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CurbedWire: Trump Soho Eyes Fall Debut, Toll Brothers Take On EPA in Gowanus

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SOHO?A tipster forwards along a snippet of a press release that boasts the equivalent of the meaning of life, the formula for cold fusion and the secret recipe for KFC all in one: a new targeted opening date for Trump Soho (since, uh, that whole spring thing didn't quite work out; photo at right via Curbed Photo Pool/SamBWilson). Kaboom: "The Trump Hotel Collection expanded its relationship with Middleton & Gendron, NewYork, by naming the agency to help introduce the Trump SoHo New York, scheduled to open in the fall." OK, so we meant opening season. We still tricked you into reading! [CurbedWire Inbox]

GOWANUS?As reported last week, developer Toll Brothers has threatened to abandon its mixed-use development plans along the Gowanus Canal if the EPA declares the canal a Superfund site, which would lead to a multi-year cleanup effort. Well, the Toll Brothers are now on an all-out offensive against the Superfund effort, putting out an epic press release with excerpts from a briefing paper prepared by the company's public policy consultants. It's all about how the EPA is going to ruin Gowanus's future by, uh, cleaning up the Gowanus Canal, and if you want to read it...

Superfund Designation is Wrong Way to Clean Up the Gowanus Canal

With No Funding and the Promise of Lengthy Litigation, Federal Involvement Will Only Diminish Property Values, Stunt Development and Muddy the Waters

Residents, civic organizations and businesses in the vicinity of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn are expressing grave concern regarding a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal to designate the Canal as a “Superfund” site and place it on the EPA’s National Priorities List. The neighborhood groups – which are committed to transforming the banks of the Gowanus Canal from vacant and underused land to a thriving residential community with a high proportion of affordable housing – contend that the protracted and contentious Superfund process will actually delay or halt City and State efforts currently underway to clean up the Canal. Moreover, a Superfund designation no longer provides actual cleanup money since no new funding has been allocated to the program for nearly two decades; EPA pays for any eventual cleanup by assessing massive fines against local businesses and property owners.

“Superfund” is the shorthand name for the U.S. Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), enacted by Congress in 1980 in response to an environmental disaster in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York, where members of hundreds of families fell gravely ill or suffered serious birth defects as a result of living, going to school and working on top of a 21,000-ton toxic dump. Superfund designation provides broad federal authority to clean up sites at which there are severe threats to health and habitation that are not being properly remediated by local authorities. However, clear and convincing evidence demonstrates that there is no appreciable risk to the health of workers or residents located adjacent to or within the blocks on either side of the Gowanus Canal. (A full report on the environmental conditions in and around the Canal is available to any journalist upon request; please see contact information above.)

There is no disagreement that the Gowanus Canal needs to be cleaned up, and on the fastest track possible. However, if the Canal is designated as a Superfund site, there will be devastating consequences for local property owners:

* Property values in the Gowanus area will plummet and critically-needed new economic development will be stalled indefinitely due to the stigma attached to a Superfund designation, even though the Gowanus Canal poses no known health risk to residents living on its banks. A Superfund designation reduces property values well beyond the diminished levels triggered by the contamination itself. This has been confirmed by no less an authority than the EPA.

* Property owners of contaminated sites along the Canal—even those who had nothing to do with contaminating the Canal—may be named as Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) who can be sued by the EPA (and other PRPs). Since there is no federal funding associated with a Superfund designation, these lawsuits are an attempt to win damages from community residents and businesses to pay for the cleanup, or to redistribute the legal burden among PRPs. These costly legal battles can take years to resolve, further complicating and delaying cleanup of the Canal.

* City and State efforts to clean up the Canal will be indefinitely suspended during the protracted Superfund process while the EPA identifies PRPs, determines potential remedies and pursues litigation. Many Superfund sites have remained on EPA’s National Priorities List for over 20 years without cleanup being completed.

Debra Scotto, who lives and works just blocks from the Gowanus Canal, said, “As a life-long resident of Carroll Gardens, a homeowner and business person in this community, a civic activist and member of the Community Board, I am outraged that my community will become stigmatized by an unwarranted Superfund designation. All our decades of hard work to sustain the character and value of our community will be destroyed by the stroke of a pen.”

The Gowanus Canal should not be mistaken for Love Canal. Substantial cleanup efforts of the Gowanus Canal and the land along its banks are already underway—efforts that could be delayed or halted upon the designation of the Canal as a Superfund site. In 2005, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYC DEP) agreed to create a plan to bring the Gowanus Canal into compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.

Cleaning up land along the Gowanus contaminated by former industrial uses is critical as well, but it is not part of the Superfund proposal—nor is the construction of new storm sewers beneath city streets to alleviate the problem of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), a primary source of contamination of the Canal. This important work is slated to be accomplished in connection with planned private development along the Canal, which will virtually cease as a result of the proposed Superfund designation.

The New York City Department of City Planning is currently engaged in an area-wide rezoning of the Gowanus neighborhood which would allow for new residential development along the Canal. In connection with this new development, private entities are taking on significant cleanup efforts at numerous sites bordering the Canal. Toll Brothers, for example, whose residential project already has won zoning approval, is committed to privately financing new infrastructure that will not be built if a Superfund designation is imposed. Toll’s plan is to separate the stormwater flow from the sanitary flow by installing new separate stormwater sewers in First and Second Streets, with new stormwater outfalls to the Gowanus Canal. These new stormwater sewers, to be built at Toll Brothers’ expense, would divert stormwater from the local combined sewer system, thereby reducing the impact of the project site on the local sewer system and improving local drainage conditions. The stormwater will be treated prior to discharge into the Canal.

However, with the designation of the Gowanus as a Superfund site, private entities will lose the incentive to develop and consequently to remediate the land along the Canal or create new infrastructure. A recent City Planning study of development in the vicinity of the Canal identified 68 separate projects, including residential, retail, medical, community, and commercial uses. These projects include approximately 5,275 new housing units—1,140 of which are planned as much-needed affordable housing for low-income families in the Gowanus area. It is anticipated that the majority of these projects will not go forward if the Gowanus Canal becomes a Superfund site. Thus, at a time of deep recession, the community and the city stand to lose over one thousand new units of affordable housing, thousands of construction-related and permanent jobs and a great deal of economic activity.

Shortly following reports that the EPA was contemplating designating the Canal as a Superfund site, The Gowanus Canal Conservancy was quoted as stating, “[We are] concerned whether the EPA’s proposed Superfund listing will have a chilling effect on currently planned clean-up efforts from local and state environmental agencies. We trust that the EPA’s involvement will not adversely affect plans for the Gowanus Canal Sponge Park. The Sponge Park is the Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s design for a public park and walkway running most of the length of the waterway. This offers to remediate many of the water and run-off issues. We are concerned for the residents and local artists who call the Gowanus neighborhood home and the disruption [that a Superfund designation] could cause to their everyday existence.”

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