Part 11


EPA, NYC brace for grueling cleanups of 2 industrial waterways

NEW YORK -- Floating garbage and oil slicks run the 2-mile length of Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal.

From an industrial area on its southern reaches to residential areas in the north, the canal has long been an eyesore and a nuisance for its neighbors who fear that just sniffing its fumes can make them sick.

Farther north, on the Brooklyn-Queens borough line, Newtown Creek is also in lousy shape. Fouled by chemicals and wastewater, the creek -- a branch of the East River -- was a booming port during World War II and is still home to refineries, cement factories and scrap-metal processing plants.

After being all but ignored by local and state agencies for decades, the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek are now poised to become two of the nation's most expensive and politically charged cleanup projects. Scrubbing more than 150 years of industrial pollution in the Gowanus could cost up to $500 million, with Newtown Creek -- which is more industrialized and a mile-and-a-half longer than the Gowanus -- expected to cost still more.

"It's very interesting that we got these two big urban waterway projects going on almost at the same time," said Judith Enck, the administrator of U.S. EPA's Region 2 office in New York.

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About This Report

E&E New York bureau chief Nathanial Gronewold examines the city’s multifront battle to improve energy efficiency, reduce pollution and rebuild crumbling infrastructure.


Previous Installments


NYC tries 'rapid' buses in bid to cut transit costs

NEW YORK -- The city's much-maligned bus system is getting a face-lift. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) surprised commuters on Manhattan's East Side last fall by launching shiny stretch coaches to replace old grimy buses on the route that links the island's southern tip to East Harlem. The new buses cruise 90 percent of the route in a new "bus only" lane marked by signs warning motorists that they face $115 fines for parking or driving in the path. The M15 Select Bus Service (SBS) is New York City's version of "bus rapid transit," a Latin American innovation that's being copied around the world. The Manhattan route runs along 1st and 2nd avenues and was first seen as a stopgap measure until a new subway line could be completed, but the city's Department of Transportation says the service is likely here to stay.


NYC reclamation effort gets off to slow start

NEW YORK -- The city this summer enthusiastically rolled out what its promoters say is the nation's only municipally led brownfield cleanup program. But few developers have jumped to participate in the effort to reclaim abandoned industrial and commercial property. Daniel Walsh, who directs the city's new Office of Environmental Remediation (OER), isn't fretting about the program's slow start, saying it is only natural that a pioneering effort would require upfront time and work.


NYC proposes $1.5B in 'green infrastructure' for scrubbing stormwater

NEW YORK -- Environmental regulators are proposing an unconventional approach to curbing discharges of polluted stormwater that foul the city's waterways. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection introduced a $1.5 billion plan last week for developing "green infrastructure" over the next two decades to capture and store rainwater before it overwhelms sewage treatment plants. The plan's boosters see the effort replacing some concrete with trees and grasses, forcing developers to incorporate green spaces and permeable pavement in their projects and encouraging city residents to use rain barrels to collect and treat stormwater.


An urban jungle grows wild as it greens

NEW YORK -- Brooklynites were fond of feeding the geese that made their home in Prospect Park. So when city officials rounded up and slaughtered more than 400 of the birds three weeks ago, there was an outcry of anger from the community and activists. "The recent cull at Prospect Park included nearly 100 percent of the geese in that area; essentially, this population was managed into extinction," the New York City Audubon Society said in a complaint letter. "NYC Audubon strongly disagrees with that decision."


U.S. green revolution knocks, but few answer in South Bronx

NEW YORK -- Politicians and environmentalists paint pretty pictures of a U.S. green-energy future with shiny electric cars, gleaming solar panels and whirring wind turbines. But the future starts on a gritty South Bronx street where Jose Pichardo is going house-to-house in suffocating heat and humidity to make a pitch for energy efficiency. Pichardo, 34, and a dozen or so other trainees in the nonprofit Sustainable South Bronx weatherization program are making the rounds of the Hunts Point neighborhood.


Tough energy, water standards pay off for NYC neighborhood

NEW YORK -- A Lower Manhattan neighborhood built on an environmentally incorrect landfill in the Hudson River is fast becoming the home of one of the nation's greenest residential communities. Battery Park City -- which has 12,000 or so residents and the World Financial District -- was built over the past 40 years on 92 acres of dirt excavated from the World Trade Center construction and sand dredged from the harbor.


Pedestrians, bicyclists spar for space in NYC's new no-car zones

NEW YORK -- Against all odds, this notoriously congested city is getting motor vehicles off the street. Two years ago, lawmakers in Albany thwarted New York City's attempt to bring London-style congestion pricing into its central business district. Now officials here are taking a different approach: They are banning cars from certain parts of the city. Since the defeat of the congestion-toll plan, the city has replaced a large number of on-street parking spots with hundreds of miles of bicycle lanes while rerouting traffic across town.


NYC ecologists shrug as much-hyped rooftop plantings fail to take root

NEW YORK -- Science teacher Howard Waldman gushes at flowering plants covering the Fieldston Middle School's roof. But the greenscape in the sky that Waldman envisions is not coming anytime soon. Green roofs remain rare here two years after passage of a state law that offered a tax credit of up to $100,000 for planting heat- and stormwater-absorbing rooftop plants, trees and grasses.


NYC begins hard, long slog to energy efficiency

NEW YORK -- Rising from the shopping and dining district just south of Columbus Circle, Hearst Tower is famous as one of this city's best known architectural anomalies. The first skyscraper project to break ground after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the 46-story glass and steel polygon rises from within the facade of the original 1928 Hearst Corp. headquarters. This coupling of old and new is deliberate, to appease the city's historic preservation authorities while still consolidating the company's scattered offices into a centralized location.

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