Committee weighs canal cleanup plan

A Community Board 6 committee this week raised a stink about whether to endorse a Park Slope man’s plan to help clean up the noxious Gowanus Canal.

Retired engineer Bart Chezar was hoping to win a letter of support from Community Board 6’s Environmental Protection Committee for his idea, called the Remote Drain Controlled Rainwater Collection Cistern, a project that collects rainwater from buildings, and stores it in large drums if a signal indicates that an overflow event is imminent.

He won the committee’s support — but won’t get a letter until after a deadline for him to submit his proposal to the city passes.

Chezar, as previously reported here, is submitting an application to the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is seeking proposals for how best to remove stormwater from the combined sewer system, and how best to treat it before it is discharged back into the Gowanus Canal watershed, and in Flushing Bay in Queens.

When it rains, sewage and stormwater overtax the system, exceeding the capacity of sewage treatment plants. When that happens, the foul overflow is dumped into the canal, polluting the waterway and contributing to its characteristic odor.

The DEP expects to award grants totaling $2.9 million to the potential projects, equally divided between the two areas. The deadline for submissions is Feb. 26.

On Feb. 22, the committee voted 6-3 with two abstentions to dispatch a letter of support — but argued it can only send it after its full board weighs the matter. The board next meets on March 10.

“I was disappointed,” Chezar said. “I guess I was surprised,” he continued, adding that Craig Hammerman, the board’s district manager, recommended Chezar make the proposal to the committee in the first place.

But committee members wondered why they were being asked to endorse one proposal — as good as it might sound — particularly when they haven’t even seen all the proposals.

“It is outrageously irresponsible to recommend one project over another,” said member Mark Shames.“I can’t sign up for something I’ve never seen,” added member Steven Miller.

But Bob Zuckerman, the committee’s chair, said the committee would welcome hearing other proposals, if and when they come to the group. “I don’t think we are saying one over another,” he said.

Meanwhile, Chezar said the debate puzzled him, particularly concern from some that the pilot area, from Prospect Park to the canal, and from Eighth Street to Carroll Street, was not inclusive enough. “The crap we put in our toilets, it’s no different from another part of the neighborhood. Crap goes into the canal — it doesn’t differentiate,” he noted. “This project is all about cleaning up the canal.”

Chezar said he has already won letters of support from City Councilmember Steve Levin, the Park Slope Civic Council, Gowanus Dredgers and Proteus Gowanus — all to be submitted alongside his proposal.