Tag Archives: Brooklyn

Gowanus Canal Designated a Superfund Site

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today declared Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal a Superfund site over the city’s objections and after considering the designation for almost a year.

On a morning conference call with reporters, EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck announced that after holding over 50 meetings with city officials, community leaders and other interested parties, and receiving roughly 1300 public comments, the agency had decided to add the Canal to its National Priorities List (known as the Superfund program).

“We have determined that it is the most efficient and comprehensive cleanup,” Enck said.

The Gowanus Canal, which was built in the 1860s, has long been a heavily polluted industrial waterway, lined by coal manufactured gas plants, oil refineries, chemical plants, paint and ink factories, tanneries, cement makers and machine shops. Dangerous chemicals, coal tar sludge, pesticides, PCBs, and heavy metals are found in abundance in its sediment. Raw sewage and an oily sheen can be seen on its surface.

Superfund gives a federal mandate to the EPA to hold polluters accountable to pay for the cost of the cleanup. The EPA estimates that cleaning the contamination of the Gowanus Canal will cost approximately $300 to $500 million, and could take 10-12 years. Many Superfund sites have taken decades to clean up, due to years of litigation by companies defending against potential responsibility.

“The is not going to happen overnight,” Enck said, but added that it took decades for the Canal to become polluted so a cleanup that lasts one should be reasonable.

The debate in the neighborhood over whether to give the Canal Superfund status had been contentious. The Bloomberg administration had opposed the Superfund designation, claiming it would take too long and drive developers away. The city had instead proposed its own cleanup plan, which it said would not have taken as long due to voluntary agreements with past polluters to cover costs. In addition, it would have utilized funds from the federal Water Resources Development Act. Enck said her agency had concluded that not enough money would be available to take this path. She said there were limited funds available under WRDA and too much uncertainty in requiring annual Congressional approval of federal money.

Walter Mugdan, the Superfund director for the region, said that an agreement has already been reached with one of the potentially responsible parties (PRPs), National Grid, the successor company to Brooklyn Union Gas, which owned three manufactured gas plants along the Canal. Other PRPs include the City of New York, the U.S. Navy, Con Ed, Chemtura Corporation, Rapid American Corporation, Brinks, Beazer East, and Cibro Petroleum Products, with others to be identified in the coming months.

Enck also addressed the suggestion in recent weeks that development would be impeded by the Superfund listing. Pro-development and business groups have claimed that developers with sites within 3,000 feet of the Canal would have difficulty securing private financing and obtaining HUD and FHA-insured loans due to the stigma of a listing. “Unfortunately, there is already a stigma there,” she said. “I reject this as a reason why development can’t move forward.”

The EPA’s announcement clears the way for the next stage of the process to begin. The EPA says it hopes to complete a Remedial Investigation and an Ecological and Risk Assessment by the end of the year.

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NYPD accused of racial profiling — by other members of the NYPD!

Most of the time, when we think of racial profiling, we think of an incident in which white cops stop (and-frisk, search, or at times do something worse to) a black or Latino individual. The usual back-and-forth ensues: the victim claims he was racially profiled, and the NYPD says that its officers don’t engage in racial profiling.

Therefore it was fascinating to see a story in the Daily News this past week in which those charging the NYPD with bias—were themselves members of NYC’s Finest.

Three hate crime task force detectives — two black, one Pakistani — were going to door-to-door in the predominantly white Gravesend section of Brooklyn as they investigated a possible hate crime. The three, Faisal Khan, Stephon Garland, and Gregory Wilson were wearing suits at the time.

Next thing they know, according to the report, about 15 members of the Shomrim Jewish Community Patrol show up accusing them of impersonating police officers. Of course, the detectives dispute this. The situation escalates and eventually officers from the 61st Precinct arrive and demand to see the detectives’ identification.

The Daily News reports that a tense profanity-laced argument followed between the detectives and the white uniformed officers. This escalated into what almost became a physical fight and apparently both men had to be restrained.

