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Thread: Newtown Creek

  1. #16

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    THE WATERFRONT

    OLD SPILL

    by Ben McGrath

    Issue of 2004-04-05
    Posted 2004-03-29

    In the quaint game of rhapsodizing about the city’s foul waterways, Newtown Creek is generally a bastard stepsister to the more celebrated Gowanus Canal. The Newtown offers only one point of public access, and it has just one residential building along its banks. But it is much bigger than the Gowanus (three and a half miles long versus one and a half, and wider, too), far more polluted (twenty direct sewage portals all its own), more variably odorous, and, because it serves as the boundary between Brooklyn and Queens, far more peculiar for the fact of its relative obscurity and abandonment. In fact, few may know that the creek is currently home to the largest urban oil spill—seventeen million gallons, which is half again as big as the Exxon Valdezdump—in the history of North America.

    Like dual Charons at the river Styx, two enterprising young city councilmen, Eric Gioia, of Long Island City, and David Yassky, of Greenpoint, arranged a boat tour of the creek last Thursday, to mark their commitment to cleaning it up; they’d recently joined a lawsuit, filed by Riverkeeper, the Hudson-watershed advocacy group, to hold ExxonMobil and others accountable. They are merely the latest in a line of government officials who over the years have tried, with varying levels of effort and uniformly little success, to undo the effects of a disastrous chain of events that originated in Greenpoint more than fifty years ago. Fuel from a nearby Standard Oil (now, roughly, ExxonMobil) plant seeped into the city sewers, then ignited. The explosion was so powerful that it sent twenty-five manhole covers flying and released untold amounts of oil into the Brooklyn-Queens aquifer, where the discharge began oozing glacially eastward toward Newtown Creek.

    A rickety assemblage of wooden boards at the end of Manhattan Avenue, in Greenpoint, passes for the creek’s lone dock. Captain John Lipscomb had tied up his converted lobster boat there, and was in the cabin studying a birder’s field guide, as Basil Seggos, an investigator for Riverkeeper, greeted wary passengers. “There’s a guy named Vinny who lives just up the street,” Seggos said. “He’s a big crabber. He feeds his family with it.” Seggos held up a bucket-shaped contraption made of chicken wire: one of Vinny’s crab traps. Although the state has designated the waterway “precluded” to aquatic life, blue crabs, bluefish, and striped bass apparently inhabit the lower end of the creek.

    Councilman Gioia arrived, wearing a navy-blue suit and a red tie. “You guys brought your rods, right?” he said.

    A boat ride along Newtown Creek is an opportunity not to be missed. “This really should be the Brooklyn-Queens Gold Coast,” Gioia said, and he described a vision rather strikingly at odds with the creek’s industrialized banks, invoking green spaces, ferries, and a winding bike path. The boat pulled into the channel and proceeded east, into the heart of darkness: past the Nemo, an abandoned tug from Panama, and a thriving demolition yard, with a sixty-ton flywheel for instant auto-shredding.

    As the vessel headed up the creek, Seggos explained that the spill covers fifty-five acres of shorefront, in the shape of a pear, between the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge and the Kosciusko Bridge. A faint smell of sewage and brine gave way, in alternating turns, to sulfur and burning rubber and, occasionally, just plain gas station, depending on the changing ingredients: diesel, No. 2 home heating oil, naphtha.

    Was it true, someone asked, that the creek was flammable? “I wouldn’t smoke near it,” Seggos said.

    About a mile from the dock, Seggos saw a particularly viscous patch with an unfamiliar rusty tint, and he alerted Captain Lipscomb. As the boat idled, Seggos retrieved a jar and donned a pair of long rubber gloves. “Would somebody please hold my feet?” he asked, and then leaned out over the water. The sample he came up with looked to be three parts mud, one part tomato soup.

    “It’s not like this is just an oil spill that happened fifty years ago,” Gioia said. “You’re watching it happen in front of you. It makes you want to call 911: ‘Police officer, I’m watching a crime being committed. Please stop it right now.’ It’s the smoking gun.”

    Of the original seventeen million gallons, fewer than four million have been successfully removed. Seggos held up the Ziploc bag in which he’d deposited his sample—one pint’s worth. “Math lesson,” he said. “There are a hundred million of these little jars in the spill not yet recovered.”

    “Environmental litigation is not for the fainthearted,” councilman Yassky said. The boat reversed course and headed downstream, back toward the oddly comforting spectacle of ordinary waterfront blight.

    www.newyorker.com

  2. #17
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    Amazing it's still not cleaned.

    I would love this to be parks, etc. It would be wonderful to have the newly developed Greenpoint waterfront and the Olympic Village spot connected with a ped/bike bridge. That would really make this entire waterfront, from Williamsburg to the end of Queens West, one big esplanade.

  3. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by CMANDALA
    Quote Originally Posted by billyblancoNYC
    It would be wonderful to have the newly developed Greenpoint waterfront and the Olympic Village spot connected with a ped/bike bridge.
    There are plans for a pedestrian bridge. It will be hinged and pivot out of the way for shipping.
    SWEET. Thanks.

