Gowanus

Officials, community hail start of Gowanus Canal dredging

November 19, 2020 Editorial Staff

Brooklyn officials and community activists are praising the long-awaited start of the EPA’s dredging project of the Gowanus Canal — a Superfund site and one of the most polluted bodies of water on the East Coast.

A ceremony was held earlier this week near the historic Carroll Street Bridge, one of the few remaining retractable swing bridges in the United States, to mark the start of dredging operations in the upper portion of the canal. The EPA has anticipated that dredging in this portion of the canal will be completed in the fall of 2022. Capping of the dredged areas to seal in liquid tar and other contaminants that are too deep to be excavated is slated to be completed in mid-2023.

During the dredging, an excavator mounted on a platform barge will remove contaminated sediment from the bottom of the canal. The dredged material will be loaded onto barges and transported down the canal to the primary staging area at the end of Huntington Street, where it will be “dewatered.” The dewatered sediment will be transferred onto larger barges and transported to an offsite facility in New Jersey for processing, the EPA said.

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The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, drag performer Shequida Hall and others on Oct. 23 celebrated early voting with a concert on the Canal.

“This day is a long time coming, and it wouldn’t have happened without the incredible leadership of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, the phenomenally dedicated and engaged Community Advisory Group, the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as New York City and State partners,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon. “We have a long way to go, but today marks an important milestone in ensuring that this Superfund process will ensure a clean and healthy Gowanus Canal and uplands.”

The excavator mounted on a platform barge at the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site. Photo courtesy of EPA

“We’ve come a long way to get where we are today. Full scale dredging is a welcome and long-awaited step toward full cleanup of the polluted Gowanus Canal,” said U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez.

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Eric McClure, a founding member of the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group, said, “The start of dredging comes just over 10 years from the date of the first meeting of the Community Advisory Group, and many founding CAG members are still actively providing EPA with community input. We’ve looked forward to this day for a long time, as it marks the beginning of the actual removal of contaminants from the canal.”

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The canal, originally a creek famed for its oysters and its nearby farmland, was deepened and turned into an industrial waterway in the mid-19th century. At the height of its activity, it was lined with coal yards, flour mills, cement works, manufactured gas plants, tanneries, various types of factories, machine shops, chemical plants and more.

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All of these facilities produced substantial pollution. More than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, and heavy metals, including mercury, lead, and copper, are present at high levels in the Gowanus Canal sediments, according to the EPA.

Over the years, various methods have been tried to reduce the pollution in the canal. The best-known is the Gowanus Flushing Tunnel, which was opened in 1911. The tunnel’s pumping mechanism brought fresh water from the Buttermilk Channel into the canal. Since then, it has worked on and off. The tunnel, when working, has improved water quality somewhat.

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