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EPA not ready to name Gowanus superfund site

The future of the Gowanus Canal will not be made less murky at a Dec. 3 meeting being convened by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“There will be no big announcement at the Dec. 3 meeting,” said EPA spokesperson Elias Rodriguez, responding to whether the agency was prepared to name the heavily polluted canal a Superfund site.Rodriguez said the agency “is not ready to make a determination” on the controversial listing, either yea or nay.

Rodriguez said the meeting will instead focus on the particulars of supplemental field work the agency will conduct to determine the entire range of pollutants soaked into the 1.8-mile long former industrial water way, “and to calculate the human and ecological risks associated with that contamination.”

The work will supplement previous studies conducted by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and National Grid, the energy giant who by corporate lineage is considered by the EPA potentially responsible for paying to clean the canal if it is named a Superfund site.

The supplemental studies will begin in early December of this year, Rodriguez said. Field activities will include conducting an underwater depth study and collecting sediment, surface water, air, and groundwater samples.

Previous work has revealed a variety of dangerous pollutants in the canal, including PCB’s, metals, volatile organic contaminants, and coal tars leached from manufactured gas plants like Brooklyn Union Gas, which is linked to National Grid after the firm’s acquisition of KeySpan Energy.

The Bloomberg administration, and other opponents of the listing fear a federally led clean-up could drag for years, and that the stigma of the designation will capsize plans to build residential housing along the canal.

David Von Spreckelsen, a senior vice president with Toll Brothers, said that despite the mayor’s lobbying for an alternative plan to clean the canal, he is not optimistic. “The only way to turn this around is for the state to rescind the letter asking the EPA to step in.There is no indication that the state has any intention of rescinding the letter,” he said. Toll is planning a 605,380 square foot development with 477 residential units on two city blocks near the canal.

In August, the Department of Environmental Conservation,which initially requested the feds include the canal in the Superfund program, advised the EPA to “carefully review and consider” the city’s alternative proposal, which could have up to 65 percent of the clean-up paid for with federal funds. Under the Superfund program, those responsible for the original pollution are required to pay for the clean-up, or face stiff fines and legal action.

The meeting will be the first hosted by the EPA since the state nominated the canal as a Superfund site last December; it is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 3 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the auditorium of Public School 32, 317 Hoyt Street.

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