Newtown Creek: Polluted, Poisonous Greepoint Waterway Might Be Saved

10/23/2009 4:07 PM |

The dirty water of Newton Creek

The Newtown Creek, once a tidal waterway and drainage creek, was unceremoniously converted in the mid-19th century to a bustling industrial canal for the transport and manufacture of kerosene and other oil-based products. Even though activity around and in the creek (which runs between Greenpoint and Long Island City) has now slowed, and much of the former industry has disappeared from the area, the Montauk Branch of the LIRR still operates along its bank as a freight line and there is a liquid natural gas port under construction. As a result of its previous tenants, along with a legacy of negligence, the creek is filled with roughly 30 million gallons of contaminents and raw sewage, starting with a few refinery disasters in 1978, and continuing with Exxon and Empire oil spills. Not only is the waterway in dire need of attention, but there’s also the question of an estimated 17 million gallons of oil that has seeped into the soil underneath the surrounding homes in Greenpoint. It’s a real mess.

Fortunately, according to a recent article in the Brooklyn Eagle, the Newtown Creek Alliance has finally convinced the EPA to take notice and add the waterway to the National Priorities List. Although this addition won’t result in immediate action it’s a big step forward, insofar as it nominates the creek as a Superfund Site, which, if chosen, would allocate much needed money for general clean up.

This development has also inaugurated a 60-day public comment period, which has now been extended another 30 days. There has been little opposition in the comments thus far, unlike the Gowanus Canal, as nobody is trying to develop near the creek and Superfund designation poses problems for builders.

As the BK Eagle reports:

“If the site is designated a Superfund site, a four-step process will be initiated to clean up the area. First, the site would undergo immediate stabilization to stop any pressing threats to the community, if necessary, by taking measures such as erecting a security fence or repairing a hazardous waste storage unit. Then the EPA would perform a comprehensive investigation of the site and analyze cleanup options.”

On top of these steps forward, the City of New York just chalked up a huge win over Exxon Mobil in a ground water contamination case that has been raging for quite some time. The case was brought against the oil giant, and many other smaller companies (who have already settled) in order to hold them accountable for poisoning the drinking and groundwater of the city with methyl tertiary butyl ether, a gasoline additive that increases octane levels, has a minty odor, and has been known to aid in dissolving gall stones. Although this money will not go directly to the Newtown Creek effort, it will surely aid in giving hope to loftier goals (Superfund status!) for the ailing body of water. As always, these things happen slowly, but we are glad to see that someone is trying to restore the reputation of something worth saving, as opposed to something that is not.

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