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Developer Seeks to Use Toxic Sludge as Landfill to Expand Brooklyn

By Alan Neuhauser | November 29, 2012 6:52am

RED HOOK — Brooklyn concrete magnate John Quadrozzi wants to take toxic sludge dredged from the Gowanus Canal Superfund site, ship it by barge to Red Hook and dump it into the Gowanus Bay to expand a shipping terminal he owns.

The proposal, discussed at a Brooklyn Community Board 6 committee meeting Monday night, would allow Quadrozzi's Gowanus Bay Terminal on Columbia Street to accommodate larger ocean-going ships by extending the terminal into deeper waters.

The plan would also create more land above water, adding to the property that Quadrozzi rents to industrial businesses.

"Like turning water into wine, the dredge sludge could be remediated and beneficially re-used locally as both a building material and in the creation of …future maritime economic development in Red Hook — a repeat of history of what once made Red Hook great," Quadrozzi wrote in an email.

Many questions — from who would pay for which parts of the project, to what exactly will be dredged from the canal, to where the sludge will be shipped, how it will be treated, and whether Quadrozzi can even legally expand his terminal — have not been addressed.

Quadrozzi declined to speak by phone and instead directed questions to a consultant, Phaedra Thomas.

Thomas, in a telephone interview, confirmed that Quadrozzi owns the Gowanus Bay Terminal, but did not know if he still owns Quadrozzi Concrete Corp., one of the state's largest concrete manufacturing companies.

Cleanup of the Gowanus Canal, she said, would involve dredging only the lowest-level contaminants, which would then be mixed with a "concrete-like…stabilizing material" that could safely be deposited in open water as landfill.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the canal's cleanup, declined to confirm any details about the project.

"A remedy will be selected in mid-2013. The details of the remedy would be determined after this time," spokesman John Martin wrote in an email.

Quadrozzi's proposal, he continued, is "one of several options that are currently being evaluated."

It is almost certainly the most unique option. If approved by the EPA, Quadrozzi's plan may be the first time in state history that a private landowner expands his property by simply creating more land.

"I've never heard of anybody in the private sector doing something like this," said John Fontillas, adjunct assistant professor of planning at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

"I'm just baffled by this."

Community Board 6 district manager Craig Hammerman agreed.

"I've never heard of something like this," he said. "I don't even know if it's possible."

Quadrozzi has much to gain by making history. With cleanup of the canal estimated to cost as much as $500 million — money the EPA says will come from companies it finds responsible for polluting the waterway — Quadrozzi could earn millions by simply contracting with the EPA to store the treated sludge.

Expanding the Gowanus Bay Terminal's shipping capacity and industrial space could prove just as lucrative.

"This is basically a golden opportunity, of course, for the property owner," Thomas said.

Previously, city or state agencies have prevented private businesses from changing the physical makeup of New York City's waterfront, either because the development plans violated existing regulations or because the permitting and approval process proved cost-prohibitive.

The canal's designation as a Superfund site, however, grants the EPA broad powers that could permit it to simply give Quadrozzi the green light to create more property at the Gowanus Bay Terminal with the sludge and money that the EPA, itself, would be providing.

Federal and local officials said they do not know which of those actions, if any, would require local approval.

"Our expectation in a situation like that is there would would be some kind of a forum where the proposal would be presented, understood, discussed, debated, and ultimately the community can form some consensus," Hammerman said.

With so many details remaining to be determined, Red Hook residents are reserving judgment. John McGettrick, head of the Red Hook Civic Association and Lou Sones, Community Board 6 member and head of Red Hook Groups Against Garbage, said the project could prove beneficial by providing more jobs for residents.

The plan, if approved, would provide 50 to 100 "immediate jobs" for residents, Thomas said, with hiring preference given to those in Red Hook.

Longer-term development from industry would create "at least 100" more jobs, Thomas said.

Quadrozzi has also pledged to create a floating maritime museum and community aboard a 500-foot ship that's docked at the terminal and advocate for the EPA to open a job training center in Red Hook, which it has done at other cleanup sites, Thomas said.

Nevertheless, environmental issues remain a chief concern. While transporting the sludge by barge would reduce potential truck traffic through the neighborhood, Red Hook was also once home to as many as 13 waste transfer stations — a history that makes residents wary of once again becoming New York's landfill.

"Will there be air emissions? How long would it be operational? There are numerous questions," McGettrick said.

"I think we need some hard answers."