Gowanus

Feds vow to be Gowanus Canal watchdog as city eyes redevelopment

"We’re not going to be passive onlookers."

May 29, 2019 Scott Enman
The Environmental Protection Agency said the city and developers are required to implement mitigation measures to prevent the canal from being re-polluted. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane

The federal agency tasked with overseeing the remediation of the Gowanus Canal told residents on Tuesday that it would fight to ensure that the city’s rezoning plan would not compromise its cleanup efforts.

The city’s controversial proposal, which prioritizes an increase in housing and industrial space, could bring as many as 20,000 new residents to the area. The added density would create more storm runoff — referred to as combined sewage overflow, or CSO — that would overrun the sewers and ultimately burden the canal.

In the Environmental Protection Agency’s most pointed remarks to date, spokesperson Christos Tsiamis said that the city cannot legally interfere with the EPA’s cleanup. In fact, the city is required to implement mitigation measures to prevent or offset any additional contamination.

In public comments submitted to the city, which the Brooklyn Eagle reviewed, Tsiamis quantified for the first time the projected impact that the proposed development would have on the canal, anticipating an almost 1.8-million-gallon increase in wastewater per day.

“We’re not going to be passive onlookers,” Tsiamis said. “We’re going to work with the city. We have a responsibility to maintain the remedy. We will be asking for a lot of information on what the rezoning means in terms of our remedy.”

Tsiamis put the burden on the city to figure out the impact of increased development and explain how they’ll tackle the issue.

“The [Environmental Impact Statement] process should accurately determine the incremental volume of CSO-related discharges to the canal and what appropriate mitigation measures, or combination of measures, are required to prevent an adverse effect on the EPA-selected remedy for the canal,” Tsiamis wrote.

“EPA intends to work cooperatively with the city to ensure that the rezoning process is conducted in a manner that is, with respect to the canal, protective of human health and the environment.”

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The EPA’s current plan to clean the canal, which was created in 2013, does not take into account any zoning changes.

A sketch of a Gowanus Canal bridge with waterfront development and pedestrian activity. Courtesy of Department of City Planning
A sketch of what Gowanus could look like, were the rezoning to go through. Courtesy of Department of City Planning

Department of City Planning spokesperson Joe Marvilli said that his organization has the same goal as the EPA and residents: keeping the waterway clean.

“A clean Gowanus Canal and neighborhood is a top priority,” Marvilli said. “DCP is working closely with [the city’s Department of Environmental Protection] on solutions to sewer overflow, including plans for facilities that will intercept sewage before it reaches the canal and nearly $41.5 million in infrastructure upgrades in the Industrial Business Zone.”

He said DCP would keep the community up to date on additional mitigation approaches in the neighborhood.

The EPA’s comments came as a relief for residents who have been raising these concerns for months at Community Advisory Group meetings, the public scoping hearing and at a rally last week.

“It’s heartening to hear that the EPA will be monitoring the CSO issue during the rezoning,” resident and activist Brad Vogel told the Eagle. “There is a lot of uncertainty, and while this doesn’t clear it up entirely, it’s a great first step.”

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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