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Are tree pits a ‘quick fix’ for Gowanus stink?

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The city’s latest effort to stanch the stink in the Gowanus Canal is the pits.

Environmental officials unveiled four “green” spaces on Dean Street that will hold onto stormwater during heavy rainstorms so that sewer systems don’t overflow, sending raw sewage into the already polluted, foul-smelling waterway.

The drainage ditches near Fourth Avenue in Park Slope are topped with mulch and water-thirsty shrubs to absorb up to 7,200 gallons of runoff during light rain storms.

But at just 80 square feet, the glorified tree pits aren’t designed to handle heavy rainfall, according to city planners, the $16,000 green pits will overflow — rendering them ineffective whenever it pours.

Still, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland touted the plant-covered holes.

“They are a perfect example of how green infrastructure projects not only help retain stormwater, but also beautify our streets and sidewalks,” Strickland said.

Residents were more skeptical.

Diane Jacobowitz said the tree pits weren’t likely to make the canal smell any better — or stop her dance studio on Fourth Avenue at Dean Street from flooding during downpours.

“It’ll flood the next time [it rains hard],” said Jacobowitz, whose ground-floor business was inundated with water twice in the past year. “There’s obviously a drainage problem here.”

Supporters of the project countered that it was a small step forward towards improving the water quality in the fetid canal.

“This is a quick and easy first step in the right direction,” said Craig Hammerman, the district manager of Community Board 6.

Strickland said the city is planning to install green roofs, rain barrels and more of the landscaped pits to handle 10 percent of the stormwater runoff in the area.

The bioswales on Dean Street aren’t the first of their kind in the borough.

Last year, the city gave the Gowanus Canal Conservancy $580,000 to install a similar system of water-sucking plants along Sixth Street between Second and Fourth avenues.

Reach reporter Daniel Bush at dbush@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow him at twitter.com/dan_bush.

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Reader Feedback

Adrastos from bklyn says:
are they kidding me.
the tree pits will become litter boxes.
why dont they just re route the pipes to not go into the canal
Nov. 17, 2011, 10:53 am
Josef from downtown brooklyn says:
1. Mr. Strickland and Mr. Hammerman have the right perspective on this matter: it's a step in the right direction.

2. Adrastos - so what if they do "become litter boxes"? As far as I can tell, pet owners let their animals do their business over almost any square foot of ground they can find, so why not have that ground catch rain water and be host to greenery at the same time? As for re-routing the pipes not to go into the canal, well, our sewer system drains into local bodies of water when over-filled. That is why it is unwise to go swimming in this area after heavy rain. Routing the sewer overflow to the rivers or harbor would only shift the problem.

3. I do not understand Ms. Jacobowitz's point - no one claimed that these things would solve all her problems.

4. "But at just 80 square feet, the glorified tree pits aren’t designed to handle heavy rainfall, according to city planners, the $16,000 green pits will overflow — rendering them ineffective whenever it pours."
This is ungrammatical - I suggest a semi-colon after "rainfall".
Nov. 17, 2011, 3:57 pm
Larry from NYC says:
No the DEP hasn't claimed that the tree pit will solve Ms. Jacobowitz's problem--the DEP isn't really interested in solving her problem.
What is unconscionable here is that the DEP is using these little installations as an excuse for not doing the real work that is need to keep all that raw sewage out of the canal (and maybe some basements).

Adrastos may be on to something with the suggestion to reroute pipes--but to bad the city sewer department is no longer in the business of making the sewer pipes function well. Besides, planting is more fun, and who can be against more vegetation growing in this concrete city. It allows the DEP to hold their heads high while holding their noses next to the Gowanus.
Nov. 17, 2011, 6 pm

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