Walter Mugdan said it out loud in a meeting at the South Brooklyn High School. The east coast head of the EPA said in retrospect, he wished they hadn’t offered the option to bury sludge in Red Hook. We agree.
The prospect of free land for any landlord is a great temptation. The EPA proposed to create landfill and donate it to the Gowanus Bay Terminal (GBX), owned by cement mogul John Quadrozzi, Jr. However, the EPA would not do this if the local community opposed it. In the wake of Sandy, and after decades of being a dumping ground for garbage – Red Hook said “no.
Faced with the loss of the free land, and about a month left in the public comment period, the strangely ineffectual Quadrozzi public relations effort went into action. It is unfortunate that their strategy consisted mostly of dividing the community. They tried to convince the EPA that the larger public housing population was on their side, as opposed to the small “elitist” (their words) homeowner population “on the other side of town” (again, their words.) They must have forgotten that almost all of the speakers from the Red Hook Houses have spoken at one or another of the public forums. The tenants have not been swayed by the idea of “jobs” that have been dangled in front of them by Quadrozzi spokesperson Phaedra Thomas. We are saddened by this “divide and conquer” strategy. Since Sandy and before, Red Hook speaks with one voice.
Too many reputations have become tarnished in this last ditch effort to sway public opinion. Phaedra Thomas is a community figure, delightful and charming, one-time head of Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation. She went so far as to try and influence housing residents by proclaiming that one can have a prison record and still qualify for one of these “jobs,” which we find to be blatant pandering .
What surprised us the most was the Quadrozzi alliance with Reg Flowers. Flowers is the founder of Falconworks, an excellent and worthy theater group that has empowered and inspired many Red Hook youth. He has worked with the Red Hook Initiative and the Lions Club. He is close to many on the board of ReStore Red Hook. At one time, he wrote columns for the Star-Revue.
Reg, who has done work as a facilitator in public forums, tells us that he has no position in this. However, as shown in our front page article, it is clear that Reg has been a willing accomplice in the Quadrozzi attempt to sway the EPA.
The dedicated people running the Gowanus project for the EPA have their eyes wide open. They see what we see. After Sandy, they should have reconsidered their idea of creating the Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) in Red Hook.
The public comment period to register one’s opinion of the sludge burial option is over. Judging by their public statements, the EPA already understands the majority of the community is against the plan because of environmental risks. The Gowanus will of course still be cleaned up and the sludge will all be shipped elsewhere.
The Star-Revue had an additional reason. The Gowanus, including the mud at the bottom, is a public good. It is now owned or in control by any single person. The EPA’s plan will transfer this mud at no charge to a private citizen, giving him in effect 450,000 square feet of land above seawater the he now owns. If he did this project himself, the cost upwards of $1 billion.
Battery Park City was land created from landfill, much of it coming from the excavation of the original World Trade Center. The city was in control of the river bottom underneath, making the landfill property of the city. A public agency, the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) was created to manage this new land. Profits from the operation of BPCA go into the revenue stream of New York City, and some of it has been designated for low income housing. Developers of Battery Park City were forced – by contract – to provide the beautiful esplanade encircling the development.
We don’t think that the EPA should provide benefits to a private citizen by giving free land. It would have been better had they found a spot belonging to the city – and have the advantages been shared equally by our entire community.
In addition to jobs, GBX has made all sorts of promises about parts of the CDF becoming parkland and museum space that would be shared with the community. However, none of his promises are legally binding.
Our thought is that a win-win situation might have been for Quadrozzi to donate half of the CDF land to a local trust run by Red Hook community leaders for the benefit of the local population. In this way, the whole community would be guaranteed a share in this windfall.