NY Officials Try to Save Canal From Superfund List

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Superfund site designation can be a good thing for getting a contaminated area cleaned up in a regulated manner. But, it can take decades to carry out litigation over how much will be required to pay for cleanup and for how long it will take.

When the federal government, usually in the form of the EPA, gets involved in a Superfund site designation and cleanup, oftentimes a stigma is attached to the affected geographic region that can negatively impact future economic development.

Photo: NYC.gov

"This isn’t a 'trust us' scenario," Cas Holloway, chief of staff to Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler and special adviser to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg told The New York Times. "The goal is to have a Superfund-quality cleanup faster than the Superfund." Photo: NYC.gov

This is precisely what concerns New York state officials concerning the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn.

At the suggestion of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in April, the EPA proposed that the Gowanus Canal be designated a Superfund site, according to The New York Times.

The canal’s industrial past contributes to the litany of pollutants found in the waterway. Some of these pollutants include:

  • Pesticides
  • Metals
  • Cancer-causing polychlorinated biphenyls (commonly known as PCBs)

The Bloomberg administration has presented its own plan for restoring and cleaning up the canal. Officials estimate the cleanup would take 9-10 years. The plan proposes:

  • Conducting a feasibility study that includes the 10 to 12 polluting companies and what can be done to clean up the canal
  • Allowing polluters to voluntarily pay for restoration and cleanup under binding agreements
  • Apply for separate federal funding that would reduce the city’s and the polluters’ final cleanup and restoration price tag

It remains to be seen if Brooklyn will avoid the Superfund site designation at the Gowanus Canal. However, if they are successful in their efforts to clean up the site without extensive federal intervention, New York City officials would present an example of an alternative to federal involvement in the restoration of industrial waste sites.

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