In the end, Detective Garland felt “he was treated in a disrespectful manner because of the color of his skin,” the report states. Now the NYPD brass is investigating the confrontation to see if there were violations of department rules on either side.

Unfortunately, stories like this one echo other recent incidents, all of which would imply some sort of racial profiling going on, if at the least, sub-conscious on the part of the white officers:

The question remains: are plainclothes or off-duty officers and detectives of color subject to racial profiling? As Daily News’ Columnist Errol Louis has noted, you never see the headline ‘Black cop shoots white cop.’

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Bloomberg’s Approach to Job Centers Seen As Successful, Despite Criticism

By Kieran K. Meadows

Dozens of jobseekers sized up the others seated in the packed waiting room of the city’s job training center in Brooklyn one recent Friday morning. Fifty people waited to see counselors, attend workshops and improve resumes. The bright blue walls and fancy logos offered a sense of a hope that, despite the city’s highest unemployment rate in 16 years, this center would connect them to a job.

With changes to the job placement system over the last six years, they might have a better chance than ever before.

“The focus has actually changed now,” said John Maul, the coordinator at the Brooklyn Workforce1 Center, one of the job development hubs found in each borough. “It’s more like, ‘Go out and find the companies and what their needs are, and then find the people to fill those. It’s a different perspective,” he said.

The workforce centers are the frontlines in a city that faces the most severe downturn in years. Job losses continue to mount; the jobless rate jumped to 10.3 percent in September and forecasts say it’s not likely to peak for at least another year.

It is against this bleak backdrop that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s overhaul of job development centers is being put to the test. Despite critics who say he hasn’t done enough, the mayor’s emphasis on building strong relationships with businesses that do the hiring—stressing placement over training—is seen as the reason for the overhaul’s success.

The change in focus was long overdue, according to David J. Fischer, the project director for workforce development and social policy at the Center for an Urban Future. “It’s crucial to get employers on board,” Fischer said. The mayor’s shift in focus “has been very good. It was absolutely the right decision,” he said.

Fischer believes that while Mayor Bloomberg deserves credit, it may be more because he overhauled a system that none of his predecessors took seriously.

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Red Hook’s “Bermuda” Triangle

By Kieran K. Meadows

An old woman pushed her walker out in front of her one morning in late March as she began to cross Wolcott Street in Brooklyn. She stopped abruptly not far from the sidewalk. A gray sedan made a sharp left turn in front of her from Dwight Street, flying past the “no left turn” sign posted above the stop sign on the corner, and coming within a few feet of hitting the woman.

A week earlier, in the same spot, Millie Otero, who lives across the street, stood on the corner and watched a police squad car make the same move.

“They’re not supposed to do it, but they do it too,” she said.

Local residents say this intersection in the center of Red Hook has been dangerous for years. An increase in traffic headed to and from the Ikea furniture store, which opened last year, and the Fairway supermarket, has only added to the danger. Neighbors say they have seen near-accidents here almost every day. People have been injured but no one has been killed at the intersection in the past five years, according to the city Department of Transportation.

The intersection is not of the classic 4-way variety. Instead, where the four streets—Lorraine, Wolcott, Otsego and Dwight—meet forms a 50-foot long triangular island, with multiple intersections in close proximity to one another. There is no traffic signal at the intersection, apparently because the “Bermuda” triangle is privately owned.
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“Justice Center a Success, But Budget Cuts Loom” – in the Brooklyn Rail

Been busy as usual, juggling many stories… but I wanted to direct your attention to a print piece I did for the Brooklyn Rail about the Red Hook Community Justice Center: “Justice Center a Success, But Budget Cuts Loom” — Hope you enjoy the story.

