EPA’s Proposed Plan for the Gowanus Canal

EPA’s Proposed Plan for the Gowanus Canal

Preliminary Statement on the EPA’s Proposed Plan for the Gowanus Canal

January 23, 2013

For so many years, cleaning up the Gowanus Canal has been an abiding priority of this community, and I am very pleased to see that day getting closer.

Thank you to the EPA team – especially Judith Enck, Walter Mugdan, Christos Tsiamis, and Natalie Loney – for your diligent work on this project, to the many partners in government who have been pushing for a Gowanus cleanup, and to so many community advocates who have been working tirelessly to get to this point.

I am enthusiastic about the EPA’s Proposed Plan. While I will want to listen to comments from the community before presenting more detailed comments closer to the end of the comment period – especially about some of the decisions still to be made, such as the location and process for treating and disposing of dredged material – I believe broadly that the Proposed Plan calls for the right steps:

  • Removing 500,000+ cubic yards of contaminated sediment from the bottom of the canal.
  • Treating some contaminated dredged material off-site for re-use.
  • Stabilizing some sediment contaminated with liquid coal tar in place.
  • Capping dredged areas with multiple layers of clean material, to restore the canal bottom as a habitat.
  • Implementing stormwater runoff control measures to significantly reduce the amount of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) deposited in the Gowanus Canal – so that the canal is not recontaminated after the dredging.

I was pleased to see the EPA’s commitment in the Proposed Plan to coordinate with other government agencies to ensure the best cleanup possible. This includes working closely with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on the remediation of contaminated upland sites, especially the three manufactured gas plants. And I was very glad to see that the EPA and DEC (which oversees the City’s obligations under the Clean Water Act) are “committed to work together throughout the development of the remedial design and the contemporaneous Long Term Control Plan development process to ensure that both the Superfund and CWA goals are met in a timely, cost-effective manner.” I hope this spirit of coordination and collaboration can be even further extended – to include not only dredging and water quality improvements, but also bulkheads, shorelines, and wetlands restoration, and to include the City of New York, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other relevant public and private partners.

This is an important moment for Gowanus – and one we need to build upon. The EPA’s Proposed Superfund Plan is a huge start, but we will need to do more, especially in the wake of the Canal’s flooding during Hurricane Sandy. I believe we need to move forward together, with all stakeholders at the table, to develop a comprehensive plan for the infrastructure (e.g. sewers, flood protection, transportation, and open space) and land use regulations needed for a safe, vibrant, sustainable, productive, mixed-use Canal area.

Let me be clear: that work will not be easy. Stakeholders have different ideas for what they want to see along and around the Canal. It is simple to say that we all want a sustainable, mixed-use area, with open space and waterfront access. It will be much harder to map out where manufacturing should remain the sole use; where a mix of uses should be allowed; if, where, and what type of residential development should be allowed to take place; what infrastructure, regulations, and amenities are needed; and who should pay for them. The Gowanus Canal area we want will cost a lot of money – on top of the $500 million estimated by the EPA for the Proposed Plan – and it will not be easy to allocate those costs and raise the needed resources.

But I believe it would be a short-sighted mistake to miss this opportunity. With the great work done by the EPA leading to a real plan for cleanup, and with the clarity provided by Hurricane Sandy about the realities of climate change for our future, we have the opportunity to reclaim this toxic corner of our neighborhood, and create an innovative model for low-lying, mixed-use areas on a warming planet. Let’s not let it pass us by.

Again, thank you to the EPA for all the work that went into this bold and important plan. I look forward to working with all of the stakeholders to see it finalized and implemented, and to build upon it toward a vibrant, sustainable future for the Gowanus in the years ahead.

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