The Cost-Benefit Group Prepares Report on the Effect of Potential Superfund (NPL) Designation of the Gowanus Canal upon Nearby Property Values

April 17th, 2009

Within 24 hours of being contacted the Cost Benefit Group, produced a 12-page report on the Effect of Potential Superfund (NPL) Designation of the Gowanus Canal upon Nearby Property Values for Toll Brothers; Sive, Paget & Reisel; and Environmental Liability Management.

The Gowanus Canal, located in northwest Brooklyn, New York is connected to the Gowanus Bay in Upper New York Bay. The canal borders the neighborhoods of Red Hook and South Brooklyn to the west and Carroll Gardens to the east.
Kenneth Acks directed the research which reviewed the literature on the effects of potential Superfund designation upon property values, and determined that the evidence indicates that Superfund designation will generally increase risk associated with a site and surrounding properties -- and thus diminish property values. The designation will reduce values beyond diminution levels expected from the contamination absent placement on the list. The report also noted that the current economic crisis increases the likely diminution from Superfund designation. In a buyers’ market developers and homebuyers will be able to easily find properties at affordable prices that do not face the risks posed by Superfund designation. In addition, risks tend to be multiplicative, and the combination of greater financial risk, market risk, economic risk, environmental risk and regulatory risk is likely to prove devastating.

The Gowanus neighborhood was originally a tidal inlet of navigable creeks in original saltwater marshland and meadows. The first gristmill patented in New York was built in Gowanus after1635. On May 29, 1664, several residents were granted permission to dredge a canal at their own expense in order to supply water to run the mill.

In 1849, the New York Legislature authorized the construction of the Gowanus Canal by deepening Gowanus Creek, to transform it into a mile and a half long commercial waterway connected to Upper New York Bay. After exploring numerous alternative (and some more environmentally sound) designs, the final was chosen for its low price tag. The canal was essentially complete by 1869.

Despite its relatively short length, the Gowanus Canal was a hub for Brooklyn's maritime and commercial shipping activity. Factories, warehouses, tanneries, coal stores, and manufactured gas refineries sprang up as a result of its construction. Much of the brownstone quarried in New Jersey and the upper Hudson was placed on barges with lumber and brick and shipped through the canal to build the neighborhoods of Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and Park Slope. In addition, the industrial sector around the canal grew substantially over time to include: stone and coal yards, flour mills, cement works, and manufactured gas plants, tanneries, factories for paint, ink, and soap, machine shops, chemical plants, and sulfur producers, all of which emitted pollutants.

Thriving industry brought many new people to the area but important questions about wastewater sanitation had not been properly addressed to handle such growth. All the sewage from the new buildings drained downhill, into the Gowanus. The building of new sewer connections only compounded the problem by discharging raw sewage from neighborhoods even farther away into the Canal. By the turn of the century, the combination of industrial pollutants and runoff from storm water, fortified with the products of the new sewage system, rendered the waterway a repository of rank odors, euphemistically called by wise-cracking locals "Lavender Lake". After World War I, with six million annual tons of cargo produced and trafficked though the waterway, the Gowanus Canal became the nation's busiest commercial canal.

The US Army Corps of Engineers completed their last dredging of the canal in 1955 and soon afterward abandoned their regular dredging schedule, deeming it to be no longer cost effective.

In 2002, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers entered into a cost-sharing agreement with the DEP to collaborate on a $5 million Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study of the Gowanus Canal area to be completed in 2005, studying possible alternatives for ecosystem restoration such as dredging, and wetland and habitat restoration. The DEP also initiated the Gowanus Canal Use and Standards Attainment project, to meet the City's obligations under the Clean Water Act.

Toll Brothers has vowed to abandon plans to build 460 condos and townhouses along the waterway if it becomes a Superfund site, saying the stigma attached to the program will make it impossible to finance the project or sell the homes.

Shortly after the report was issue Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out against Superfund Designation (We have no evidence, however, of a causal connection, or even that Mayor Bloomberg saw the report).

According to an April 20, 2009 press release

( Toll Brothers, Inc. is the nation's leading builder of luxury homes. The Company began business in 1967 and became a public company in 1986. Its common stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "TOL". The Company serves move-up, empty-nester, active-adult and second-home home buyers and operates in 21 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. It was ranked #1 in five of the nine rating categories among Home Builders in Fortune magazine's recently released list of World's Most Admired Companies 2009.

According to its website Sive, Paget & Riesel ( has been a leader in Environmental Law and Litigation since the early 1960's. More than four decades ago, Sive, Paget & Riesel lawyers led the administrative and judicial proceedings that followed after the initial landmark Storm King Mountain litigation in New York's Hudson River region. Their attorneys also led the successful fight to stop the Hudson River Expressway, which resulted in an opinion that is the first reported decision contained in the Environmental Law Institute’s Environmental Law Reporter The Storm King Mountain disputes preceded the first Earth Day in 1970, the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act and the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Sive, Paget & Riesel continues to be a leader in this field, having been selected by two independent ranking agencies – Chambers and Partners USA and Who’s Who Legal – as the leading firm for environmental law and litigation in New York

According to their website Environmental Liability Management of New York, LLC (ELM - is an environmental, engineering and risk management firm. ELM's professional staff has demonstrated expertise in assisting you in the management of multimedia environmental concerns. They combine in-depth regulatory knowledge along with project management expertise and technical insight to control costs while meeting in-house objectives, and obtaining any necessary agency approvals. ELM's services range from simple consultations to the management of day-to-day operations for multimillion dollar environmental compliance and remediation programs.