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'Toxic Sludge' Developer Owes Up to $20M for Environmental Violations

By Alan Neuhauser | December 11, 2012 7:22am

RED HOOK — The Brooklyn developer and concrete tycoon who hopes to expand his Red Hook shipping terminal with toxic landfill owes the state tens of thousands of dollars in fines for illegally dumping into Gowanus Bay.

Records show the amount John Quadrozzi is on the hook for could be as much as $20 million.

Quadrozzi, the owner of Gowanus Bay Terminal and the 46-acre Gowanus Industrial Park in Red Hook, left a large pile of potentially contaminated fill on a broken pier near the bay in May 2006, according to court documents provided by the state's Department of Environmental Conservation.

The fill, comprised of dirt and other unknown materials, washed into the water during high tide shortly afterward. The pollution "compromised the ecology of the shoreline," the DEC said in an email to DNAinfo.com New York.

"Since the origin and composition of the material is unknown, it is…possible (not certain) that the material contained chemical constituents that would…not be acceptable in tidal waters," a DEC attorney wrote.

"The environmental consequences may have included... the clouding of waterways and interfering with the habitat of living things that depend on those waters."

The DEC ordered Gowanus Industrial Park to pay the state $60,000 in civil penalties in May 2007, an amount that was to be submitted in 10 monthly installments through 2008. The company has yet to pay $45,000 of that original fine.

The DEC also directed GIP to remove an 18-foot-tall, 200-foot-long corrugated metal fence it had installed without permission between Henry Street Basin and the Red Hook Recreation Area, which effectively walled-off the area's waterfront views.

Quadrozzi and his company ultimately fought both orders and submitted only the first three payments totaling $15,000, according to the DEC.

They also left the fence in place for more than a year, contending that it kept trespassers out of the terminal and "promote[d] the health of the people of the State of New York by preventing a spreading of dust" — a claim the DEC labeled "a stretch at best," according to court documents.

Quadrozzi and GIP eventually removed the fence in 2009, but only after an appeals court found their contentions against removing the fence "without merit."

The fines could multiply hundreds of times over. In 2008, the DEC filed suit seeking $10,500 for each day the remainder of the outstanding $60,000 fine has not been paid since May 23, 2007, plus an additional $10,000. To date, that amounts to nearly $20 million.

The fines, however, have not stopped Quadrozzi from seeking to expand the Gowanus Bay Terminal, located in Gowanus Industrial Park.

Earlier this year, he proposed that the Environmental Protection Agency take toxic sludge it plans to dredge from the Gowanus Canal Superfund site, ship it by barge to his terminal, convert it to landfill with a "concrete-like stabilizing substance," then allow him to dump it into the Gowanus Bay, the EPA and Quadrozzi's consultant, Phaedra Thomas, said in an interview last month.

Quadrozzi would use the fill to expand the terminal's pier, allowing it to berth larger, oceangoing ships, Thomas explained. He would also create more land above the water, which he could then rent to industrial tenants. Both developments would provide as many as 200 jobs to local residents, Thomas said.

The EPA confirmed last month that it is seriously considering the plan — one of many it said it is examining. The agency has not said whether or how Quadrozzi's prior environmental violations would affect its view of his proposal.

But, if approved, the plan could allow Quadrozzi to overcome local and state statutes that largely prohibit private landowners from reshaping New York City's shoreline, and make him the first person to do so since the 1700s.

The environmental concerns, however, are substantial, experts said — not only because of potential water pollution, but also because of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. The superstorm severely flooded low-lying areas of New York City, notably Red Hook which is largely comprised of landfill.

"I don't think that they could just willy-nilly push out into the harbor like that, because then you're making less room for the water, and it has to go somewhere else," said Robert Chant, an assistant professor of physical oceanography at Rutgers University.

"These kinds of things, one thing could affect another in ways that aren't completely obvious initially."

Thomas Angotti, a professor of urban planning and policy development at Hunter College, said he agreed.

"So much of the problem we are facing now is due to excessive landfilling and contamination of the waterways. One of the key tasks we face is restoration of the ecosystem and redesign of the waterfront to protect both human and natural habitats," he wrote in an email.

"Our port facilities need to be protected and expanded, but not at the expense of environmental justice."

Quadrozzi said he was unaware of the fines.