  4. #19

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    BROOKLYN CENTER FOR THE URBAN ENVIRONMENT.

    Sunday, August 1 at 10 a.m., "Newtown Creek Cruise" travels the waterway between Queens and Brooklyn, once a bustling route between industries on both banks. Meet in Brooklyn at the Fulton Ferry Landing at the foot of Old Fulton Street, opposite the River Cafe; fee, $45; members, $35. Reservations required: (718) 788-8500, Ext. 208.

  5. #20

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    Indicting To Clean Up Newtown Creek

    by Sam Williams
    04 Mar 2005


    In the summer of 2003, a little more than a full century after the publication of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," Basil Seggos and fellow members of the local watchdog group Riverkeeper made their own trip up one of the world's scariest waterways.

    Where Conrad chose Africa's Congo River as his exotic setting, the Riverkeeper team chose a destination closer to home: Newtown Creek, the industrial waterway separating Greenpoint and Long Island City. Long known as a dumping site for industrial polluters, the creek had evaded cleanup thanks largely to its remote, secluded nature.

    "We had to take a row boat to get into the east branch," says Seggos, noting the presence of a bridge that effectively blocked passage for the 36-foot boat the organization usually uses when inspecting local waterways.

    What the Riverkeeper inspectors found when they got to the other side of that bridge confirmed their worst suspicions. Seggos says there was a "huge white plume" of sediment pouring into the waterway from an underwater drainpipe. It wasn't too hard guessing the source of the plume. Immediately adjacent to the spot where the sediment hit the water was a cement plant, Quality Concrete, and subsequent testing proved the sediment to be high in calcium, an indicator of the limestone aggregate used to make concrete.

    "These guys obviously had no cheap ability on site to hook into the city sewer lines," Seggos speculates, noting that 80 percent of the businesses along Newtown Creek operate with no city-provided sewer service. "Rather than hook up a treatment system which is what these kinds of companies should do, they were dumping into an old storm line and sending it to the creek for disposal."

    Citing state law which forbids the dumping of untreated industrial waste into New York waterways, Riverkeeper filed notice of its intent to sue. The organization held off on filing the actual lawsuit for the winter, however, when Quality Concrete representatives indicated a willingness to clean up the site. When spring 2004 came and went with no observed cleanup activity, however, the group chose an alternate strategy: It invited Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes, Greenpoint Councilmember David Yassky and other notables to climb aboard the patrol boat and see the waterway himself. Again, the boat couldn't make it all the way up the creek, but what Hynes saw was enough.

    "He was appalled by the conditions," recalls Seggos. "We passed the case on to him, and he ran with it."

    That was last summer. This January, the Kings County District Attorney announced the indictment of Quality Concrete, now doing business as Maspeth Concrete Loading, and its chief executive officer, Constantine Quadrozzi, on 22 felony counts and 20 misdemeanor counts of unlawful sewage discharge. "This indictment sends a message that we will not tolerate these actions," said Hynes in a Jan. 2005 statement to the press.

    Although the defendant company is based in Maspeth, Queens, just over the borough line, Richard Farrell, an assistant district attorney who is helping prosecute the case, says the office feels it has the authority to go after the company. First of all, the waterway impacted borders Kings County. As a second reason, he cites "the 500 yard rule" in that any courts usually give both county governments the ability to prosecute anything that occurs within 500 yards of the county line.

    Brian Gardner, Quadrozzi's attorney, was unavailable for comment for this article, but in a January statement to the Daily News predicted an out-of-court settlement. "Once we sit down with the DA's office, we expect [the charges] to be fully resolved in our favor and dismissed," Gardner told the newspaper.

    Even if both sides find a mutually suitable resolution, Farrell sees Quality Concrete as only the first step in what is sure to be a decades-long effort to clean up a creek that has been an industrial haven since the mid-19th century. Larger problems, most notably a 52 acre ExxonMobil site that contains the remnants of a 17 million gallon oil discharge, promise an even bigger legal fight. Still, the bridge has been crossed, both literally and figuratively, and those on the enforcement side appear willing to take on fresh opponents.

    "There are other pollution situations being looked at," says Farrell. "I would not call the Quadrozzi situation the most egregious situation out on the creek."

    http://www.gothamgazette.com/

  6. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by CMANDALA
    View looking west from Kosciuszko Bridge
    Not that I want to displace all industry, but wouldn't this be amazing to develop for residential and recreational? This really could be as nice as Riverwalk in San Antonio...an amazing connnection for the "new LIC" and "new Greenpoint". Really would make the entire section of the East River one amazing neighborhood.

  7. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by CMANDALA
    NYS regulations won't allow recreational use along waterways that don't meet
    minimum clean water standards.
    Yes, but that's all the more reason to friggin' clean up all the oil, etc. It's more than overdue.

  8. #23
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    You can't see it in that pic, but the industry in the area is actually very active. They just expanded the apocalyptic-looking sewage treatment facility in greenpoint, plus newtown creek has the world's largest spill of petroleum distillates (not a little thing to clean up). In fact, I just saw a crew taking core samples from my block last week - hopefully to confirm that I am still not on the plume of contaminated ground water. hopefully....

