NYC FOCUS: The Experts Say: Superfund the Gowanus
What strikes me in this battle is that some pretty serious experts are declaring in favor of Superfund status. I previously mentioned that the EPA, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, The Army Corps of Engineers, Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab, Riverkeeper and the Sierra Club all support Superfund designation for the Gowanus. I have been criticizing the Republicans for nearly a decade now for ignoring the expert advice of scientists. Now I find the same situation in Brooklyn: people want to ignore the expert advice of what seems like a pretty amazing coalition of organizations. If it was just FROGG and Sierra Club, well, I might be less certain. But when you add Riverkeeper (an excellent organization), the Army Corps of Engineers, Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab and the EPA, I become pretty certain that Superfund is the way to go.
I will review my previous information below. But first I want to highlight another expert opinion: that of Tom Angotti, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Community Planning & Development at Hunter College. Another voice I would hesitate to ignore! Here is part of his statement from an excellent piece for Pardon Me For Asking on May 22, 2009:
I am deeply concerned about the future of the Gowanus area. It is one of the most contaminated in New York City and I find it troubling that after so many years of concern by residents and workers in the area, city government has yet to carry out a thorough study that looks at the long-term effects of the contamination on the health of people who live and work in the area. Nor does the city have an adequate strategy to clean it up the Canal. Designation of a Superfund Site would bring to bear the missing attention and resources and while it will not resolve all environmental and health problems it will bring us much closer than New York City’s limited efforts.
The proposal to rezone the area advanced by New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) can derail efforts to improve the environment. It is not based on any careful scientific study of contamination, the long-term effects of climate change and sea-level rise, or existing and future impacts on human health and local ecosystems. The rezoning responds to proposals for new residential development and would limit existing and potential industrial uses. DCP claims that as sites get redeveloped property owners will be required to clean them up. However, environmental impact statements (EIS) for individual sites, even large sites, will not produce the kind of remediation needed to make the Gowanus safe for residents and workers. First of all the EIS is a disclosure document. Applicants are required to disclose potential impacts; they are not required to remediate pre-existing conditions, nor are they even required to mitigate unhealthy conditions that are created by their own projects. And site-specific mitigation may very well lead to the migration of toxic waste to other sites and increase public exposures to unhealthy conditions. The EIS is so inadequate as a tool for environmental improvement that specialists at both the conservative Manhattan Institute’s Center for Rethinking Development and my Center, on the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum, agree that it needs a major overhaul...
City government also wants us to believe that the current plan by its Department of Environmental Protection to flush out the Canal, once it is fully implemented, will constitute an adequate cleanup. However, flushing out the canal will not remove the toxic sediment in the canal or prevent leeching into surrounding properties. It will not resolve the long-term problem of contaminated Combined Sewer Overflows. It will not make further development around the Gowanus Canal safe for people who live and work there.
We hear the argument that even if Superfund cleanup might be better if will take too long and in the meantime prevent new development, which is supposed to mean more jobs and housing units. This is a reckless way of treating public health hazards. It can also result in a net loss of jobs as residential uses replace industry. New residential development within breathing distance of the Gowanus Canal will place many more people at risk of chronic diseases such as cancer and respiratory illnesses. Government has not adequately studied existing levels of exposure or projected future levels of exposure. This is needed so that the public can make informed judgments about whether or not to develop, where to develop, and the precautionary measures that need to be taken.
There is more of his excellent, expert analysis. Please read his whole statement on Pardon Me for Asking. But this emphasizes some very key points, right down to the reckless, and I would say borderline criminal, way public health is being treated by those who want to develop the site using existing inadequate, developres get-rich-quick plan.
Let me add to Dr. Angotti's statement the Superfund the Gowanus Action Alert I highlighted before:
The movement to cleanup the Gowanus Canal before allowing development is growing. Here is a coalition that is forming to push for Superfund status for the Gowanus canal so it can be effectively cleaned up:
* United States Environmental Protection Agency
* New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
* The Army Corps of Engineers
* The Sierra Club
* Columbia University’s Urban Design Lab
* Friends of Greater Gowanus (FROGG)
* Carroll Gardens Coalition for Respectful Development (CG CORD)
* Friends of Bond
* Park Slope Neighbors
* The Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats
* New York State Senator Velmanette Montgomery
This, to me, is a great coalition of local, state and national organizations. And I should note that "Friends of Bond" refers to Bond St., not a British secret agent who likes his drinks shaken, not stirred.
You can join the movement as well through Superfund Gowanus:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agrees the Gowanus is an "Estuary of National Significance" and is "unbelievably highly contaminated" with tar, PCBs, sewage, lead, mercury and arsenic. The EPA has the tools to lead a comprehensive and inclusive cleanup. Our community has known for generations that this is a toxic public health hazard. Spot cleanup by developers will not achieve the job necessary for a healthy environment. Our Council Member Bill de Blasio has been quoted in the media saying the city has no plan to clean the Gowanus. It is absolutely crucial that you take the time to make your voice heard.
The EPA Comment Period ends on July 8, 2009. Two things are required: Public Support from our community and a reasonable degree of Political Support for our elected officials. The USEPA is soliciting letters and/or emails from individuals. We encourage you to include specific examples of your personal concerns, observations, hopes and supporting materials (including photographs).
IT'S CRITICAL THAT YOU CONTACT THE EPA AND OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS:
* When you click on WRITE A LETTER OR EMAIL, you will find a direct link to the EPA electronic comment board, the EPA mailing, and e-mail addresses, as well as a series of information and subject bullets you may wish to include in what you write. (Note: the EPA prefers to go paperless with electronic submissions.)
* When you click on SIGN THE ON LINE PETITION you can add your name to be presented to each and every one of our elected officials so that they know what their constituents, you the voters, want them to do to represent you on this issue.
*Here is a convenient LINK with answers to popular question.*
We have a chance to do this right: clean up the Gowanus COMPLETELY, and THEN develop it into the kind of waterside development we can all be proud of...AND feel safe being near. Let's not follow the path the Republicans took us down for so many years. When experts tell us we are being reckless about the environment and our health, we should pay attention, not subordinate public health to developer profits. Listen to the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, the Center for Community Planning and Development at Hunter College, the Columbia University Urban Design Lab, and the Sierra Club.