GREENPOINT — More than a dozen projects received nearly $400,000 in grants to restore the Greenpoint waterfront, improve parks and open space and create environmental education programs, the first awards resulting from a settlement over the Greenpoint oil spill, officials announced Thursday.
The projects, which include improving the Newtown Creek shoreline and create a community compost site, represent just a fraction of $19.5 million allotted to the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund through the deal between New York State and Exxon Mobil.
“With this initial round of funding, we are investing in high-quality, locally led projects that will enhance open space, green neighborhoods, foster education and stewardship, and address other environmental improvement priorities of the community,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office is overseeing the fund, in a statement.
The grants were awarded more nearly four decades after the discovery of the Greenpoint oil spill, one of the largest in U.S. history. The leak was discovered in 1978, when Coast Guard patrolmen noticed a plume of oil in Newtown Creek, at the end of Meeker Avenue.
An investigation revealed that oil from the Exxon refinery on Henry Street, which closed in 1966, had seeped into the ground and water in Greenpoint for decades. Estimates of the spill’s volume range from 17 to 30 million gallons, far bigger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.
A study found 50 acres of land were contaminated, and although Exxon Mobil initiated some cleanup efforts in 1979, significant contamination persists today.
In 2007, New York state sued Exxon Mobil, arguing it was legally responsible for the spill’s full cleanup. In addition to creating the environmental fund to support environmental projects in Greenpoint, the settlement required Exxon Mobil to collect as much oil and contaminated groundwater as possible, and also pay for the state’s expenses in overseeing the cleanup.
The grants awarded Thursday mark the beginning of the fund’s use.
“The Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund’s small grant awards are a much-needed first step in reversing the long history of environmental abuse that the Greenpoint community has suffered,” said State Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, who represents North Brooklyn, in a statement.
The first round of small grants from the fund will pay for a variety of projects. The Newtown Creek Alliance will receive nearly $25,000 to develop a plan for transforming the end of North Henry Street into a public shoreline, Build It Green! NYC will receive $12,500 to investigate a community compost site, and the New York City Audubon Society will receive close to $25,000 to improve McGolrick Park.
Glenn Phillips, executive director of New York City Audobon, said the grant allows the organization to begin outreach work in Greenpoint that it had been unable to do in the past.
“McGolrick Park is a treasure in Greenpiont that is unappreciated,” he said. “We hope that by developing stewards of the park that we can not only make the park better for birds, we can make it better for people as well.”
Marcy Boyle, a third-generation lifelong Greenpoint resident and former Community Board member said she sees the grants as a significant step in raising awareness about the environmental issues in Greenpoint.
"We continue to have, if not the industries, the residual effects of the pollution left behind by them," she said. "I think it's very important to pay some attention to these sites, to make sure the cleanup occurs there, to make sure there is awareness of the contaminates that might be there, and to make sure there is environmental stewardship."
Groups applying for larger grants will be invited to submit full proposals in April, and awards will be announced in the fall.