Professor Bratspies writes on Greenpoint’s Environmental Benefit Fund as a Model for Community Participation

Originally published on The Nature of Cities

At first glance, Greenpoint seems much like many other ethnically diverse New York City neighborhood struggling with rapid gentrification. Traditional neighborhood businesses jostle for space with trendy new restaurants and shops, while developers hype luxury high-rise development proposals.


But, underneath the ground, something is very different.

Between the late 1800s to the mid 1900s, nearby Newtown Creek was a bustling industrial waterway, its banks lined by dozens of oil refineries. The major oil companies Exxon, Chevron and BP all had refineries and/or storage facilities in Greenpoint. Together, over the course of a century, they spilled or leaked somewhere between 17 million to 30 million gallons of oil into Greenpoint’s soil and groundwater. (For perspective, the Exxon Valdez crash spilled 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska. )

This contamination was discovered by a 1978 by a US Coast Guard helicopter out on routine patrol. The next year, Exxon which owns most of the contaminated land, and is responsible for an oil plume that extends under 300 local houses, began recovering free oil from the spill site. But Exxon’s cleanup program was small and progress was slow. It took another 12 years for the state to negotiate consent orders with ExxonMobil for Clean Water Act violations stemming from the spill. These consent orders were notable largely for their lack of stringency.

02As a result, even though ExxonMobil has recovered roughly 8 million gallons of oil from the site, most of the oil that was spilled in Greenpoint is still there. Lurking beneath the surface in a massive plume, the oil makes 50+ acres of land are undevelopable, and three city blocks of homes virtually worthless. The oil has also helped make Newtown Creek one of the most polluted waterways in the United States. The most optimistic projections are that 70% of the oil can be recovered by 2026.

In September 2010, EPA designated Newtown Creek a Superfund Site under CERCLA (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. §9607.) The next year, EPA signed a Consent Order with six potentially responsible parties.  The remedial investigation, a precursor to developing a cleanup plan, is currently ongoing. The eventual Superfund cleanup will focus on Newtown Creek, and will not address the contamination of Greenpoint’s aquifer, or the soil contamination in Greenpoint.

Oily sheen on Newtown Creek, 7 July 2006. Photo: Riverkeeper

Oily sheen on Newtown Creek, 7 July 2006. Photo: Riverkeeper

Two months later, then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced a state settlement with ExxonMobil over contamination in Greenpoint. The deal, which also settled lawsuits brought by Riverkeeper and by local Greenpoint residents, committed ExxonMobil to clean up the soil and water in Greenpoint, and created a $19.5 million dollar fund for environmental benefit projects in Greenpoint.

This Environmental Benefits Project Fund again sets Greenpoint apart.

Not only is this the largest such benefits fund in New York State, but the ongoing process for allocating the funds has been notable for its transparency and participation. The New York Attorney General appointed the North Brooklyn Development Corporation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as general administrators, and created a Greenpoint Community Advisory Panel to provide community input regarding allocation of these funds.  To date, there have been multiple, well-attended public meetings to identify priorities for potential projects to be funded from these settlement monies. Through an open, transparent process, the administrators have solicited project proposals  and communicated community priorities. [full disclosure, the Center for Urban Environmental Reform, which I direct, is participating in this process] The submitted proposals, in turn, have been disclosed to the community for discussion and input. The process is structured to provide maximum public participation to ensure that funded projects provide clear environmental benefits to Greenpoint, based on the priorities identified by Greenpoint residents themselves.

As such, Greenpoint offers a model that other cities, towns and neighborhoods might fruitfully copy. Urban areas are peppered with polluted former industrial sites, so-called brownfields. These sites sit there, contaminated, amidst neighborhoods that change over time.  Many formerly industrial areas transition to residential, prompting concerns about exposure, illness and other harms. Contamination, along with CERCLA liability, can make it difficult to redevelop these former industrial sites. Some areas remain permanently blighted because of the logistic challenges of cleaning up these former industrial sites. CERLCA liability presents a tremendous barrier to these properties changing hands, and cleaning up these sites can take years and millions of dollars.

Any attempt to move forward must confront some fundamental questions about priorities. How clean is clean enough? When is monitoring sufficient? How should neighborhoods bearing the brunt of these environmental burdens be compensated? These questions are front and center of any discussion of cleaning up these hazardous sites. If public participation follows the model set out for the Greenpoint Environmental Benefits Fund, it will ensure that communities play a central role in this process of environmental decisionmaking.

