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EPA cuts may stall development in Gowanus, Newtown Creek

A major cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) funding could put a damper on real estate development in Gowanus and Newtown Creek, two Superfund sites in New York City that have drawn interested developers.

Last week, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman held a press conference on the banks of the Gowanus Canal, the polluted waterway that is a designated Superfund site, to denounce President Donald Trump’s proposed budget that cuts funding for the EPA by more than 30 percent.

“President Trump’s proposed budget cuts would have a devastating impact on New York — delaying and obstructing environmental projects around the state,” said Attorney General Schneiderman during the press conference.

“Decades of hard work have helped clean up New York’s air, water, and environment. But President Trump’s budget threatens to unravel those gains and send us back to the bad old days of choking smog and rampant pollution. As we’ve made clear: if the Trump administration won’t meet its legal obligations to ensure basic access to a clean, safe, and healthy environment, we won’t hesitate to act to protect New Yorkers.”

Under Trump’s proposed budget “blueprint” released two weeks ago, funding for the EPA would be reduced by 31 percent, or $2.6 billion. It would cut the EPA’s total budget to $5.7 billion, its lowest level in 40 years after being adjusted for inflation. The cuts would eliminate more than 50 programs and 3,200 jobs, including a 30 percent reduction in Superfund site cleanup funding. Mike Aziz, an architect with Perkins+Will, has proposed improving and transforming 500 acres around Newtown Creek on the border of Brooklyn and Queens into a mixed-use, waterfront community as a way to help solve the affordable housing problem NYC faces while still retaining industrial manufacturing the area historically has been known for, and offer space for startup companies.

Like the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek is a Superfund site, but it is much larger in scale.

And though it was named a Superfund site before the Gowanus Canal, it is much further behind in terms of cleanup and redevelopment.

“Cuts right now may not affect [the Newtown Creek site] in the immediate future, but the fear is that if the Superfund program is defunded to the point where it doesn’t have the resources to continue to drive the process forward, it will just flounder around and they’ll never get to that next step where a budget has been confirmed,” said Aziz.

With the Gowanus area allowing the development of residential units, and more investors and developers looking to do projects there currently, it’s likely that area will feel the cuts more than Newtown Creek.

“Gowanus is a pretty good mix of industrial and residential, you already get a lot more external forces trying to move in and consume the area and it’s better connected to transit there,” said Daniel Windsor, an associate at Perkins+Will.

“So if there is a disruption in cleanup, it would have a larger impact in Gowanus. People are moving there and are already there.”

The Lightstone Group and Hudson Companies have new mixed-use projects in Gowanus.

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