Gowanus Canal cleanup begins

Gowanus Canal cleanup begins
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It’s a Go-wanus!

The long-awaited federal cleanup of the Gowanus Canal got underway on Tuesday as crews began pulling large pieces of debris from the passageway’s noxious waters. And to see the remediation get underway after years of community meetings mapping out the waterway’s cleanup was a fulfilling moment for at least one local who is part of a panel designed to find the best way forward for the scrub.

“We did a lot of work in all our meetings hearing about these activities and to see them moving forward at this point is exciting,” said Marlene Donnelly, who is part of the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group.

Crews will remove 36 large objects — including two boat wrecks the federal government determined have no historical significance — from the Fourth Street basin behind Whole Foods over the next two weeks, according to Natalie Loney, who is the project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency. Ahead of the removal, the agency used sonar to map out the floor of the basin and found objects including a tree, eight support pilings, and several tires, she said.

Loney said the feds have a good idea about what they will find lying beneath the disgusting waters, including bikes and shopping carts, but also said that they might stumble upon some unexpected finds within the murky depths that is known in folklore as a dumping ground for bodies.

“We expect to find what you normally find in an urban setting,” she said. “So there will be urban debris, there may be some surprises. I can’t expect what they might be.”

Once the objects are pulled up from the sludgy abyss, they will be unloaded onto a barge, where crews will wash and clean them before they are divided into landfill or recyclable materials, while any of the toxic sediment that comes up will be taken to an off-site facility.

Air monitors positioned along the canal will keep an eye on the air quality as debris is taken out and the sediment — which contains toxic coal tar — is shaken up, although Loney said that she doesn’t expect there will be high spikes of contaminates flooding the Gowanus air.

And a turbidity curtain has been installed to ensure that disrupted sediment doesn’t infiltrate the rest of the canal, Loney said.

The debris removal is the first step of the lengthy cleanup process, which is expected to be completed in 2022, 12 years after the feds designated it as a Superfund cleanup site. Crews will return in 2017 to dredge the coal tar-infested waterway after the objects are removed from the canal bed.

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