On Monday evening representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made their way to Greenpoint, to make a formal presentation before the Community Board 1 Environmental Committee regarding the possible addition of the Newtown Creek to the National Priority List, as a superfund site. The EPA has come to Greenpoint/Williamsburg twice in the last month, at the request of Newtown Creek Alliance and the Newtown Monitoring Committee, to discuss the designation. Now that the public comment period is near closing—December 23rd is the last day to submit comments via the EPA website—Walter Mugdan, EPA Region 2’s Director of the Division of Environmental Planning and Protection, made one final presentation, and fielded questions for Greenpoint/Williamsburg residents, community leaders and all interested parties about the future of the creek.
Monday’s presentation comes on the heels of a public meeting held last week at Automotive High School, and sponsored by the Mayor’s Office for Environmental Remediation, during which city representatives discussed their own plans for Creek remediation, and voiced concern about a superfund designation for a host of reasons, not the least of which is the possibility of having the city’s own plans for cleanup derailed as a result. Ultimately, while unwilling to reject the idea of a Superfund designation outright, city and state representatives explain that they do not support it, and champion alternative methods to cleaning up the Creek.
“The DEP (New York City Department of Environmental Protection) has $500 million worth of work planned in and around Newtown Creek, $380 million of which could be impacted by superfund listing,” said Anne Canty, a DEP representative. Some projects DEP believes may be at risk if the Creek is designated, include plans for dredging, replacing the dock on Whale Creek, and relocating three of the sludge tanks.
“At this time, we’re not supporting superfund but instead looking for a comprehensive approach from EPA to take these initiatives into account,” said Johanna Greenbaum, assistant counsel to the Deputy Mayor. “However this creek gets cleaned up, we want to make sure whatever process we put in place does not interfere with this administration’s plan for this area.”
Currently, five corporations—ExxonMobil, Phelps-Dodge, BP, Texaco and National Grid—have been identified as major polluters on the Creek, and a Superfund designation would essentially give the EPA the power and jurisdiction to enforce cleanup from all responsible parties, including but not limited to the big five. Community members were joined on Monday by representatives from National Grid, who expressed their willingness to do whatever is necessary to help clean up the creek, regardless of whether or not it is designated.
“National Grid has been and remains committed to working with the appropriate governmental authorities and other responsible parties to do its part to investigate and clean up Newtown Creek, no matter what regulatory program governs. We have been working cooperatively with other potentially responsible parties and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and have also been working productively with
the EPA,” according to a prepared statement.
Though representatives from the city emphasized their belief in a feasible alterative to a superfund designation, Mudgan dispelled the idea that anything but a superfund designation could effectively and efficiently clean the creek, as well as cut off all point sources of pollution to ensure that it stays clean.
“We are talking about 1 million cubic yards of sediment in the Creek,” Mugdan said. “There are only two possible programs that can support this kind of cleanup and that’s the state superfund program, or the federal superfund program.”
Mugdan also made it clear that, despite the city’s misgivings about a designation on the grounds that it would de-rail city-approved projects, adding the Newtown Creek to the priority list would have a minimal impact on the city’s remediation plan.
“We see no reason why [the city’s] work cannot or should not proceed. We are perfectly eager to see that work proceed,” Mugdan said. “Besides, if the DEP or DEC wants to dredge, the EPA would have a legal, consultative role.”
Newtown Creek is 3.8 miles long, and runs through North Brooklyn and parts of Queens. Approximately 300,000 residents live within a mile from the banks of the Creek, as well as 1,000 businesses with 33,000 employees, which qualifies the water body as one of the largest potential superfund sites in the country. Annually, the United States Congress allocates between $1.2-1.6 billion to the superfund program, and if the Newtown Creek is added to the list, a portion of it will be set aside for remediation.
The last day to submit a comment on the topic of a superfund designation for the Newtown Creek is December 23rd. To submit a comment, visit www.regulations.gov, keyword “Newtown Creek.”