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Watchdog looks to bite alleged polluters

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An environmental watchdog organization this week announced the beginning of an enforcement campaign targeted at alleged environmental lawbreakers along the beleaguered Gowanus Canal, a polluted waterway that could be designated a Superfund site.The group, Riverkeeper, filed notices of intent to sue against Sixth Street Iron and Metal, a scrap yard, for allegedly dumping metal and debris into the canal; Ferrara Brothers Building Materials Corp., a cement plant allegedly discharging liquid cement and stone into the canal; and 107 Sixth Street LLC and 36-2nd-J Corp., for allegedly operating an open dump and filling the canal from a parking lot on their property. The businesses could not be reached for comment at press time.

Riverkeeper also issued a warning letter to the New York City Department of Transportation after documenting a turbid plume of water coming from a stone barge at the DOT Asphalt Plant on Gowanus Bay, the group said. “These enforcement actions allege violations of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA),” Riverkeeper said in a statement.

“The actions taken today represent a new chapter in Riverkeeper’s historic battle to bring polluters to justice and clean up the Hudson River and New York Harbor for current and future generations. For too long, the Gowanus has been abused as an open sewer and dumping ground for polluters, resulting in a blight on local communities and a water pollution nightmare,” said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River program director at Riverkeeper.

The notices, which Riverkeeper served on September 15, are the first step in initiating a citizen suit under the CWA and RCRA. During the required 60-day waiting period, New York State is given the opportunity to file their own enforcement case and the polluter is given an opportunity to halt all violations. Following the waiting period, Riverkeeper will file a case in federal court if violations persist and the state has not initiated its own enforcement actions.

“The Gowanus Canal apparently exists in an alternate universe where the progress we have made in halting pollution since the passage of the Clean Water Act never happened,” said Joshua Verleun, Riverkeeper staff attorney and investigator. “Our efforts today are the first step on a long journey to return the Gowanus to a naturally functioning water body that can be a benefit rather than a burden to Brooklynites living near its banks,” he said.

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