    From Riverkeeper:



    Newtown Creek: The Greenpoint, Brooklyn Oil Spill
    In January 2004, Riverkeeper initiated a citizen suit against two of the world’s largest oil companies for the largest urban oil spill—right in the heart of New York City. In May 2004, Riverkeeper filed the lawsuit itself against ExxonMobil for violation of the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and since then NYC Councilmembers David Yassky and Eric Gioia, as well as Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, have filed notice letters as well, with the intent to join the lawsuit.


    Oil swirls on the surface of Newtown Creek. Photo credit: (c) Stephen Wilkes 2004 All Rights Reserved.
    For more than half a century, 17 millions of gallons of oil have been oozing beneath Greenpoint, Brooklyn, courtesy of ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, and other oil companies. The spill courses beneath 55 acres of industrial, commercial, and residential property, affecting 100 homes and dozens of businesses. Petroleum from the spill continuously leaks into Newtown Creek; globs of oil and a rainbow sheen constantly coat the surface of this small waterway separating Brooklyn and Queens. The spill – 50% larger than the Exxon Valdez disaster – is a major source of contamination throughout the New York Harbor. Carcinogens, lead, and a bevy of other toxins are carried for miles with the tides and currents. Though discovered 25 years ago and brought under state enforcement in 1990, remedial efforts have been a failure. The companies continue to violate federal law. Riverkeeper took decisive action on January 26, placing the companies on formal notice of the organization’s intent to file citizen suits under the federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”) and Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (“RCRA”).

    The Greenpoint spill is an environmental affront to both the Brooklyn community and citizens across the city. Riverkeeper's aim is to accelerate spill remediation, ensure that the aquifer and its soils are restored, prevent oil from entering Newtown Creek, and to protect the health and welfare of New Yorkers. Brooklyn has suffered long enough from these blights and it is time to bring these companies to justice. Click on the links below to learn more about the history and effects of this massive spill.


    More About Newtown Creek: The Greenpoint, Brooklyn Oil Spill:
    Introduction
    A History of the Spill
    Map Depicting Newtown Creek Oil Spill
    Greenpoint Oil Spill Archive

  9. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by CMANDALA
    NYS regulations won't allow recreational use along waterways that don't meet
    minimum clean water standards.
    I guess Venice wouldn't meet their standards either. Or Amsterdam: have you seen the water in Amsterdam?

  10. #25

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    ^ They've got nice cities, though.

  11. #26

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    Plus, there is always the Phelps-Dodge site in Queens. There must be leakage of the copper and other heavy metals into the creek.

  12. #27

    Default newtown creek pollution project

    I am currently starting a project that will focus on cleaning newtown Creek. this forum has been of great help. i just want to say thank you and please continue to share the information you have on Newtown Creek.

  13. #28

    Default displace industry from the waterfront

    Quote Originally Posted by billyblancoNYC
    Not that I want to displace all industry, but wouldn't this be amazing to develop for residential and recreational? .
    I think it would be best to remove all "industrial" users from the waterfront, but bring in "commercial" development to attract recreational boaters- and create a "lively & populated" waterfront year round.

    From what I am seeing on the NYC hudson river, the efforts of the various non-profits, and envirnmental groups are do more to keep the general public "away" from the waterfront.

    The parks, piers, boathouses are windswept desolate places event during the summer months (weekdays) and the general population of NYC are not comming out in big numbers as I think the would if we had more places like Leonardo on pier 57, Chelsea piers, the Maratime float pier on 23rd, all commercial and very attractive, fun place to visit - year round, seven days a week.

    The enviromental groups (in my opinion) how are so vehimently anti-commercial development are only shooting themselves in the foot.

    cheers.

  14. #29

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    Quote Originally Posted by infoshare
    IFrom what I am seeing on the NYC hudson river, the efforts of the various non-profits, and envirnmental groups are do more to keep the general public "away" from the waterfront.
    What groups and how so?

  15. #30

    Default NY Wasted Waterfront

    To Zippythechimp
    The info contained therein best expresses my frustrations and desires for the nyc waterfront - Particularly the NYC hudson river - where I go kayaking.

    http://www.city-journal.org/html/6_2_the_wasted.html

    The opportunity squandered is enormous. New York’s 578 miles of shoreline—by far the largest urban waterfront in the United States—could make the city more prosperous and more livable. This vast shoreline could accommodate a broad range of uses, from popular parks and prime residential addresses to thriving centers of commerce, industry, and transportation. It could be a richly varied scene of restaurants on piers, of townhouses overlooking marinas, of tree-lined public esplanades with majestic river views. One can imagine hotels with their own docks for guests arriving by boat; small cargo vessels bringing goods directly to stores; water taxis carrying commuters and tourists to numerous points throughout the city.

    Who or How? That is all to well known in the area, particularly by a neighborhood member like yourself. Basically all the non-profits are anti- commercial development.
    Last edited by infoshare; November 11th, 2005 at 10:44 PM.

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