Greenpoint Oil Spill
By Joshua Frank
22 February, 2007
You have to wonder why it has
taken so long. It happened over 57 years ago when Exxon Mobil leaked
at least 17 million gallons of oil in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint.
The 55-acre spill, which is estimated to have been larger than the Exxon
Valdez catastrophe, went undiscovered until the late 1970s. Since then
little has been done to hold the guilty parties accountable. But on
February 8, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo finally filed
notices of intent to sue Exxon Mobil and several other companies to
force a massive clean up of the polluted neighborhood.
Tons of oil still plagues
nearby Newton Creek, where studies have shown that dried sediment samples
when weighed are made up of one-tenth oil. Unfortunately, under Eliot
Spitzer's reign as attorney general, Exxon Mobil had little to worry
about. Aside from a few lawsuits levied by Greenpoint residents and
environmental groups, New York State did little to pressure Exxon Mobil
to remediate the ecological tragedy.
It has long been a case of
bitter environmental racism, where the working class residents of Greenpoint
were for decades left to inhale toxic fumes while Exxon Mobil and others,
including BP and Chevron, continued to evade liability. But now that
Greenpoint is becoming attractive to wealthy developers the State is
finally stepping in.
waterfront has the potential to be New York's Gold Coast, with sparkling
towers, schools, parks and libraries," City Council member Eric
Gioia recently told The New York Times. "Cleaning Newtown Creek
is critical to that vision."
Gioia isn't kidding. In May
of 2005 the Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront became part of a massive
rezoning project that has brought in an influx of multimillion-dollar
condos and luxury apartments. The gentrification that began to haunt
these neighborhoods since the early 1990s has only escalated in recent
years. Sections that were once home to manufacturing and light industry
are now dominated by hundreds of residentially converted loft buildings
and high-rise apartment complexes.
And the new development projects
are big money makers. Many local residents have been and will be pushed
out by the "Manhattanization" of the neighborhood. Transformation
has quickly engulfed Greenpoint and it is hard to know exactly what
the fallout of the city's rezoning initiative will be. Certainly it
has already changed the face of Greenpoint's main shopping districts
as well as Williamsburg's hip Bedford Ave., where corporate chains are
challenging local restaurants and pubs. Many long-time residents also
fear that the growth is happening at such a pace that the city will
not be able to properly oversee the growth. Many others are simply getting
out while they can.
Indeed Greenpoint and the
vaporous Newton Creek must be cleaned up at once. There is no question
about that. However, the timing of Andrew Cuomo's actions is certainly
suspect. The oil slick that has lingered under the streets and homes
of Greenpoint for the past fifty years ought to have been addressed
long ago, not so many years later when there is an economic incentive
for doing so.
Joshua Frank is
the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush and