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Guv, mayor say ‘Ahoy’ to new sludge ships

North Brooklyn is about to have the trash taken out.

Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson announced last week nearly $220 million in economic stimulus funding for clean water infrastructure projects, including $119 million for three new sludge ships that will replace the 30-year-old ships that have been docked in the East River.

“We have the nation’s most sweeping urban environmental agenda, so we leave our children a greener, healthier city,” said Bloomberg. “The infusion of stimulus dollars for water projects will bolster our aggressive programs and help us improve water quality in our rivers and bays, and reduce flooding in areas that have long suffered from storm water flooding.”

According to city Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials,the new ships will make fewer trips each year between the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant and the 26th Ward Water Pollution Control Plant, saving the city approximately $19 million in fuel costs.

At a Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee meeting on September 9, DEP officials announced that four bids for the sludge tank contract were received and the city had selected the Louisiana-based Bollinger Shipping to build the boats.Construction of the ships is scheduled to begin January 2010 and should be completed by February 2013.

The sludge boat funding will trigger a chain of events that could lead to the sale of air rights above an MTA-leased lot on Commercial Street in Greenpoint, affordable housing projects along the waterfront, and the funding of anti-tenant harassment assistance in Williamsburg.

“These critical infrastructure improvements are necessary to protect and create jobs, continue to promote a green future for the City of New York, and improve water quality across our city,” said Councilmember David Yassky, who represents the area where the sludge boats will be docked. “It is essential that federal stimulus dollars are spent productively and efficiently, and these projects should go a long way toward that necessary goal.”

Community members and environmental advocates welcomed the news, though NCMC liaison Christine Hollowacz said that it was unclear whether the boats would be constructed in the proposed time line if Newtown Creek is designated a Superfund site.Between 17 million and 30 million gallons of oil have been seeping under North Brooklyn for more than 40 years, though there are several toxic by-products that have been found in the creek which would be eligible for federal remediation under the Superfund program.

“If it does get put on the Superfund priority list, it might affect the permitting process. We want to make sure it does not slow down this process. We’re talking to the EPA but we’re not getting any answers,” said Hollowacz.

Requests for comment from from the mayor’s office and the EPA regarding the effects of Superfund designation were not returned by press time.

According to EPA Acting Regional Administrator George Pavlou,who added a statement following the mayor’s announcement, the stimulus funding “will benefit communities in every borough, with projects that will make New York City’s wastewater infrastructure more efficient, restore valuable wetlands and help mitigate neighborhood flooding from heavy rains.”

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