued that the city only began to pay attention to the creek and its polluted state once the Economic Development Corporation planned to install a ferry stop on its waters. Service is expected to start by 2021.

Even then, Denson said, only a small portion of the creek surrounding the ferry stop will receive remediation.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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