Desiree Pardo strolled into the courtroom six months after she was arrested for possession of a small amount of crack cocaine with a reason to be happy. She had struggled with drug addiction for 17 years, but this morning she had tested negative for all substances. Three large windows let sunlight illuminate the clean white walls of the small courtroom. Pardo sat in the second row of polished wooden benches and maneuvered to get a good view of the judge. “This man is a good man,” she said. “He gave me a chance.”

The 38-year-old Pardo had been attending a court-monitored drug-counseling program five days a week in the same building as the court.

Her success story is one of many at the Red Hook Community Justice Center, which was developed in response to high crime rates and soaring unemployment in the isolated Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1980s and 90s. The center housed the first multi-jurisdictional court in the nation; a single judge, Alex M. Calabrese, hears criminal, civil, and family matters. Because it is a problem-solving court, Judge Calabrese has a variety of sentencing tools at his disposal aside from jail time—including on-site social services and programs. Sentences often incorporate substance abuse treatment, counseling, and education. In addition, many offenders must perform community service as a means of reparation to the community that was harmed by their actions.

Now with the downturn in the economy affecting the state’s budget, the center has begun to feel the squeeze.

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Red Hook Residents Say Big-Box Stores Broke Job Promises

By Kieran K. Meadows

Red Hook residents were deeply divided eight years ago over the building of a large Fairway supermarket on the waterfront. Proponents said it would bring jobs. Opponents said it would be the beginning of the end of the historic waterfront and would bring tons of traffic to quiet streets.

A similar battle erupted four years ago when the Swedish furniture giant Ikea eyed a 340,000 square former shipyard down the street. The argument came down to economic development and the promise of jobs, versus environmental concerns and neighborhood preservation.

“The people in here, in the projects, everybody wanted Ikea to come here, cause they wanted jobs,” said Alisa Pizarro, an 18 year resident of the Red Hook Houses, a public housing project just blocks from the store. “They said they’d give us jobs so we’d say, ‘Yeah come to the neighborhood.’ ”

More than six months after Ikea opened and four years after Fairway, some residents say that the promises of jobs for local residents—pledges that Fairway and Ikea made central to their case for building the giant big-box stores along the Red Hook waterfront—have been broken.

While some local jobseekers were hired, the residents say the stores let many go in favor of people from outside the community. This situation has only served to exacerbate the unemployment dilemna in Red Hook, particularly in the Houses, the largest public housing project in Brooklyn.

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In Contentious Vote, City Council Approves Speaker’s Choice For Clerk

By Kieran K. Meadows

The City Council approved Speaker Christine Quinn’s (D-Manhattan) appointment of Michael McSweeney to the position of city clerk on Thursday, by a 32-16 vote. McSweeney, of Queens, has been the acting city clerk since the fall.

The vote was contentious—all but one member of the Council’s Brooklyn delegation voted no. They were joined by one Council member from the Bronx. The outcome exposed the ongoing conflict between borough delegations, but particularly between Brooklyn and the speaker.

Brooklyn Democratic Chair and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, along with Bronx Democratic Chair and Assemblyman Carl Heastie, had hoped to postpone the vote. They had been hoping to work out an agreement with the speaker regarding the city clerk position at a later date.

McSweeney is a former aide of Queens County Democratic Chair and U.S. Representative Joseph Crowley. Although Brooklyn has the largest delegation in the council, Quinn became speaker in 2006 by putting together a coalition between Manhattan and Queens. By giving the city clerk position to a Queens resident, the speaker is likely politically paying back the borough for its support.

The city clerk appoints the deputy city clerks in each borough, and they control a number of jobs. The clerk’s salary is also a handsome $185,700 – a nice reward for a loyal party player.

“When you deal with patronage, it’s a plum spot, because those are appointed jobs,” said Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island), as he stood in the lobby of City Hall before the vote. “It’s been said that that is the mother’s milk of politics, and quite frankly, it’s in full effect right here. There’s tons of meetings with the speaker, with the county [party] leaders in trying to come to an agreement on who will be the next city clerk.”

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