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EPA: Canal cleanup is about to run out of money — and Trump isn’t coughing it up! • Brooklyn Paper

EPA: Canal cleanup is about to run out of money — and Trump isn’t coughing it up!

Cleaning it up: Crews started pulling up large debris from the Fourth Street Turning Basin of the Gowanus Canal on Monday.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The Trump Administration is a threat to the federal cleanup of the Gowanus Canal after all, environmental honchos now say.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s funds for running the noxious waterway’s detox will dry up by April 18, and the scrub could slow to a crawl for years if Washington doesn’t loosen its purse strings and cough up some cash soon, the man in charge of the cleanse told a community meeting on Tuesday.

“There’s need of money and without that money nothing can be done, that is the truth,” said project manager Christos Tsiamis at a monthly meeting of the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group. “We have made a request for additional funds to continue oversight and the silence has been deafening. We haven’t heard anything yet.”

The news stands in stark contrast to statements from an agency’s official in January that the cleanup will not be jeopardized by President Trump’s election, but bolsters recent warnings by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that Trump’s plan to cut $330 million from the agency’s Superfund program threatens to hold up the project.

The organizations responsible for befouling the waterway in the first place are supposed to foot the bill, but the money they’ve supplied so far has dwindled over the past year, according to the project’s lawyer Brian Carr — who told the room that he had been forbidden from attending the group’s meetings for the past year while the agency hashed out a settlement with the city.

The polluters have been paying contractors directly for their work but owe the Feds about $15 million, according to Carr. He is confident he can secure the dough from them in the next six to 12 months, but not quickly enough to cover costs after April.

“In the interim we’re not really in a particularly good position,” he said.

Tsiamis has asked the Feds for $400,000–$500,000 in the meantime, but said he hasn’t heard anything back.

With no money, the six-person team in charge of evaluating and approving the designs for the cleanup’s next phase — which includes installing giant sewage tanks next to the waterway — will be slashed to just one: Tsiamis. He is an expert in chemical engineering but still needs help with other subjects like structural engineering and general paper pushing.

“Without the funds to fund my team, the project is going to slow down significantly, there’s no other way,” he said. “Instead of taking six months, it will take two years or something like that to complete the design.”

Tsiamis still stands by his colleague’s previous statement that The Donald won’t compromise the project, since the polluters will ultimately cover the costs and it will eventually get done, even if it is delayed for now.

But he has already had several disagreements with the responsible parties about their plans for the cleanup, since they prefer to do things as cheaply as possible and he thinks it is important to pay for oversight to make sure the job gets done right.

Still, Tsiamis seemed to have changed his outlook somewhat by the end of the meeting, and said he is optimistic the president will come through despite his silence thus far, arguing that everybody in the White House knows about the project — including Trump’s son-in-law and right-hand man Jared Kushner, who owns land along the canal — and it would go along with the commander-in-chief’s plan to revitalize the country’s infrastructure.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill

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