The Enviornmental Protection Agency is beginning its analysis and cleanup of the filthy yet fascinating Gowanus canal. It's proving to be full of all kinds of junk, including horrendous carcinogenic chemicals and, as the Brooklyn Paper reports, a 60 foot long sunken ship! Located where Fifth Street meets the canal, the wooden ship likely dates from the 19th century, the channel's shipping heyday. What we're calling the S.S. Superfund was discovered through sonar scanning, its outline is clearly visible in the image above. This is the second time in a year that New York's maritime past has resurfaced. Last summer another submerged ship was found buried at the World Trade Center site.
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LA is rarely thought of as the country's greenest town, what with all the traffic and sprawl, but it's doing a lot better than you think, as the News informs us. For the second year in a row, Los Angeles has been ranked number one in terms of energy efficient buildings, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star ratings. LA made it to the top of the list by having the most rated buildings—ones that use 35 percent less energy than the average—with 293. The top five include Washington, D.C. (204), San Francisco (173), Denver (136) and Chicago (134). This does not exactly mean it is the most efficient period, given that there are so many more buildings in LA—usual suspects like Seattle and Portland are missing from the top five, as is New York, which we'd like to think is missing because it's so dense, though probably the real issue is that it's so old an inefficient to begin with. Still, no matter how you look at it, this is a step in the right direction for all of us.
The Environmental Protection Agency balked at the Bloomberg administration's controversial proposal to clean up the Gowanus Canal, favoring its own Superfund program in an announcement today, as had been expected. In a statement, regional administrator Judith Enck said that, after much consultation with concerned parties, the EPA "determined that a Superfund designation is the best path to a cleanup of this heavily contaminated and long neglected urban waterway." The Bloomberg administration opposed the designation for fear it would stigmatize the waterway and drive off developers who were planning projects on the polluted canal's shores. Lo-and-behold, Toll Brothers, which had been planning a 2,000-unit mixed-use complex designed by GreenbergFarrow, has already nixed its plans. We also hear from a source that the Gowanus Green project by Rogers Marvel on a city-owned site is also on hold until it can shore up lending, assuming it can. As for the proposed rezoning, no word yet from the Department of City Planning, which had also been awaiting the Superfund decision before it proceeded. Marc LaVorgna, an administration spokesperson, called the EPA's decision "disappointing," though he did say that the city would still aid in the clean-up efforts. "We are going to work closely with the EPA because we share the same goal—a clean canal," he said. It appears the mayor was right about the threat Superfund designation posed to development on the canal, though the question of whether such projects should have taken place anyway, given even the possibility of Superfund levels of contamination, also has been answered. UPDATE: Looks like City Planning will be holding off for the time being, as we suspected. Here's the explanation we just received from spokesperson Rachaele Raynoff:
We’ve just gotten the news and we’re continuing to work on understanding the impacts of the designation on the potential for moving forward with a rezoning to facilitate appropriate development and remediation. Clearly, the Superfund designation adds a layer of additional complexity (and uncertainty) to an already very complex process.UPDATE 2: Curbed has word from the folks at Gowanus Green that they have yet to give up on their project, though they do acknowledge that it will be more challenging.
UPDATE:The mayor called. See more below. It should come as no surprise that a local government supported the Superfund designation of one of its most polluted waterways. Unless that government happens to be the Bloomberg administration, which has vehemently opposed "blighting" the Gowanus Canal and environs by naming the polluted Brooklyn waterway a Superfund site. That opposition remains firmly in place. What is surprising, though, as the Brooklyn Paper reported Friday, is that the administration, in testimony submitted to the EPA on December 23, came out in favor of designating Newtown Creek, a place in constant competition with the Gowanus for most reviled in the borough. The big difference, it would appear, is that the Gowanus' northerly sibling has but award-winning poop processors lining its banks, and not the prospect of condos. Though that prospect could be fading fast. Curbed informs us that Toll Brothers may be trying to back down from its plans to build a 450-unit mixed-use, mixed-income project on the canal, as the developer owes money for the purchase of its three-acre property. The $21.5 million deal was contingent on Toll getting the area rezoned from industrial to commercial, which they did back in the spring. But because of the pending Superfund decision—likely to come down this spring—the developer has been dragging its feet, resulting in a series of suits between them and the former owners of the land. Which brings us back to the mayor's office. Mark LaVorgna, a Bloomberg spokesperson, defends the city's seemingly contradictory positions to the Paper thusly: “They are different situations and we evaluate each one independently. Each situation is not the same.” But if the process is too slow and litigious for Gowanus, shouldn't that be the same case for Newtown Creek as well, condos or