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People have lots of questions about a proposal to make the Gowanus Canal a federal Superfund site, so sit back and let the Explainer learn you a thing or two:
A Superfund? That sounds awesome, but what is it?
Congress created it in 1980 after the Love Canal and Times Beach disasters of the late 1970s, in which hazardous chemicals leaked into people’s homes.
Why should the Gowanus be on that list? And why now?
The 1.8-mile canal is a laden with heavy metals, PCBs, coal tar and other nasty sediments that settled on the canal’s bed after a century of intense industrial use. Gov. Paterson nominated the Gowanus to be on the Superfund list in December — though his motives may not have been entirely clean (some say he just wanted the feds to relieve the state of the cost of the clean-up).
Who decontaminates these sites?
The Environmental Protection Agency tries to charge the polluters or owners of polluted land for the clean-up. Taxpayer money is also available, but the EPA says that the private sector pays for 70 percent of all clean-up costs. The EPA says it does not go after individual residential homeowners on or near Superfund sites to pay.
So why would anyone oppose that?
Toll Brothers, which wants to build 447 apartments adjacent to the Gowanus, is in the midst of a lobbying blitz to block the Superfund. The developer says that Superfund designation forever stigmatizes a site and that the clean-up will take too long. Other developers and some construction unions are quietly wringing their hands as real-estate prospects shrivel up before their very eyes.
What’s Mayor Bloomberg’s beef?
He says that Superfund designation will discourage private investment in an area he wants to transform into a residential community. His office also says that EPA’s involvement will delay already formalized plans to improve conditions in the canal.
How do opponents counter that argument?
They say only the federal government has the manpower and resources to clean the canal from head to mouth and they’re skeptical that private developers, eager to make a buck, will aim for the highest levels of cleanliness.
So who’s right?
It’s unclear, but here’s some additional bits of persuasion: The average site that’s placed on the Superfund list isn’t fully clean for 13 years. And some clean-ups take much longer. The Hudson River near Albany, which is inflicted with PCBs from General Electric, was placed on the list in 1984 and won’t be clean until 2015 — at the earliest.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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