A $10MM facelift ahead for Newtown Creek - UPDATED

UPDATE (11/18/2010): Bloomberg Businessweek has just reported that Exxon will be paying $25MM for the cleanup of the oil spill in the surrounding soil. Combined with the $10MM in Superfunds, this brings the total cleanup assistance to $35MM.

Additionally, there are two unresolved class-action suits that could pay out as much as $58B to Greenpoint residents who have been affected by the spill.

Photo: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

Many Queens residents probably don't know that our borough's southern border, Newtown Creek, was site of the second largest oil spill in America's history.

The spill, discovered in 1978, is second only in size to the recent Gulf spill and possibly three times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989. Research indicated that the spill was the direct result of leakage from the (approximately fifty) decommissioned oil refineries that lined the creek during the late 1800s.

The first of which, Astral Oil Works, was our country's first oil refinery. Entrepreneur and future oil tycoon, Charles Pratt built his refinery on the banks of Newtown Creek in 1867 and quickly aligned with John D. Rockefeller as part of the Standard Oil organization in 1874. Later, Pratt used proceeds from this venture to found and endow New York's Pratt Institute.

According to the reports, the oil spill dumped up to 30MM gallons of oil and petroleum products into the water and is believed to have lasted for decades before an oil plume was noticed in 1978 by a Coast Guard helicopter.

Photo: Thirteen.org

Since then, the spill, combined with runoff from the nearby wastewater treatment plant, has lead to a reported 0% oxygen level in the water (isn't "O" a critical part of H20? So what is that muck flowing into the East River?) The EPA estimates that 40-80% of the product remains in the water and surrounding soil--encompassing approximately 55-acres throughout northern Brooklyn (an area the size of Tribeca).

In July of 2008, Representatives Nydia Velázquez and Anthony Weiner, along with (then) Sen. Hillary Clinton, invited the EPA to conduct official contamination tests of the creek. This investigation led to the designation of the area as eligible for the EPA's Superfund program--federal government program established in 1982 to clean up the nation's uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.

Now it appears their efforts are becoming a reality as the waterfront neighborhood has been awarded $10MM by the City for environmental benefit projects--$7MM of which must be used for waterfront improvement within one half-mile of the treatment plant. Now, with this money in hand, what will they do with it?

Meanwhile, here in Queens, the environmental group, Green Shores NYC continue to host a series of community discussion about the future of our Queens waterfront.

For more on the history and status of Newtown Creek, check out this fantastic piece from by Thirteen.org:

The City Concealed: Newtown Creek from Thirteen.org on Vimeo.

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