This article originally appeared in the Star-Revue in July 2012. We reprint it here as the deadline for the Quadrozzi option looms:
An important decision for the future of Red Hook will be announced this September – the decision about what to do with the 600,000 cubic yards of toxic sludge that will be dredged up from the bottom of the Gowanus Canal over the course of the next several years.
The EPA has been weighing several sets of options for how to treat and dispose of the sludge. And while residents will naturally object to the idea of their neighborhood being selected as a disposal site, some key players in both the public and private sectors are lobbying for it.
One of these players is John Quadrozzi Jr., the owner and operator of Gowanus Bay Terminal (GBX). Quadrozzi currently uses the property to store cement for his company, NYCEMCO, which his late father, John Quadrozzi Sr., purchased in the mid-1980s. He also leases space to a variety of tenants, including 30 transportation companies who benefit from easy access to the BQE-Gowanus Exchange, and companies specializing in aggregate materials like Benson Scrap Metal and the lumber company LV Fine Wood. GBX recently filled the last unoccupied vacancy for maritime operations, signing a six-year lease to Vane Brothers, a tug and barge company that transports oil from the nearby Hess station to offshore vessels.
The terminal’s most recognizable structure, the Columbia Street Grain Elevator, was built in 1922 to store large amounts of grain transported within the Barge Canal system. But neither the grain elevator nor the barge system lived up to expectations. By the mid-1960’s, the grain terminal was deactivated. As it turns out, cement has a similar consistency to grain, and Quadrozzi has his eye on the elevator as a potential cement silo, if he can raise enough money to convert it.
Next to the grain elevator floats the M/V Loujaine, a massive ship built in 1966 for the transportation of aggregate materials that Quadrozzi would also like to convert – if given the Gowanus waste on which he could permanently moor the ship – into a stationary museum comparable to the Intrepid.
Quadrozzi and his associate, Phaedra Thomas, would like to see a lot more maritime industry on GBX property, most of which is underwater. And this is partly where the Gowanus sludge comes into play. If selected as a site for remediation and disposal of the waste, Quadrozzi proposes to fill in much of his offshore property. This would allow bulkheads to be moved into deeper water, thus allowing larger vessels to dock.
An opportunity for revitalizing the waterfront?
Expanding maritime operations is a popular idea in Red Hook. Unlike high rise condominiums, it offers the promise of quality jobs and job training, and possibly waterfront access for the public. Several local business owners and community leaders have written letters to the EPA in support of selecting GBX as a disposal site.
Ray Hall, co-founder of Red Hook Rise, was hesitant at first, but says that the more he learned about it, the better it sounded. Hall was also impressed by Thomas’ outreach to the community, encouraging residents to take part in envisioning the future of the Red Hook waterfront.
“When you’re building something big it’s important to talk to people,” he said. “They’ve done a great job of not excluding anybody.”
One benefit that Hall hopes to see come from increased maritime operations would be a job-training institute – part of a potential EPA package- and employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated persons. Hall was involved in negotiations with Fairway when the supermarket was being developed, which led Fairway to adopt the practice through a city program that incentivizes the hiring through tax credits.
Selling the eco-industrial idea
A former Red Hook resident, (she still owns property on Van Brunt Street), Thomas was the director of Red Hook and Gowanus programs for the Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation (SBIDC) before coming to work for Quadrozzi. In recent months, she has been making the rounds at local centers and community meetings, seeking to get people interested in what she and Quadrozzi are referring to as “Inecsy,” or an “industrial ecosystem.”
“We’d like to base our visioning process with the community on, ‘What kinds of eco-operations can happen, should happen?’” Thomas says. “And there are a lot of great scientists and thinkers in Red Hook.”
Thomas draws inspiration from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which is looking more like an industrial ecosystem in recent years, and “freight villages” in parts of Europe that she describes as “whole villages of many different properties where everything feeds into one another.”
Waste-to-energy facilities are often cited by advocates for industrial ecosystems. According to Thomas, GBX is currently in talks with a firm for building a waste-to-energy facility within the terminal. This facility would have the ability to be modified for use on the Gowanus project in the event that the site is chosen. But such a project would not be contingent on getting picked by the EPA.
Starting in July, GBX will be holding “vision workshops,” where residents will have the opportunity to contribute their ideas. These workshops could provide the foundation for a future community benefits agreement between GBX and a Red Hook community coalition that could be formed for that purpose. Such agreements are meant to make sure that private developers place high priority on the welfare of their surrounding community.
Other proposals exist
Not everyone sees GBX as an ideal site for waste disposal. Paul Basile of Gowanus Alliance has other ideas. “Taking the remediated material for Quadrozzi just creates land for Quadrozzi,” he told the Star-Revue. “I see an opportunity here to solve many, many problems before we take the remediated material to a private site. We have several city infrastructure problems that we need to deal with first.”
Specifically, the sanitation garage located on 12th and 13th Streets near Ennis Park, which stores trucks from both the 2nd and 6th Community Board districts. It’s becoming a public health issue, according to Basile, who cited that trucks idle their engines, take up parking space, impede on traffic and affect those who play in the park.
Basile would like to see the Gowanus sludge used to fill in the 5th Street Basin in the neighborhood of Gowanus, so that sanitation trucks can park there. “First address the 5th street Basin and any other tributaries where the soil could be used,” he said. “Anything that’s left or in excess could be given to Quadrozzi.”
After making public its remediation and disposal plan in late September, the EPA will host a public meeting with a stenographer. The public will have the opportunity to comment most likely for 60 to 90 days, after which the EPA will make a final decision in mid-2013. From there, the EPA will take two years to create a remediation design and finally start the clean-up in January 2015.