City to dredge Newtown Creek

City to dredge Newtown Creek
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The city wants to tear down a giant sludge transfer station at the mouth of Newtown Creek so it can free-up space for a park there, but first is has to dredge a large portion of the filthy waterway so tankers can head into Greenpoint to pick up their load.

The plan is to dredge as deep as nine feet in some spots of the creek between the East River and Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant at Provost Street near Greenpoint Avenue, and as deep as 13 feet in Whale Creek, an inlet just past the Pulaski Bridge that will give boats direct access to the plant. There, the city will build a new loading dock and two new vessels to hold the nasty fluid. Those depths will allow the boats to travel beneath drawbridge during low tide without having to raise it.

And even though the Newtown Creek is a federal Superfund site that needs a serious clean-up, the city claims that the sediment is scoops from its banks is not toxic according to sediment sampling the city ordered in 2009.

Some Creek advocates agreed that work is necessary, but are still worried about what will happen with the polluted silt that is brought up.

“Any kind of dredging is a concern,” said Kate Zidar, executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance. “If the sediment has high levels of contamination, we need to dispose of them appropriately.”

But city officials said the dredging would not adversely affect the environment because shovels wouldn’t go too deep.

“Everyone is concerned, because this is a Superfund site,” said Christine Holowacz, the liaison to the Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee. “But they’re not going to go very far down.”

Holowacz said more testing is needed to determine how the sediment will be disposed.

The move will allow the city to tear down a massive concrete sludge tank that looms over prime East River parkland at DuPont and Commercial streets. For years, wastewater sludge has poured from the plant through a pipe under several blocks of Greenpoint in to the tank.

Once all the work is done, the city says it can enlarge the Newtown Barge Playground, which sits at the site where the boats currently come in, but that likely will not happen for at least a couple more years.

“It was a commitment to take that area for open space, so they agreed that the sludge vessel had to move,” said Holowacz.

The dredging is tentatively slated for either spring or fall of 2013 — there is a moratorium on dredging in the creek during the summer — and the sludge tank on the East River should be demolished sometime in the first part of 2014.

The dredging work could go on 24 hours a day, according to the city.

The creek has not been dredged since the 1970s, so even without this project, the city would have had to dredge the creek eventually so that boats would be able to continue to get through, said Holowacz.

Businesses along the creek said they would wait and see if the dredging affects them.

“As long as our building doesn’t fall into the creek, it’s probably okay,” said Jessica Kaplan, manager at Sightline Fabrication.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.