OPINION – Poison Land and Poison Rhetoric: Gowanus Rezone Proponent Uses Personal Attacks to Sidestep Public Health Concerns

OPINION – Poison Land and Poison Rhetoric: Gowanus Rezone Proponent Uses Personal Attacks to Sidestep Public Health Concerns
Rendering of the post-rezoning Gowanus canal bridge crossing with waterfront development and pedestrian activity. (Rendering from the Department of City Planning website)

By Nora Almeida, Linda LaViolette and Miranda Sielaff

In a take-down attempt that’s short on evidence and heavy on pro-developer talking points, Michelle de la Uz’s recent opinion piece wrongly accuses Gowanus community members who raise serious and well-researched concerns about environmental justice and public health of engaging in “wild-eyed rhetoric” and fear mongering. The personal nature of de la Uz’s rebuttal convinces us we must be onto something in our original op-ed.

De la Uz serves as Executive Director of Fifth Avenue Committee and member of Gowanus Green Partners, organizations that would develop and manage housing on the toxic Public Place site if the rezone is certified and which have financial interests in the proposed development and rezoning.

Her attack on Gowanus residents is a transparent attempt to distract from substantive environmental problems. De la Uz is not an environmental activist (although she’s quick to dismiss the activism of these authors, who are involved in grassroots environmental justice struggles in Gowanus and beyond). De la Uz even concedes that Linda LaViolette and other members of the Gowanus Community Advisory Group played an instrumental role “advocating for the US EPA Superfund cleanup of the Gowanus Canal.”

De la Uz cites no actual research that counters evidence that it is dangerous to develop housing and a school on a former manufactured gas plant (MPG) in a flood zone abutting a Superfund site. Baselessly, de la Uz resorts to unprofessional name-calling and characterizes public health research presented by these authors as “misinformation cloaked in progressivism,” while = reiterating false claims that Gowanus is a “wealthy, white enclave” even though it is home to many low income communities of color. Repeated calls by the community to conduct a Racial Impact Study prior to certification of the rezoning proposal have not been supported by de la Uz or the Fifth Avenue Committee.

De la Uz lauds the success of other remediated MGPs although we are not sure why. In the Bronx, a Mott Haven Independent Review points to concerns over the management of the Mott Haven Educational Campus. The extent and nature of chemical pollution at 100 11th Avenue in Manhattan are not comparable to Public Place where coal tar extends more than 150 feet; the 11th avenue site also underwent significantly more remediation than is proposed for Public Place. Bushwick Inlet Park is an open space park, with no buildings to trap toxic gases and pose a public health risk. Ironically, this site actually serves as a model for what should be done on the Public Place site: it should be a park.

De la Uz attempts to reassure the public that the development team is planning a second phase of remediation. However, no plans for a “Phase 2” of remediation have been revealed to the community. If such plans do exist, residents should be allowed to discuss those plans prior to any zoning changes.

To allay the concerns about remediation and development on Public Place, EPA and FEMA should be brought into the drafting, analysis, and oversight in addition to NYC DEC that is overseeing the cleanup; scientific analysis and candid communication are needed. Voice of Gowanus is presenting a panel discussion on Wednesday, March 24 with experts who can shed light on the legal and environmental issues at stake. All members of the community and stakeholders, including de la Uz, are invited to hear from these experts.

Environmental activists Nora Almeida, Linda LaViolette and Miranda Sielaff are Gowanus residents and members of the community group Voice of Gowanus.