no condos? This could have as much to do with repeated fears that the city is attempting to avoid a Superfund suit of its own from the EPA for various violations, from stormwater overflow to a DOT cement plant, as there are no known problems of the sort on the creek. The (open) question remains whether the city can get the job done. It reminds us of another piece of pre-Christmas news, the cleaning of the "Bronx Swamp," where the city pumped 625,000 gallons—five times the amount of water originally expected therein—out of a mile-long, below grade railroad passage. At first, it appears the city is more than capable of undertaking such work, given that the administration got the job done. But at the same time, the amount of work was grossly underestimated—fivefold, even—and what's worse, the city's been left holding the bag, having been unable to find responsible parties to charge the $350,000 cleanup cost. And yet this is exactly what city officials claim to be able to do on the Gowanus, which is expected to cost, at a minimum, $1 billion. UPDATE 1/14: LaVorgna phoned us late yesterday to to take issue with our supposition of the Paper's innuendo that the administration was being sneaky in submitting its testimony on December 23. Initially, we wrote that "the administration ever so quietly—on the eve of Christmas Eve, to be exact, December 23—submitted testimony." LaVorgna pointed out that that is simply when the public comment period ended. "We didn't set that date, the EPA did," he told us by phone. As for the assertion that there was something to the city's differing positions on Newtown and Gowanus, LaVorgna reiterated what he told the Paper, that the city cannot, at Newtown, utilize the expertise of the Army Corps for the cleanup nor are there willing parties to pay for it. "If we could, we would, but they're totally different situations," he said. Meanwhile, the Daily News looked into the Toll suit today, the Brooklyn Paper wrote a scathing editorial on the city's bifurcated position, and it looks like the Creek will need a serious clean after all, as a local company has been accused of illegal dumping into the waterway.
When developers began proposing sizable developments for the shores of the Gowanus Canal a few years ago, at best it was viewed as yet another gonzo deal conceived of those frothy boom years. At worst, it was a bad joke. After all, this is the same body of water known to carry STDs. And so, when the federal EPA agreed to consider the contaminated body of water for Superfund status, that could only be a good thing, right? Not if you're one of those developers, as the Observer reports today. Or, believe it or not, the Bloomberg administration. Writes Eliot Brown:
The controversy centers around the nature of the Superfund program. The Bloomberg administration and developers contend it would drag out the cleanup for years, potentially stymieing both economic development and, ironically, environmental cleanup in the process. [...] For developers, this approach is frustrating. The city is rezoning the lots around the northern sections of the canal, and developers had hoped to build a new residential neighborhood, bordering what was to be a quaint stream lined by parkland and bike paths. But given the way the Superfund program assigns blame, developers worry that they could be designated as potentially responsible, and would therefore be unable to get financing to build. Further, the stigma of a Superfund designation, they worry, would drive away potential buyers, pushing down the value of the area. [Emphasis added.]Yeah, no kidding. The Times followed up, passing along the city's official argument's against the move:
Daniel Walsh, director of the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation, said a Superfund cleanup would likely take more than two decades, putting at risk more than $400 million of private investment already committed to the area for housing and other development. Speaking at an informational forum on Tuesday night held by Representatives Nydía M. Velázquez and Yvette D. Clarke, both Democrats from Brooklyn, he said that cleanup projects like the city’s planned dredging of 1,000 feet of contaminated sediment at the bottom of the canal, at a cost of $15 million, could also be at stake. “These investments are part of the a plan that the city has developed to remediate the canal that is collaborative and efficient, rather than embarking on a Superfund process that is, at its core, an adversarial process focused on finding responsible parties for past contamination,” Mr. Walsh said. But a designation could steer hundreds of millions of federal dollars toward a comprehensive cleanup, and neighbors at the meeting were split on their support for the Superfund designation. Mr. Walsh was both booed and applauded during his remarks.That developers like Toll Brothers would write letters opposing such a cleanup is not surprising, morals be damned. That they're still scrambling to even build in these outlying areas of the outerboroughs shows just how stuck these developers are in pre-recession wonderland. It's exactly the sort of questionable thinking the city should be protecting us from, not promoting. After all, which is worse? Living in a Superfund site knowingly or unknowingly. Granted, yes, we do have full faith in the appropriate remediation of these sites, but wouldn't their wholesale recovery--and with the polluters instead of the public and the developers themselves footing the bill--be the desired outcome? After all, Greenpoint has complained for years of heightened cancer rates and other health problems from a similarly polluted waterway. Sure, the ground under your apartment might be clean, but what about the site next door? No amount of letters or flashy marketing can change that fact. Now where's Seth Myers when you need him...