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Newtown dumping court case proceeds

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An August ruling by the New York State Appeals Court will enable the Brooklyn district attorney’s office to prosecute a case against a Queens concrete company accused of dumping industrial byproducts into Newtown Creek.

In January 2005, Brooklyn DA Charles J. Hynes brought criminal charges against Quality Concrete and its former Vice President, Constantine Quadrozzi, claiming the company knowingly dumped byproducts of cement manufacturing into Newtown Creek, a violation of the state Environmental Conservation Law.

But a Brooklyn State Supreme Court Justice dismissed the indictment in 2006 on the grounds that Hynes’ office did not have the authority to pursue the case without the involvement of the State Department of Environ-mental Conservation or the Attorney General’s Office. This initial ruling also held there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute Quadrozzi and Quality Concrete.

The latest Appeals Court ruling, however, reverses this decision on both grounds. It gives Hynes the authority to go after the company autonomously and says that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute nearly three-quarters of the original 42 counts Hynes brought.

Prior to the Appeals Court ruling, both the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Attorney General’s office submitted letters in support of Hynes’ case. The DA will nonetheless prosecute the case without the involvement of both offices.

The allegations of wrongdoing were first brought by Riverkeeper, an environmental watchdog for the Hudson River and its tributaries. A Riverkeeper patrol boat first turned up the alleged activity in 2003.

According to Craig Michaels, an attorney for Riverkeeper, the defendants allegedly dumped rock, sand and chemical waste, as well as oil and grease from machinery, into the creek without a permit.

Michaels added that these products have a negative effect on marine life and recreational use of both Newtown Creek and nearby waterways.

“They did not have a permit to discharge any of this. This is where they violated the law,” Michaels said.

“When you see companies just blatantly trying to act above the law, someone has to come in and do something about it.”

A trial date has not been set for the case as it proceeds forward.

Sheila Cohen, a spokeswoman for Quality Concrete, said, “We believe we did nothing wrong, at least not intentionally. We have and always will be concerned about the environment.”

Cohen continued, “Constantine Quadrozzi is no longer with the firm, and hasn’t been for several years now. We wish to work with Mr. Hynes’ office and bring this matter to a positive resolution.”

The news about the Quadrozzi trial is the second recent piece of news concerning Newtown Creek.

Last week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency committed to run a series of new tests at Newtown Creek that might enable the creek to be designated as a federal Superfund site if the tests turn up high enough levels of toxicity.

A Superfund designation would open up federal coffers for an investigation into the extent of the creek’s pollution. It would also enable the federal government to go after the many parties responsible for this pollution and mandate they pick up the very expensive tab of cleaning up the creek.

However, because the Superfund program does not apply to petroleum products, a potential Superfund designation will not enable the federal government to claim remediation costs from Exxon-Mobil for its role in the 1950 oil spill that dumped between 17 and 30 million gallons of oil into the creek in 1950.

In 2004, Riverkeeper sued Exxon Mobil for its role in the spill. In 2007, the State Attorney General’s office brought a similar suit against Exxon Mobil and other parties.

While the oil spill is a large source of the pollution in Newtown Creek, it is not the only one. Through the years, the industry surrounding the creek has done its share of damage. Advocates for cleaning up the creek are hopeful a potential Superfund designation, along with lawsuits like the one against Quality Concrete, can help redress this damage.

“The oil is a huge problem, but it’s not the only problem,” said Robert Goldstein, general counsel for Riverkeeper.

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