New York Post

November 23, 2003 -- EXCLUSIVE

Mayor Bloomberg wants to saddle taxpayers with the liability for the largest urban oil spill in the country and let the culprit, ExxonMobil, off the hook.

In a Nov. 13 letter to the company, obtained by The Post, the mayor's office said it wants to buy a 9.8-acre property in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, from ExxonMobil that is saturated with 17 million gallons of oil - 6 million more gallons than was spilled from the tanker Exxon Valdez when it ran aground off Alaska.

"The City of New York is very serious about acquiring the site from ExxonMobil," states Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff in the letter.

The city wants the land for a new power plant.

But TransGas Energy, which has proposed building a plant in Brooklyn, said it's not interested in the Greenpoint site because of the length of time it would take to clean the oil, around 20 years by most estimates.

It wants to build at the former Bayside Fuel Depot, which sits in the middle of a stretch of Williamsburg waterfront that the mayor plans to rezone for new housing and parks and hopefully future Olympic venues.

At recent hearings to discuss TransGas' 1,100 megawatt plant, a city official said the mayor had personally telephoned ExxonMobil about the Greenpoint deal, according to two people at the hearings, which ended Thursday. The mayor's office would not comment.

Under the proposed deal with ExxonMobil, the city would buy the site at fair market value, less the estimated cost of the cleanup, which would be calculated by an independent assessor.

The city would take on the cleaning and the open-ended liability from any health problems, accidents, or property damage resulting from the spill, the cleanup or construction on the site.

"A deal that hastens the cleanup could be a good thing," admitted Councilman David Yassky, whose district includes the spill site. "But under no circumstances should city taxpayers have to take on the liability for the spill."

Beginning in the 1950s, millions of gallons of oil leaked from a storage facility on the property. The spill has spread underground to about 44 acres.

ExxonMobil was ordered by the state in the early '90s to clean the site. The company said it has been cleaning since the '70s but has only removed about 3 million gallons.

The city wants the TransGas plant located in Greenpoint and insists the cleanup of the site and construction of the plant could go on simultaneously.

Environmental consultants contacted by The Post said the plant construction, which would involve driving piles into the ground, should not be done at the same time as the cleaning.

Critics, including local residents, the environmental group Riverkeeper and the New York Public Interest Research Group, contend the city is not acting in the public interest letting ExxonMobil off the hook and in opening up taxpayers to liability.

There have been no studies to measure the health impact of the spill or the damage to surrounding areas where the oil plume has spread, but oil slicks are often seen in nearby Newtown Creek.

In response to questions from The Post, the mayor's office issued a statement saying, "The letter is a proposal and we plan to have subsequent conversations with ExxonMobil to finalize the details of that proposal."

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