Monday, April 13, 2009

Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn May Get Superfund Status by Mireya Navarro -

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The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to add the Gowanus Canal, in Brooklyn, to its list of Superfund sites, a step that advocates hope will revitalize a waterfront hobbled by environmental problems from its industrial past.

“The Superfund nomination is an important step toward reclaiming the canal for valuable community development and restoring contaminated waters to health,” Nydia M. Velázquez, who represents the area in Congress and helped obtain federal financing for a study to assess the extent of the contamination, said in a statement Wednesday.

The canal, extending about a mile and a half north from Gowanus Bay near the neighborhoods of Red Hook, Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, is one of 67 sites proposed for the Superfund National Priorities List, which steers federal money to contaminated areas for cleanups.

Elizabeth Totman, a spokeswoman for the agency, said that most sites proposed eventually got listed, depending on the volume and nature of the comments received during a 60-day public comment period, which began Thursday.

“E.P.A. has done preliminary assessments of the sites we propose, and we propose them because we feel that the listing is warranted based on what we’ve found,” she said.

Sampling at the Gowanus Canal has found a variety of pollutants, the agency said, including pesticides, metals and the cancer-causing chemicals P.C.B.’s. The contamination, agency officials said, stems from the canal’s history since its completion in the 1860s as a busy industrial waterway for the oil refineries, coal yards, concrete-mixing facilities and tanneries along its banks, and from being “a repository” of untreated industrial wastes and raw sewage and runoff.

Most of the industrial activity has stopped, and some community advocates say they are concerned that a Superfund designation could interfere with efforts already under way to build new housing and commercial developments in the area.

Salvatore Scotto, a founder of the Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation, a neighborhood preservation group, said that some private developers had agreed to conduct their own cleanups in order to build, and the city had been working on a rezoning plan to allow them to do it.

“We want to make sure they’re not precluded from building,” Mr. Scotto said. “Can the government work with the private sector? This has to be worked out.”

A spokesman for Robert C. Lieber, deputy mayor for economic development, said the city was reviewing the Environmental Protection Agency proposal to make sure a Superfund designation would not slow existing cleanup plans or impede public and private investment.

But Marlene Donnelly, a member of another neighborhood group, Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, said a Superfund designation would address the environmental plight of the canal in a more coordinated way.

“It’s an area-wide problem, and a piecemeal approach is not going to get to the problem,” she said.

Representatives Velazquez and Yvette D. Clarke, both Democrats from Brooklyn, will hold an informational forum on the Superfund nomination on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the auditorium of Public School 32, 317 Hoyt Street.