Leave it up to Brooklyn’s party animals to celebrate the centennial of the Gowanus Canal’s “flushing tunnel,” a bit of infrastructure that has been about as much use as a handbrake on a canoe.
The drainage system was installed 100 years ago in the Gowanus Canal to clean up the waterway and reduce its stench — a prospect welcomed on June 21, 1911, with bunting, speeches, a huge street parade and the crowning of a 9-year-old “Miss Gowanus,” who floated out on a barge to cheers and cast lilies upon the murky waters.
These days, it’s still difficult to stroll along the waterway without holding your nose, but that didn’t stop area residents from marking its 100-year milestone on Tuesday with a replication of the original ceremony, complete with a parade, a flower-toss and the crowning of not one, but several “Miss Gowanuses.”
Area residents poured into Butler Street behind the old pumping station, and marched down Bond to the Union Street Bridge to hoot-n-holler at the pageant girls and other festive floaters who threw white lilies into the canal from a barge — a multi-sensory spectacle co-presented by Urban Divers and Proteus Gowanus.
The merrymaking continued later with refreshments at Proteus Gowanus, but not everyone was in the party mood.
“That tunnel didn’t do a bit of good, the canal still stinks to high heaven,” lamented Dora Rodriguez, who lives a few blocks away, and says that she longs for a time when she can breathe fresh air as she walks along the choke-point.
The flushing tunnel was re-activated in 1999 when the original one broke down after 50 years. Last year, the feds declared the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site and left the Environmental Protection Agency in charge.
That agency discovered contamination all along the 1.8 mile stretch, including toxins, metals and pesticides — a scourge it is hoping to overturn with an oxygenation system and fines for polluters.