KENNEDY: CITY POISONS EFFORT TO PROTECT OUR WATER SUPPLY

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With the ink on the $2.2 billion watershed protection agreement only five months old, one of the state’s most respected environmentalists has issued a scathing report that questions the city’s ability to safeguard its water supply.

In “A Culture of Mismanagement,” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. of the Hudson Riverkeeper Fund paints a picture of a city Department of Environmental Protection stricken by internal divisions and staffed by inexperienced inspectors who ostracize good inspectors, preventing them from stopping polluters. The 62-page report, prepared for DEP a year ago, was obtained by City Limits last week.

The report offers an startling glimpse into DEP’s dysfunction, drawing information from meetings, internal memos and interviews with agency officials. “The DEP’s institutional culture is intensely antagonistic toward a strong independent enforcement effort which might interfere with cozy relationships between district engineers and local developers and political leaders,” Kennedy writes in the report.

The environmentalist, son of assassinated Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

Kennedy suggests that engineers are using DEP as a ladder to more lucrative employment in private industry. It is common, he maintains, to find DEP officials who plan to “take the City [early retirement] buy-out and accept generous consulting arrangements with engineering firms.”

Apathy within in the agency poses serious threats to water quality, he says. In June 1996, the DEP closed down a building with an illegal sewer pipe–months after the problem had been brought to the attention of an agency official, Kennedy reports.

DEP has also been unresponsive to any criticism–external or internal. In a memo from a supervising engineer that Kennedy obtained, the official suggested the DEP’s biggest enforcement issue wasn’t catching polluters–but rooting out agency whistleblowers.

Most damning of all, the report shows that many of the managers in charge of critiquing development in the watershed are not trained for the task, a state of affairs that became obvious from their interactions with developers accused of polluting. “With DEP AWOL,” the report reads, “the developer’s version of science and events often stands unchallenged.”

DEP officials were angry the report had leaked out and criticized its findings. “It was supposed to be a confidential draft. Be that as it may, it’s out.” says Cathy DelliCarpini, DEP’s press secretary. “To put it mildly, we think the report is flawed.”