EDITORIAL – An unfortunate public display

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.

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14 Responses to EDITORIAL – An unfortunate public display

  1. JjBurkardy says:

    Seems like the publisher of Star Review has difficulty making up his mind…Which is it George, is your paper for or against the storage of landfill??? you cannot have it both ways…Your front page story says no storage, but your Editorial contradicts yourself and call for an intrust sludge pile to be certain GBX keeps their promises to the community…Now, your really confusing your readers…..JjB…..

    • redhookstar says:

      No confusion. If you read the first paragraph of our front page news story, you will see that according to the eastern seaboard head of the EPA, Walter Mugberg, they will not be implementing the proposed plan to bury the sludge here, as he sees that the community is against it. That is news. In our editorial, we talk about the process that GBX has used to try and change the EPA’s mind, and our opinion is that it is an unfortunate PR campaign, as well as not being truthful or effective.

      • JjBurkard says:

        I followed your advice…But as in previous Star posts I still see an anti-sludge position on the papers part…../May I suggest you publish the paper according to your committed time line ? posting bits of it beforehand appears like your sending out trial ballons to gauge the response before you go to press…..JjB…..

      • redhookstar says:

        We have not taken any position on the health aspects of creating landfill out of toxic sludge – we leave that to the experts and the community. What we do take a position on is the use of public mud – after all, the mud under the Gowanus is public property – for private gain. GBX will gain 450,000 square feet of land at no cost to him, and with which he can do whatever he likes – it is his. The Red Hook waterfront, except for Valentino Pier, is pretty much all private property. We do suggest a possible solution, which would be for Quadrozzi to share his gain with the community be donating half the new land to a local public trust. But that would only be if the community thinks that it would be safe, which, had you been able to go to the meetings, you would see is not what the vast majority of people who make their homes in Red Hook, think.

  2. JjBurkard says:

    I do appreciate your explanation thanks, But I want you to be aware that just because I was unable to attend most of the meetings, I have done a great deal of investigation of the volotile and highly emotional situation…I’m satisfied I have a good handle on the subject….Once again thanks for your reply…..JjB…..

  3. JjBurkard says:

    So far Pier # 41 Associates has been silent on this matter…I respect Pier # 41 Associates very much for thier continued contributions to Red Hook…This entire issue was handled badly….Under the circumstances, from what I read and heard, I saw a concerted effort to smear a man who it looked like was not the culprit he was made out to be…While his opponents were busy trying to make him a bad guy, none openly stated their own motives which would justify this villification. This lack of transparency was something that did not go un-noticed… In communicating with Mr Quadruzzi,, his response were open and in my opinion honest…Also, he didn’t hem and haw about his intentions or future plan for QBX and the community.. I believe he is a man of character but also a businessman and as such certainly has a right to expect to profit in anyway possible except at the expence of the community…It is my nature to always stand up for the guy that is being picked on, and that’s what I have seen during this entire debate..I would like to hear from Greg O’Connell Sr.on this to get his opinion…Is this possible…?…

  4. go figure says:

    The intent of the CDS was first most about environment and health. Keeping local dredged material local substantially reduces the carbon foot print for the work and that is good for Red Hook residents. Given the impact of climate change on Red Hook, that alone is a significant thing.
    And the community can only direct a plan if they participate. The EPA presented this plan in Red Hook more than a year ago. It presented it to the CAG in 2010. The Army Corp had an earlier plan for a CDF in the 4th st turning basin.
    But at a recent CAG meeting, a gentleman from NJ showed up, eager to have the Gowanus dredge material. It’s a free give away to someone, but it just won’t be to anyone undertaking any economic activity in Red Hook.

  5. Allison says:

    Funny how you give props to Reg Flowers for the wonderful work he’s done with youth and Red Hook, then back hand him again with your claims he’s choosing sides. Reg is an honest person who works hard to do good for everyone. Crossing the aisle to get to know the other side and their intention, and open the conversation up more is not choosing sides. Shame on you, once again.

    • redhookstar says:

      This editorial was written after the public comment period on the CDF option was closed. Thus the conversation is closed on this subject. We think the tactics used to try and convince the EPA that public opinion was for the option was a sad throwback to the old days of us vs. them, and we chose to throw some light on it. We did not choose the actors, their actions are what caused the writing of the editorial and the accompanying article.

