Coney Island Creeks Along

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The shellfish and the fishermen are about to get a second chance at life in Coney Island Creek.

For 60 years, the gas manufacturing operations of the Brooklyn Borough Gas Works contaminated the creek and its shores with dozens of hazardous wastes. The company closed in 1966, but chemicals continued to seep into the soil and the waterway while the property’s owner, KeySpan, argued with the state over how clean-up work should be done.

In the mid-1990s, the state deemed the area a brownfield. Considered carcinogenic and closed to the public, the creek became perhaps best known for its stench, and for its use as a dumping ground for bodies, most famously by mass murderer Joel Rifkin.

But in late June, KeySpan officials finally penned a deal with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and plan to begin testing and decontaminating the area in September. For local fishermen, this will mean a new, safer source of fresh fish. For Coney Island residents, it will mean less pollution both in the water and farther inland.

Nearly 20 years ago, local Community Board 13 voted to build a new garage for the city’s garbage trucks on the shores of Coney Island Creek. The indoor lot, which currently houses Department of Sanitation vehicles, sits in a residential section of Neptune Avenue. Because it is too small for all the trucks, many spill into an outdoor lot, adding to the stench from the creek.

When the relocation was approved, the community board was promised it would happen within a few years. In fact, the Astella Development Corporation built an affordable housing complex as part of then–Mayor Ed Koch’s housing initiative in the mid-1980s with the understanding that the garage would soon be gone. “I moved in during July of 1983, and I was told the garage would be gone in absolutely no more than three years,” says tenant Louis Rodriguez. But negotiations over the cleanup stalled the project for decades.

“Everyone wants the land cleaned and the garage built,” says Charles Reichenthal, district manager of Community Board 13. Still, amid the celebrations, some local environmentalists are expressing concerns about whether KeySpan’s cleanup plans go far enough. “The work being done now is good, but it still leaves the land somewhat contaminated,” says Ida Sanoff, a member of Community Board 13 and vice president of the Natural Resources Protective Association, a citywide conservation coalition that has been following the cleanup discussions. “If we have another Hurricane Floyd, I don’t know if the work done will be enough to stop the contaminants from spreading again.”

A spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, responsible for overseeing the clean-up, assures that the necessary work will be done and the site will be monitored for years.

At least one local fisherman can’t wait. The way things are now, he says, “I would never fish in there. Many of us use the area as a dock, but we always drive our boats out of the creek before we do any fishing.”