Clean the creek! - Oil sighting sparks calls

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Area residents out for a summer stroll recently discovered that a new but familiar substance had leaked onto the steps of Newtown Creek’s Nature Walk.

Laura Hofmann and her husband Mike, members of the Newtown Creek Alliance and several other community organizations, discovered oil at the bottom of the Nature Walk steps while they were walking on the Department of Environmental Protection’s Nature Walk last weekend.

“My husband and I were horrified to see the amount and variety of oil there,” said Hofmann. “We could see that the oil was at least halfway across the creek. We saw that the oil was past and in Whale Creek. And we could see that the oil spread past the DAC property as well.”

Hofmann alerted local elected officials about the oil on August 14, who in turn contacted the Department of Environmental Conservation about the leak.

Riverkeeper, an environmental neighborhood watch program, sent investigators on the water on the weekend of August 16, examining the film of oil that had developed near the mouth of the creek. The watchdog organization’s chief investigator, Basil Seggos, said it was nearly impossible to determine where the source of the oil is coming from, though it is possible it could have come off a barge or a nearby tugboat.

“ExxonMobil is there, Motiva Oil is there, there are 200 CSOs where oil could flush into the Creek. It could be any one of those sources,” Seggos said. “It would help to know which direction the tide was flowing that day. We’ve seen this before. It’s unfortunately quite common.”

The next steps in remediating the oil spill is for the state to send the DEC or the Coast Guard to cordon off the area with the highest concentration of oil using a boom and then skim as much of the pollutant off the surface as possible. Local officials, including Councilmember David Yassky’s office, say they will continue to pressure oil companies to keep their existing sites clean.

“If ExxonMobil is looking for proof that it has not done enough to clean up the oil spill in Greenpoint, it ought to send someone over to the Newtown Creek nature walk,” said Jake MaGuire, a spokesman for Yassky. “Maybe instead of spending money on glossy PR mailers for members of the press, the company should get serious about cleaning up they mess it made in Brooklyn more than 50 years ago.”

DEC officials said they are the process of sending investigators to examine the site. Meanwhile, Hofmann and other NCA members just want the oil cleaned up as quickly as possible.

“The smell was really strong. My little granddaughter was sick to her stomach from both the smell and look of it. She described it as looking like vomit,” said Hofmann.

Two weeks ago, Yassky joined Councilmember Eric Gioia and Assemblymember Joseph Lentol to decry pollution in city waterways after a marine construction company, Pile Foundation, left garbage barges chained to a site across from the Nature Walk. Those barges have since been removed by the company, after pressure from the DEC and city officials, and are not the source of the oil, according to a spokesperson from Lentol’s office, which is working with the DEC to determine the source of this sudden increase in oil and to clean it up.

“Sadly, I long ago stopped being surprised at the news of pollution in Newtown Creek. But it seems especially horrid this time around because it is affecting our nature walk,” said Lentol. “Hopefully we can avoid this type of situation in the future and continue towards our goal of a clean pollution free Newtown Creek.”

Updated 3:44 pm, October 19, 2011
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