Tuesday, September 09, 2014

PMFA Reader Wants To Know: "Why Are Ferrara Brothers Being Allowed To Take Over The Public Place Site?"

Photo courtesy of Carroll Gardens/ Gowanus resident.
Taken from 9th Street subway station
The former Citizens Gas Works plant as seen from Smith Street
Ferrara Brothers Concrete plant as seen from 5th Street and the Gowanus Canal
Ferrara Brothers concrete trucks
More trucks have recently appeared and taken up more space on the site.
Near Huntington Street.
This part of the MGP site is privately held. National Grid has installed coal tar recovery wells.
Here is a question that a local resident just sent to me in an email a few days ago:
"Why are Ferrara Bros being allowed to take over the Public Place site? Aren't we trying to do a cleanup here?"
The question was accompanied by the photo above,  which shows the site as seen from the 9th Street subway station.

I have asked myself the same thing every time I walk past the site bound by Smith, Huntington and Fifth Streets and the Gowanus Canal. Indeed, in the past one or two years, the concrete company seems to have expanded operations on the site by moving more and more trucks in.
Why should that matter? Because, as the resident mentioned, the heavily polluted land needs to be remediated.

Here is some background:
The approximately 8.4 acre site was the home of the former Citizens Gas Light Company's 12th Ward Gas Work Plant, where coal and petroleum products were turned into flammable gas. The gas was used for cooking, lighting, heating and commercial purposes in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, one of the by-products of this gasification process is coal tar, a black viscous liquid, which is harmful to the environment. Coal tar has been found at depths of 150 feet on the site.
The Citizens Gas Works plant was decommissioned in 1958.  The responsibility for the clean-up falls on National Grid, which has entered into a Voluntary Cleanup Agreement with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC).

Since some of the coal tar has also been found to ooze from the site into the adjacent Gowanus Canal, the US Environmental Protection Agency, which declared the canal a Superfund site in 2010, is also involved.  EPA has named National Grid a Potential Responsible Party [PRP] which means that the company will contribute to the Gowanus Canal clean-up.

The City of New York acquired ownership of Lots 1 and 100 of the former MGP site through a condemnation proceeding in 1975.  That land is known in the community as "Public Place". The other parcels are privately owned.
Ferrara Brothers Concrete has been operating on lot 100 near 5h Street  since the early 1970's. The company rents the land under a month-to month lease agreement with New York City.  

There has been talk of Ferrara Brothers relocating since at least 2007. Obviously, the City has continued leasing the lot to them.
Why then, one may ask,  has Ferrara Brothers been allowed to expand on the site, since this has forced National Grid and the EPA to perform their remedial investigations around the concrete trucks.

Granted, the actual environmental work has not actually begun, but one has to wonder if the expansion of Ferrara on the site has not hampered or even slowed things down somewhat.

Don't misunderstand. We should of course protect existing businesses in Gowanus, and cement plants are an important and necessary part of the city. However, Ferrara Brothers, which lists its main address in Flushing Queens, has four other plants.
From Ferrara Brothers' Facebook page:
"Over the past 45 years, we have grown to become a concrete producer whose name is synonymous with quality and service. From 5 trucks and one concrete plant to 80 trucks and 5 concrete plant, Ferrara Bros. continues to grow."

It seems ironic that New York City would allow Ferrara Brothers' to take up more of the site. After all, the City has slated their parcels for development. The Gowanus Green project would bring 770 units of affordable housing to the shores of the Gowanus.

Of course, one has to wonder how prudent and realistic it is to build housing on such historically polluted land. But it is hard to understand why the City wouldn't want to make things as easy as possible so that the complicated environmental remediation work can move forward with as few obstacles as possible. 

Screen Shot 2012-04-30 at 9.21.52 AM
A view of Public Place from 4th Place in the 1930's
National Grid Presentation To CB6


Anonymous said...

That can't be bond st in the last arial photo...

Katia said...

You are right. The photo, which was used in a National Grid presentation, is mislabeled.

Agnes said...

Public Place site was so designated with great efforts by Frank Verderame, RIP, for the purpose of being just that, land for the Public Use, including recreation area, a baseball field. I still remember seeing the drawing he had made up for the baseball field. Why has that plan been replaced for dense housing development? Ask Brad Lander, the Fifth Avenue Committee. This land shoild be all of ours! We, our children, need open spaces and recreational areas. brooklyn is underserved in that regard.

Boerumhiller said...

I believe it is 4th Street.

Anonymous said...

let's see.. business expansion in our community - BAD,,, good paying jobs for our neighbors-- BAD,,, new housing - BAD...

thousands of completed and onging remediations have coexisted with active businesses accross the country.. Why not here?

Anonymous said...

Remediation of these sites is just sweeping it under the rug. And just because your neighbor has swept their dirt under their rug isn't a good reason to do it too.

Anonymous said...

9:48 did you even read the blog? No where did Katia say she was against business growth - au contra ire. And new housing is BAD, yes, when it is on this kind of site - I attended a Keyspan explanation (did you?) of how much it will take to remediate this land, and even after it will need to go through constant and regular checking - which is why they cannot sell condos there.