I went out on the Newtown with the group Riverkeeper, which patrols the Hudson waterways from Albany to Brooklyn and supports a Superfund designation. John Lipscomb, the skipper of the R. Ian Fletcher showed me some hard-to-reach areas in the tributaries where garbage isn’t flushed out, and the water is white, or, in one place near the Maspeth Creek, the color of lentil soup.
Lipscomb says there hasn’t been much of a constituency for increased water quality here because most of the areas around the Newtown Creek are designated industrial zones. That means there also hasn’t been the kind of opposition from developers and the Bloomberg administration as there has been to the Superfund proposal for Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, which is between two gentrifying neighborhoods.
Still, the skipper says more and more people are now coming into contact with the Newtown Creek, because of fishing piers, new ladders into the water, and a shoreline stairway on the Newtown Creek Nature Walk by the Wastewater Treatment Plant. Lipscomb says the public is increasingly being invited to the water, but isn’t getting good information about the toxicity of the water and any fish caught in the creek. That’s why Riverkeeper does regular sampling around the Newtown and posts the results online. He says upbeat reports about improved water quality in New York City rely on averages, even though what matters are conditions at specific locations.
Environmentalists say the Superfund proposal would only target pollution in the sediment, not the quality of the water itself. They say the real big problem that won’t be remediated by the EPA is the sewer overflows that occur nearly every time it rains. The state and city handle that issue.