Gearing up for a return to the Gowanus Canal’s industrial heyday, minus the toxic sludge

The hundreds of workers and the huge machinery involved in the federal clean-up of the fetid Gowanus Canal will make the waterway look like it did in its industrial heyday, federal officials say.

In the late 1800s, the canal was lined with manufactured gas plants, paper mills, and tanneries. From the late 2010s through the mid 2020s, according to current projections, the length of the 1.8-mile-long inlet will come alive with heavy equipment digging out and carting off the toxic sludge that those operations left behind.

“It’s going to look pretty busy and pretty industrial,” said Judith Enck, a regional administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, at the unveiling of the finalized half-billion-dollar Superfund clean-up plan on Monday.

The $506-million clean-up, which is expected to start in either 2016 or 2017, will work to reverse the waterway’s worst contamination that is the result of canal-side factories dumping chemicals and other contaminants into the inlet.

From the 1860s to the late 1950s, manufactured gas plants along the Gowanus processed coal to turn it into a burnable gas, fueling the city’s growth but leaving behind a toxic legacy of coal tar that reaches 150 feet below the canal. Coal tar is just one of the dozens of dangerous contaminants lurking below the water’s surface and beneath the surrounding ground. Others include heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and copper.

The feds will dredge just 10 feet of the canal bed and cap the rest with concrete, according to the federal plan.

The project is expected to last eight to 10 years and create hundreds of jobs, federal officials say.

“Most of the jobs are going to be people doing the actual clean-up,” said Enck, adding that the federal agency will hire locally as much as possible.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

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