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Cleaning Newtown Creek Could Take Decades

The Environmental Protection Agency announced it could take 16 years to fully clean Newtown Creek, though local businesses and property owners fear that the effects of the agency’s Superfund recommendation could be felt immediately.

In September, the EPA made a recommendation to add the Newtown Creek to the federal Superfund site.The EPA has increasingly scrutinized the creek, along with the Gowanus Canal, with the goal of long-term remediation, though the cleanup of the sites could escalate into tens of million of dollars.

At two separate meetings in North Brooklyn hosted by the Newtown Creek Alliance and the Newtown Monitoring Committee, Williamsburg residents took the opportunity to ask EPA officials about the effects of environmental remediation in North Brooklyn, after Walter Mugdon, director of the EPA’s Division of Environmental Planning, gave a detailed presentation about the Superfund process.

“Our experience now is if a site is declared a Superfund site, property values may drop but they will quickly rebound when people realize it is going to get cleaned up,” said Mugdon, at an NCA meeting at St. Cecilia’s Church Auditorium. “Do people want to have a business near a waterway that is clean or dirty?Chances are they are going to say they want a cleaner one.”

Mugdan said that the EPA has been reaching out to five companies — ExxonMobil, Chevron, Phelps Dodge, BP-Amico, and National Grid — which could be potentially responsible parties for contamination and significant financial contributors toward its cleanup, as well as smaller mom and pop businesses located on the Creek which may share some liability.

Several of the business owners who attended the meeting brought their attorneys with them, anxious over the financial implications of Superfund designation.

MetroEnergy owner and NCMC member Paul Pullo, echoed several concerns shared by local business owners about liability.He agreed that the creek should ultimately be clean but not at the expense of Brooklyn jobs or regional growth.

“(While) we’re all for the responsible parties cleaning up the creek, we don’t know who else is going to get dragged into this,” said Pullo. “What if business wants to expand? Will the bank give them a new mortgage or help them refinance if their property is adjacent to the Superfund site?”

Mugdon noted that in cases of 3rd party litigation, mechanisms exist where small businesses can be insulated to reduce their liability, though outreach to these companies will begin soon.EPA officials were unsure whether banks would refuse to give loans to businesses near an environmentally contaminated site, but noted that it was difficult for any business to receive a loan from a financial institution in the current economic climate.

According to Congressmember Nydia Velazquez, encouraging banks to loan money to small businesses and remediating toxic sites in Brooklyn go hand in hand.She believes Superfund, instead of the Water Resources Development Act or some other funding source, remains the fastest and most thorough way to clean up Newtown Creek.

“The WRDA has been reauthorized, but they have 1,000 projects already authorized and these projects have priority,” said Velazquez.“They’re not taking new projects.”

For Councilmember-elect Steve Levin (D-33rd), who lives one block from Newtown Creek, determining a timeline for the cleanup may be the most significant question for his constituents.

“I live on top the Exxon Plume and on top the Meeker Plume and it’s a big concern,” said Levin.“I’m here dealing with this issue at the beginning of my term and it is likely going to continue to the next councilmember after my term is up.”

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