Clearing up some facts about Lightstone’s Gowanus agreement

The Carroll Street Bridge.

The Carroll Street Bridge.

On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it had reached an agreement with The Lightstone Group regarding remediation work on LSG’s 700-unit Gowanus development. The $20 million cleanup is needed to remove various contaminants in the soil, including petroleum from a gas plant that blew up in 1870 and kept the site off-limits for decades.

One reason you don’t see a lot written on the cleanup of the Gowanus: the process is absurdly wonky. The Record of Decision, which lays out the EPA’s findings and the plan for fixing the canal, is over 1,000 pages long if you include the appendices.

This turns off a lot of reporters, which is a shame, because it’s a topic that deserves to be understood. I tried to do this for my New York Times feature on Eymund Diegel, one of several residents invested in cleaning up the canal the right way.

The short version of EPA’s involvement: the $500 million cleanup, slated to be completed in 2022, will be funded by the 39 entities who were (or whose predecessors were) responsible for the canal’s sordid condition. The City of New York and gas conglomerate National Grid will foot the largest portions.

Lightstone had nothing to do with the current situation, and this agreement gives the developer protection from lawsuits relating to previously existing pollution. (This doesn’t extend to any future damage for which Lightstone might be responsible.) The EPA is not suing or penalizing Lightstone in any way.

The boat launch for the Gowanus Dredgers.

The boat launch for the Gowanus Dredgers.

The important distinction between federal and state oversight went missing in all of the articles I read. Federal Superfund only concerns water-bound pollution, not pollution on land; that falls to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), which operates the Brownfield Cleanup Program. Developers can receive tax breaks in return for (voluntarily, to some extent) addressing  issues with the soil.

Lightstone was already doing some cleanup of its toxic grounds; for weeks, neighbors complained of noxious odors that kept them up at night. The $20 million figure includes much of the cost Lightstone was likely already planning to spend. The EPA got involved because a failure to completely clean the soil could re-contaminate the canal.

The initial reaction I got from the residents with whom I spoke was positive. They’re thrilled in particular that the development will be subject to stricter federal standards and oversight. Each had some quibbles, and I trust they will submit their comments to the EPA before the October 8 deadline.

Here’s a line I had in my original draft for my Times piece:

… the various parties interviewed agreed that EPA has been transparent and open to suggestions, with Linda Mariano of FROGG labeling the agency “a gift to the community.”

The EPA has been doing great work in this neighborhood. Their approach is proceeding as planned, despite some disagreements with the city. It’s more than a little sad, then, when people writing about the situation get the story entirely wrong.

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Grand Army Plaza’s traffic is worse than usual today

Park Nope. No-Park Slope. Two nicknames tell you all you need to know about cars in this hypergentrified neighborhood: there are too many, and they suck up a lot of property value.

Last week, NYC DOT milled Prospect Park West, home to one of Brooklyn’s most popular bike lanes. Today, it began to repave some of the chewed-up pavement, closing the entire street in the process.

Grand Army Plaza PPW paving traffic - 09

For that preliminary activity, DOT funneled vehicles into a single lane, and traffic was pretty bad. Today, it’s insane. Looking down Flatbush Avenue toward downtown Brooklyn from Grand Army Plaza, there’s a row of cars as far as the eye can see.

Click for more traffic porn >>

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A Butterfly Grows in Brooklyn

As I was walking home Wednesday evening, I came upon a rare sight: a caterpillar, dead center in the sidewalk, just below eye level.

Climbing caterpillar 1

Unfortunately, the little guy didn’t want to stand still for my photos – he was too busy making his way up his own silk. I’d guess he was climbing at about a foot a minute.

Climbing caterpillar 2

I soon realized a video might work better. Here he is, now safely above my head, wriggling and writhing his way toward the sky.

About 30 seconds after I stopped, a gentleman a few years younger than I also paused to marvel at the unique sight.

“That’s gonna turn into a beautiful butterfly,” he said after a few seconds of silence, before carrying on.

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Running Brooklyn: Marine Park

Marine Park run routeLast week, I took you on a running tour of Gerritsen Beach – but I left you hanging. The second half of that jaunt was through Marine Park, Brooklyn’s largest park, just to the east.

530 of Marine Park’s 798 acres are “Forever Wild” space, meant to protect the natural habitats of countless species. The main area of interest here is the salt marsh formed by the Gerritsen Creek.

And those 798 remaining acres are paltry when you learn over 1,000 acres were transferred to the National Park Service’s Gateway National Recreation Area in 1972.

Running Brooklyn Marine Park - 01Running Brooklyn Marine Park - 02

You might recall that to access Marine Park from the south, I had to go through a beach along Plumb Beach Channel. As it turns out, the sand never ends – only a few paths are paved, and most of those have been left to the weeds. Click to continue the run >>

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The “Secret Service” litmus test to anti-bike screeds

Last night, the Washington Post printed a piece called Bicyclist bullies try to rule the road in D.C. It’s a boilerplate example of the bikelash genre: driven more by feeling and fear than by fact, rife with internal inconsistencies and name-calling.

Unsurprisingly, it’s doing very well in terms of clicks, with 517 comments and counting as of now. As I’ve written about in depth, the New Journalism trades quality content for eyeballs.

I’ll leave it to others to debunk the blatant mistruths underpinning the piece and to speculate on columnist Courtland Milloy’s motivations for writing it. What concerns me most is the call to physical violence against cyclists.

In which I make a linguistic proposal >>

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Running Brooklyn: Gerritsen Beach

Before we get to a photo essay of a run through Brooklyn’s Most Patriotic Neighborhood™, allow me to share a long-overdue video: my second contribution to On the Run for the Brooklyn Half.

Last year, you might recall, I took host Karla Bruning to Dumbo, Vinegar Hill, Fort Greene, and Grand Army Plaza. This time around, I shared the history of Green-Wood Cemetery (cut here, unfortunately), Ocean Parkway, and a few spots on Coney Island, including Totonno’s, my favorite pizzeria in the city.

OK, on to the good stuff: Gerritsen Beach. Let’s go for a run >>

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What I learned at the Department of Buildings

Earlier in June, I wrote for The Wall Street Journal about the demolition of the Kentile Floors sign. Scaffolding had appeared in front of it, and another blogger had discovered that the Department of Buildings had issued permits for removal of a rooftop object.

What no one knew, however, was what the owner was allowed to do. The permit referred to an illustration, but none appeared on the virtual filing. My research would require a field trip.

The next morning, I went to DOB’s Brooklyn office near Borough Hall to locate the visuals. For some reason, I thought I could waltz into a huge government complex right at 8:30 if I showed up right on time. I was wrong; there was a huge line out front, one that snaked around the columns of the building.

Read about what I learned >>

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