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Navy and city may have to pay for Gowanus cleaning

The United States Navy and the City of New York could be the latest entities footing the bill for the clean-up of the fetid Gowanus Canal, this paper has learned.

The Environmental Protection Agency sent out notices to the two last week, informing them that they could be potentially responsible for the paying for the polluted waterway’s cleansing, should it be designated a Superfund site.

EPA spokesperson Elizabeth Totman said the Navy’s connection to the canal comes by way of facilities it formerly owned and/or operated adjacent to or near the Gowanus Canal and for facilities where the Navy directed and oversaw government contractors which owned and/or operated facilities adjacent to the canal. The U.S. Department of the Navy and contractors’ facilities include, but are not limited to, Navy piers at 33rd and 37th Streets; Naval Supply Depot at 850 3rd Avenue; Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., Ltd. yards at 19th and 27th Street; Sullivan Dry Dock at the 23rd Street Yard; Todd Shipyards at Pier A, Tebo Plant at 23rd Street, and at the Erie Basin, Totman noted.

The city’s responsibility comes through previous/current ownership of an asphalt plant, incinerator, a pumping station, storage yard, and Department of Transportation garage. Taken collectively, the uses may have added to fouling the canal, considered one of the most polluted waterway’s in the nation.

Navy spokesperson Lt. Laura Stegherr said the letter is being reviewed. "We are currently investigating the content of the letter and will respond to the EPA’s request for information as required by law," she said. "As the Navy is currently reviewing the EPA’s letter, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this point on the identification of the Department of the Navy as a potential responsible party in this case."

At press time, Navy spokesperson Lt. Laura Stegherr said she was gathering information on the matter, and would comment soon.

As this paper first reported back in August, Consolidated Edison, National Grid and troubled specialty chemicals maker Chemtura all received letters from the EPA’s Region 2 Emergency and Remedial Response Division.

The EPA has also sent letters seeking additional data from a range of companies, inquiring about their past practices along the canal. These so-called information request only letters have gone out to local outfits like Bayside Fuel Oil Corporation, but also energy giants like, Chevron, BP America, ConocoPhillips Co., and Exxon Mobil, as well as companies like Kraft Foods, Honeywell International, and Unilever. The companies are given 30 days to answer the EPA.

About 70 percent of Superfund sites are being cleaned up by the originators of the contamination, according to the EPA. The cost for the work on the Gowanus has not been finalized, but is expected to cost billions of dollars.

Totman said the EPA is still working on responding to all of those comments we received during the public comment period and we have yet to make a final decision on the listing. “We are proceeding with all necessary work on the canal on schedule, which includes additional sampling to fill in data gaps from previous sampling events. This additional sampling should take place this winter,” she said. “The designation itself is not an on/off switch for us at this time. We are going full steam ahead.”

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