All we need, city officials implored the Environmental Protection Agency this week, is just a little patience.
The city is working feverishly to craft an alternative plan to a federal proposal to list the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site, a designation the city fears will repel $400 million in private investment along the foul water’s edge.
“There is no need to rush,” Caswell Holloway, chief of staff to Ed Skyler, the deputy mayor for operations told the EPA this week. “The EPA has the ability to list whenever they want.”
The Bloomberg Administration is asking the feds for a fighting chance to clean the canal, urging the EPA to hold off naming the polluted waterway a Superfund site while it sees whether its scheme will work.
“If we fail, then you can list,” Holloway offered.
On May 26, the city and EPA met publicly for the first time to discuss their differing visions on how to arrive at a shared goal: a clean canal. The event, sponsored by Community Board 6, was held inside a standingâˆ’roomâˆ’only auditorium at Public School 32 in Carroll Gardens.
The EPA has said that while it is willing to listen to the city’s alternate plan, it feels that Superfund — which compels the polluters to pay for a site’s cleanup — is the best route to go.
For its alternative scheme, the city hopes to use the power of persuasion and incentives to bring those who may have polluted the canal to the table. It will also reply on the Water Resources Development Act, which allows the Army Corps of Engineers to perform environmental restoration in a navigable channel, which the Gowanus is considered. Up to 65 percent of that work could be funded by taxpayers, as this paper has previously reported. The infusion of federal cash from the program could lessen a responsible party’s cleanâˆ’up bill, giving it an incentive to participate, Holloway said. “They will be supremely motivated to work with the city,” Holloway added.
The program, though, has only $50 million to spend annually — for the entire country. Cleaning the canal will cost upward of $400 million, the EPA has said
The meeting, sponsored by Community Board 6, was held inside a standing room only auditorium at Public School 32 in Carroll Gardens. Since the canal was named a potential Superfund site in April, the city has met privately with the EPA at least six times.
“Yes, there is uncertainty but that uncertainty shouldn’t slow the process down,” Holloway said. “We believe a voluntary process is faster than Superfund. If parties willingly come to the table, we feel it will be faster.”
The city has already been meeting with National Grid, believed to be the largest of the potentially responsible parties. But the city concedes that there could be 150 other entities with a role to play in the cleanup. “It’s going to be a complex process to identify them,” he said.
EPA regional director Walter Mugdan said the complexity of the city’s plan could be its downfall. “There are a lot of moving parts here,” he said. “That tends to magnify the complexities.”
Ultimately, Mugdan said, the question for the city’s plan is not whether the polluters volunteer to clean the waterway. “It’s whether enough of them step forward.”
He said the cleanâˆ’up will span years, not months. “It’s going to take time, no matter who does the work,” he said. “It’s the work that takes time — more than the process.”
“It will be years. It might be a decade,” he admitted.
The proposed Superfund designation is subject to a public review, which has been extended until July 8. For information, go to regulations.gov, and use the keyword “gowanus.”
©2009 Community News Group
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