Superfunding The Newtown Creek

Over a year ago, on September 27, 2010, the EPA opened a new chapter on the ongoing saga of our polluted waterway by designating the Newtown Creek a federally recognized Superfund Site. This program, which allocates federal money towards research and remediation and aggressively pursues polluters for subsequent remuneration, is contentious because it carries a powerful stigma; however, being on the Superfund list provides our neighborhood with powerful tools for improvement.

A year later, on October 25th, the EPA invited members of the public to an information session to educate locals on the upcoming plans for the creek.  At the meeting I was told to keep an eye on the website, where data and announcements will be made public.   Officials also informed me that studies into the physical geography of the waterway are set to begin next spring, including bathymetry to determine the exact geometry of the waterway and acoustic studies to find sunken obstructions, among others.

Following these will be chemical analyses to determine the exact nature of the contamination and identify areas that may still be leaching pollutants into the waterway.  Interestingly – perhaps suspiciously – these studies will be conducted by firms hired and paid for by the polluters themselves, though this will of course be under EPA scrutiny and direction.

Perhaps the most interesting information I learned was that this process involves coming up with a general cost for the pre-remediation studies – in this case, 25 million dollars for the studies alone, only 5 million short of what the entire remediation effort costs at the average Superfund site – and then leaving it up to the identified polluters to decide amongst themselves who is responsible for what portion of that cost and to fund the studies themselves.  The degree to which individual companies are held financially responsible is based in part on their contributions to the pollution and in part on their ability to pay; the EPA avoids bankrupting companies in pursuing remediation funding.

This is a long process, and we shouldn’t expect remediation to begin for at least 5-7 years.  I was told – hesitantly, and in no uncertain terms that this was only the widest of estimates – that the cost of remediation would be around 500 million at the absolute minimum.  Ours is what the EPA terms a regional “megasite” due to the nature, extent, and history of contamination.  It’s a dubious honor, to be sure.

This process will prove pivotal to the future of our neighborhood, so be sure to keep a close eye on the EPA website for updates and future public meetings.  If you have additional questions, contact these EPA representatives for more information:

Caroline Kwan-Appelman
Remedial Project Manager – General questions
Phone: (212) 637-4275
Email: Kwan.caroline@epa.gov

Michael A. Mintzer
Assistant Regional Counsel – Legal questions
Phone:  (212) 637-3168
Email:  mintzer.michael@epa.gov

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