Tide Turns for Newtown Polluters
by Jeffrey Harmatz
Nov 13, 2008 | 2553 views | 0 0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Sixty days after Riverkeeper and Councilman Eric Gioia filed an intent to sue New York Concrete for dumping industrial waste into Newtown Creek, the State Department of Environmental Conservation has pressed charges against the company.

The charges, which are based on the company’s alleged dumping of gravel and concrete into the polluted canal, may result in more than $100,000 in fines.

The DEC filed a complaint against NYCON Supply Corporation that alleges 23 separate causes of action against the company based on violations of the New York State Environmental Conservation Law.

The complaints filed by both DEC and Riverkeeper allege that NYCON has been illegally discharging liquid concrete, cement-laden runoff, gravel, and other pollutants from their bulkhead along the Dutch Kills section of Newtown Creek.

The cement, gravel, and other waste materials have formed concrete and gravel beaches along the bulkhead. The water near NYCON has turned white and, according to Riverkeeper’s tests, has a similar base level to bleach, which all but ensures that life will be unable to thrive in the waterway.

The DEC’s complaint draws heavily from an investigation conducted by Riverkeeper, a New York-based environmental watchdog organization. In August, investigators from Riverkeeper revealed their data on NYCON collected over a two-year period, and filed an intent to sue. Since DEC has picked up their complaint, Riverkeeper investigator Craig Michaels indicated that his group will not be filing a lawsuit, but reserves the right to do so in the future.

Due to its history as an industrial waterway serving Greenpoint and Long Island City, Newtown Creek has become one of the most polluted waterways in the city. As the areas near the creek have been residentially developed over the last decade, a concerted effort has been made by both government agencies and community organizations to improve conditions in the creek, including Federal Superfund studies and a number of lawsuits related to contamination in the area. Riverkeeper views the DEC’s action as another indication of positive change for Newtown Creek.

“We want to applaud the efforts of the DEC. It represents a swift and decisive enforcement action,” said Michaels, who described the move as a “big deal.”

“Companies might have been free to dump in Newtown Creek yesterday, but today they are going to pay,” he added. “There is a real tide turning towards enforcement around the creek.”

“Newtown Creek has for years been the forgotten waterway of New York City, and polluters have taken advantage by dumping at will. We’re finally seeing the enforcement of environmental laws that we have been seeking,” said Councilman Eric Gioia. “This is more than just a case against NYCON. It’s sending a message to polluters that the days when you could dump with impunity in Newtown Creek are over.”

Newtown Creek and the neighborhoods that surround it have been the focus of several government and public clean-up initiatives. Riverkeeper and a number of residents are currently involved in several lawsuits in connection with a large oil plume that has spread into residential areas of Greenpoint, and the federal government has committed to studying the area under the Superfund program, which will rank Newtown Creek alongside other ecological sites in need of immediate assistance.

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s office is also prosecuting a Brooklyn-based construction supply company for similar discharge violations.

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