      Regarding Reg Flowers, we hope that he continues to work with Quadrozzi and maybe the grain silos can be put to some community use, as opposed to the pitiful condition they are in now, as is much of the rest of the property. We look forward to a non-EPA topiced meeting with Reg leading John Quadrozzi into opening up some of his existing land for public use.

      • Allison says:

        You may not have chosen the players, but you chose your words and pinned those words against someone who’s been a strong supporter of both his community and of your paper. You can say you’re hopeful for all the good things Reg is wanting to do… but I don’t see any sort of apology or recognition for the foul light you tried to shine on him. Reg is fortunate to have many friends and neighbors who saw through it, but he’s still owed an apology by your newspaper.

      • redhookstar says:

        We are all fortunate to have friends. Good for you for supporting yours.

  6. Monica Byrne says:

    Your article is completely inaccurate when it comes to Reg Flowers, and it’s really discouraging that you did not even attempt to talk to him directly before covering him in such a disparaging, hurtful, and frankly, mean spirited manner.

    For the record Reg has not made a name as a community organizer for himself lately, He has been engaged and involved in the community for the past 10 years, far longer than the RHSV has been in print. Regarding the possibility of the CDF, and the potential of a Community Benefits Agreement, Reg has tried to promote some thoughtful, and informed dialogue on this subject, and he’s been trying to do that since last summer, when he first learned of the situation, and started the conversation about Visioning Red Hook. He has purposely kept his opinions to himself in order to be able to better facilitate conversation. This is not a bad thing. Furthermore, it is entirely possible for members of a community to have diverse and differing opinions on a variety of issues, while still respecting on another, and interacting with thoughtfulness, and consideration. Somehow you’ve managed to take a quote noting that in Reg’s opinion, John Quadrozzi is not a bad person, and turn it into an indictment, painting Reg as a person who wants to create toxicity in Red Hook. You impugn his integrity, when he claims to have only recently gotten to know John Quadrozzi, by offering his website for Red Hook Visioning created early last summer as evidence of a longer standing relationship…. For most of us, getting to know someone in the last 10 months, in spite of being in the same community for 10 years, could indeed be called recent. It is entirely possible to disagree with someone on an issue, and still find them to be “Not a Bad Person”…. It is really sad that this issue has devolved to such personal attacks by individuals against one another, but it’s shameful for the paper to foment it.

    I can’t begin to fathom your motive, but trying to divide a community by fueling this fire, pitting caring and committed individuals against one another is truly disturbing, and destructive. This is a small village, and amongst the active community stakeholders, there are many opinions on many topics, sometimes we agree, other times we don’t, but in the end we have to live with one another, and respect one another for our shared commitment to the community, even if we don’t always agree with one another. That is what community building is, your article achieves the opposite.

    Say what you will, the photos, and your innuendo had a clear intention, and the community has received your message loud and clear.

    Reg Flowers has been a tremendous gift to this community, and if we are all fortunate, he will continue to be in the future. Hopefully he will not allow this kind of attack to discourage him, but one couldn’t blame him if it did. He deserves much better than you have given him.

    Monica Byrne
    Local Business Owner, Resident, and Community Organizer / Activist

    Also, “topiced”? not a word….

    • redhookstar says:

      What the writer observed was an attempt to divide the community using jobs. While it didn’t work, some in the community attempted to keep a conversation going. According to Walter Mugber, the EPA had pretty much determined that Red Hook was not interested in having a CDF in its community. This was made evident at the January and February meetings that were held by the EPA to speak to the community. Starting April 1st, an organized campaign to sway the EPA was begun by Quadrozzi so he could get his land. The article made clear exactly what happened.

      We hope that Reg Flowers will be able to use his influence with Quadrozzi to share some of his existing land with the community after this is over. If that happens, we will be sure to report it.

      • Monica Byrne says:

        Again, facts get in the way…
        Quadrozzi has tried to create community support for this idea for at least a year that I’m aware of. No new campaign was entered into in April.

        Quadrozzi wanted this plan to go through, the community has largely spoken out against it, and that’s that.

        Your article engaged in a hurtful, and dishonest personal attack, and no amount of back peddling will change that. Reg Flowers is not the story, he is simply one of many concerned citizens who tried to facilitate some productive dialogue.

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