Newtown Creek advocates say city is misguided in cleanup project
by Andrew Shilling
Feb 26, 2014 | 3815 views | 0 0 comments | 152 152 recommendations | email to a friend | print
While the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) plans to expand their current aeration project in Newtown Creek in an effort to raise oxygen levels to meet Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) standards, some say the plan is nothing more than a band-aid on a devastating wound.

Although it has been just a few years since the city launched the pilot for the aeration project in English Kills, the Newtown Creek Alliance (NCA) says they plan to advocate for an entirely different approach and oppose expansion of the plan over the next three years.

NCA secretary Michael Heimbinder says the city’s plan should be looking at solutions for combined sewage overflows (CSOs), something he says is the real problem with pollution in Newtown Creek.

“You’re just blowing bubbles into filthy water,” Heimbinder said. “If the only thing you’re trying to do is improve dissolved oxygen levels, then yes, that will work. But will it fix the problem? No.”

Heimbinder says the real focus should be looking at ways to reduce CSOs in the creek, something he expects is a solution that is just too expensive. CSOs occur during heavy rain events that cause raw sewage water from the surrounding communities to flow directly into the creek.

“They’re not looking at the big picture,” he said. “They’re looking at, 'What’s the cheapest way to meet the standards?’ And this is the cheapest way to do that.”

The aeration project has an estimated cost at roughly $115 million, however the NCA is looking towards the future dredging plans that would require dismantling the system for a deep clean and capping of the creek.

Heimbinder explained that implementation of an expansive aeration system would ultimately be dismantled in the event that the creek is dredged in the near future, similar to dredging plans at the Gowanus Canal.

“Why bother putting all that back in when conceivably, in years from now, you’ll have to take it out,” he asked.

Like the project in the Gowanus, the NCA noted that the city should look into ways of implementing a scaled-down approach to the aeration process as well as green infrastructure projects like storage tanks, permial pavement or green roofs.

“There are better ways to address CSOs than just flowing air into the creek,” Heimbinder added.

The DEP responded to claims from the NCA, stating that the, “DEP has already built a Green Infrastructure Demonstration Area in the Newtown Creek.”

“DEP will begin constructing hundreds of additional green infrastructure installations in the Newtown Creek drainage area this year,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also cited a $335 million bioswale installation project in the watershed in order to prevent more than 1 million gallons of storm water from reaching the combined sewer system every year.

Community Board 5 Queens chair Vincent Arcuri said while he is confident in the sewage plants in Greenpoint, he is however unsure of the city’s plan to aerate the creek.

“I don’t know if they’ve looked at the big picture, and we need to tackle the big picture,” Arcuri said. “We have the most advanced sewage treatment plants in the whole world over in Greenpoint.”

Arcuri said his main disapproval for the aeration project is the vacant property slated for a city-operated control facility along the creek to monitor the project.

“The land that they’re suing to put the facility on could be used for something better,” he said. “You can’t just throw another government plan into something that could be used for private development. We need jobs. We don’t need more government development.”

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