There is an estimated 30 million gallons of oil in and around the creek, as well as combined sewer overflows that deposit raw sewage into the waterway following heavy rainfall.
Various agencies from the city to the federal level, including the city's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), have been working on steps to clean up Newtown Creek
DEP representatives often approach the community when acquiring properties along the creek for remediation measures to get input from community boards and legislators in a supposedly open process with give and take.
But in a letter to Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd, through her Associate Commissioner Eric Landau, showed anything but an open-minded approach.
Responding to a letter from Nolan inquiring about open space for the community on property DEP acquired on 47th Avenue just west of Grand Avenue for an aeration facility, the agency refused the community's request.
The property, which is approximately 250 by 300 feet, could be an outstanding soccer field or home to a boat club or both. Two organizations are ready to adopt the site and have funding and interest.
The aeration facility, which will pump oxygen into the polluted creek, will be in a small building next to the creek, leaving 85 percent of the lot vacant.
Representatives from DEP attended several meetings with both the community and local legislators, including Borough President Melinda Katz. There was a nearly unanimous agreement from those meetings that the project should include open space for a community organization or an environmental group.
Instead, DEP wants to install a few benches and a big fence around the property to deny access.
The letter to Nolan explains how DEP will "improve the site with waterfront access when neighboring sites provide publicly accessible waterfront spaces."
If you know anything about that area, it is doubtful nearby properties will ever provide “publicly accessible” space, so there is no chance that DEP will, in turn, ever provide waterfront access.
DEP says it is designing the property with community input, but that is simply not true.
Community Board 5 approved the DEP's acquisition and development of the site with the condition that vacant space on the lot include public access and community uses. However, it appears the “approval” from the board is the only thing DEP cared about. The conditions can now be ignored because the board approved it.
Is that the case with the legislators' “approval with conditions”? The project was approved because pumping oxygen into the creek provides an environmental benefit, but what a waste of open space.
The supercilious attitude DEP and its commissioner have taken toward the community, this project, and the legislators is evident in the letter to Nolan when it advises the assemblywoman to call the department's legislative affairs representative with questions and concerns instead of directly contacting the commissioner.
Now that's a slap in the face.