Sandy causes Newtown Creek to overflow its banks onto Greenpoint
by Kathleen Lees
Oct 30, 2012 | 6254 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hurricane Sandy caused heavy flooding in certain parts of Brooklyn and Greenpoint took the brunt of its destruction. Some worry that the toxins in the creek from the oil spill a generation ago might just be an ignored result.

Kate Zidar, executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance, said that the storm Monday night overwhelmed the streets of Greenpoint, flooding homes and companies in the area. Some locations along the Newtown Creek in Queens, according to Zidar, such as Ridgewood and Dutch Kills also experienced flooding.

While Zidar said the worst is over and flooding is going down, there are still many lingering questions about what the coming days will bring for the area. “At the end of the storm, my question is what is the plan for Newtown Creek?” Zidar said. “We're at the table ready to work with anyone who wants to work on this.”

As for now, Zidar said the alliance is doing all they can to help out businesses and residents affected in the designated areas. “I am looking for a company that did not experience flooding in Greenpoint last night, and I have not found one,” she said.

Along Manhattan Ave., residents said water came close to four feet above the sidewalk, with high problem areas at Java Street and McGuinness Boulevard. Sewers were also backed up, and locals were seen pumping water and more from their basements (pictured left). One man who lives on McGuinness Blvd. at Java Street said the water pooled on his corner and it was coming from all sides. That spot is almost six blocks from the creek, but just a block from the water treatment plant and is a low point in Greenpoint. He was pumping more than four feet of water from his basement Tuesday afternoon.

Williamsburg also experienced some of the flooding.

Though currently dry, Williamsburg resident Chelsea Arnold said her apartment on Kent Street had experienced heavy flooding on the lower level as of Monday night and was currently in the clean-up process today. “I just stayed inside and tried to wait it out,” said Arnold, whose work was canceled due to the bad weather.

In addition to flooding, Arnold said various areas lost power in both Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Though Arnold said she was worried Con-Ed was going to cut her services, she admitted “we got lucky.”

On Friday, representatives from the Newtown Creek Alliance said that not enough is being done. They released a statement stating, in part "... The industrial zone along the creek is home to dozens of brownfield sites, toxic release inventory sites, state superfund sites and known groundwater plumes of oil and solvents. The creek itself is a Federal Superfund site currently being extensively sampled and analyzed by consultants working with the EPA.

The hard truth is we don’t fully understand nor are we fully prepared for the area-wide effects of flooding on contaminated sites and sites that store hazardous materials. This is true for Newtown Creek, and it is true for other Significant Maritime Industrial Areas throughout the city. After the flood, we observed oil sheens in the street and on the water, plus lots of gloopy material left behind in the flood plain. Gas stations, fuel depots, oil-based heating systems and parked vehicles were flooded. How can we even begin to attribute an oil sheen to its source?

Staff from EWVIDCO and the Maspeth Industrial Business Association put boots on the ground to check in with their waterfront business partners, providing support on accessing FEMA and filing insurance claims. Questions surrounding how to handle murky floodwaters were answered Thursday afternoon, when Governor Cuomo and then the NYC Department of Environmental Protection announced that regulations restricting water discharges would be temporarily suspended, allowing folks to pump out floodwater back to the creek. The NYSDEC and NYSDOH provided links about recovery from flooding and spill.

It’s simply not enough. We need to hear from our local EPA team that they are on the job and are looking at the composition of the floodwater and residue. We need to know what DEC Spill Response learned this week. We need to hear from waterfront businesses exactly where and how the flood moved. We need the message from our elected officials that Newtown Creek is an important resource that provides essential services in this city, and that the environmental vulnerability that we saw here during Sandy will be addressed. This is our backyard.

Never have environmental, economic and equity concerns been so clearly aligned for Newtown Creek and New York City. It will take equal parts planning, investment and leadership to better prepare for extreme weather and storm surge on Newtown Creek."

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