Rebecca Bratspies
New York

2,163 Comments on “Professor Bratspies writes on Greenpoint’s Environmental Benefit Fund as a Model for Community Participation

  1. FENCES and warning signs have been erected around a construction pit after one man died and two people were injured in separate incidents in Minhang District over the weekend. [url=]tiffany and co[/url] The women, all members of a local qipao club, will start a seven-day trip to Taiwan on April 18, the two-year anniversary of the club, the Oriental Morning Post reported. [url=]Tiffany And Co Outlet[/url] It was widely welcomed by the visitors but some said it was hot in the scorching Shanghai summer sun. [url=]cheap moncler coats[/url] Police said she was detained in connection with the death of her 15-year-old friend surnamed Qiu who jumped from the ninth floor of a hotel to escape from the five men on September 4, the local Changjiang Daily reported today. The expansion and improvement to the provincial road network has allowed new long-haul bus routes to open.

    He asked more than 160,000 registered Chinese lawyers to continue appealing against his case. Li will soon be disbarred, an official with Beijing’s bar association said. [url=]moncler pas cher[/url] Zhang told the court that Jiang had not asked for his permission to record the conversation and denied the conversation with her. [url=]ugg boots uk[/url] RELATIVES of five teenagers killed in a car accident caused by drunk official will receive 230,000 yuan (US$ 34,508) each in compensation, the Beijing News reported today. [url=]cheap nike nfl jerseys[/url] Notably, most of the cheats in the Xiamen race had times less than 2 hours 34 minutes, the minimum needed for high school students to get extra credits for the highly competitive college entrance examinations. [url=]Peuterey Outlet[/url] A 10-YEAR-OLD boy died from electric shock on Monday night after touching a lamppost while playing in the garden of his community in Zhabei District.

    SEVEN young Chinese women suffered permanent lung damage and two of them later died after working for months without proper protection in a paint factory using nanoparticles, Chinese researchers have reported. [url=]coach factory outlet[/url] Whether China-Japan relations can be brought back on track depends on the attitude and actions of Japan, Jiang said. SHANDONG Province police have arrested a multimillionaire in the city of Qingdao who robbed a truckload of goods 21 years ago in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province with three cousins, the Yangtze Evening News reported today. [url=]Tiffany Jewellery outlet[/url] Wang’s family doubted the explanation, saying Wang Lijia was perfectly healthy and could farm a dozen acres of land all by himself. [url=]wholesale nike nfl jerseys[/url] FRENCH actress Juliette Binoche will come to Shanghai to perform on the stage of the Shanghai Oriental Art Center on March 27 and 28. Vaccinations for pregnant women, which were also included in the expanded inoculation plan, haven’t started yet, Song said.

  2. The citywide injection campaign kicked off at 2,900-plus schools on Tuesday and is expected to conclude early next month. More than 40,000 students, teachers and administrators at more than 80 schools are receiving the shots every day. [url=]tiffany outlet[/url] In addition, major roads running through the core of the Lujiazui area have all been reopened after being blocked mainly for construction of an underground vehicle tunnel connecting both banks of the Huangpu River. [url=]Tiffany Jewellery outlet[/url] The pipeline is due to begin supplying China 1.5 million tons of oil annually, starting in 2011. [url=]cheap moncler jackets[/url] Details of the accident are not immediately available as investigation is still going on. Local authorities are now dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy, Xinhua reported. A ROBBER who called police to claim he had been a robbery victim in a bid to have his injured ear treated free has been jailed for two years by Minhang District People’s Court.

    Usually some skillful flaps with water-soaked tools are enough to contain the fire razing an area about 320,000 square meters, Hou said. [url=]louis vuitton outlet[/url] It’s a shame for the school and the educational system in Shanghai. The principal needs to apologize, said a visitor to, one of the city’s most popular cyber communities. [url=]discount louis vuitton outlet[/url] The bathhouse owed property management fees to Yijiang, and Jin and Cao conspired to get the money in other ways, prosecutors said. [url=]cheap nike nfl jerseys[/url] The hospital dispatched optical experts to the village. After confirming a possibility of a surgery, it chose Nima as the beneficiary of this year’s charity surgery. [url=]Peuterey Outlet[/url] A MAN has been charged with causing deliberate injury after allegedly stabbing a “rival” whom he mistakenly thought had broken up he and his girlfriend.

    The desperate parents waited at the station in the hope the girl would be returned within a few days, but they waited in vain. [url=]coach outlet online[/url] Su may be implicated in the corruption case involving China Mobile Ltd, the country’s biggest telecommunication carrier, an unnamed insider said, according to [url=]Tiffany outlet[/url] Deng’s popularity reflects widespread anger over corruption and the abuse of power by some government officials. [url=]cheap nfl jerseys[/url] Altogether 272 companies discharging pollutants have been shut or moved near the Expo site during the preparation period and more than 1 million square meters of green land has been built in the Expo site. The technology makes the Shanghai World Expo unique and more successful, Shanghai Vice Mayor Ai Baojun said yesterday.

  3. We continue to [url=]cheap nike air max 90[/url] consider last. fm is the better. You actually should subscribe to [url=]cheap nike air max 90[/url] obtain virtually any respectable use from the jawhorse, but $3 thirty days (you can sto [url=]cheap nike air max 90[/url]p any time) is basically not necessarily that much.