Pols demand more details on city’s delay requests for crucial Gowanus stormwater tanks

gowanus rezoning
The Gowanus Canal looking north from the Carroll Street Bridge.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

City environmental honchos must explain why they’re seeking to delay construction of two crucial stormwater retention tanks along the Gowanus Canal, local pols demanded.

Councilmember Brad Lander called on the Department of Environmental Protection to provide more details and a clear project timeline for their plans to build two combined sewer overflow tanks designed to reduce re-pollution of Brooklyn’s Nautical Purgatory, as the federally-supervised dredging of the canal bed kicks off in less than two weeks.

“We’re eager to both have more clarity from DEP but also insist that the tanks proceed on schedule,” Lander said. “You’re only going to get this project done with clear deadlines and clear commitments.”

DEP requested extensions to build the catch basins from the federal Environmental Protection Agency in June due to a drop in water usage revenue during the pandemic. 

The upper cistern and filtration facility capable of holding 8 million gallons of stormwater won’t be finished until the end of 2032, while the schedule for the 4 million gallon mid-canal is not yet clear, according to emails between DEP and EPA. The city agency asked the feds to allow them to push back their timelines by 12 months for the larger tank and 18 months for the smaller one. 

The $1.3 billion infrastructure upgrade would hold more combined stormwater runoff during heavy rain, before releasing it back to the Red Hook and Owl’s Head wastewater treatment plants, which will significantly reduce the amount of raw sewage pouring into the canal during storms.

EPA hasn’t yet granted that extension to the city, prompting Lander and fellow area Councilman Stephen Levin to send a joint letter to DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza demanding more transparency.

The legislators asked in the Nov. 3 missive that the senior official give a clear timeline of when they expect to build both tanks — with and without the requested delays — and whether they think the setback will cause the waterway to re-pollute after EPA’s contractors dredge and cap the filthy canal bed, which is set to start on the upper third of the channel on Nov. 16.

“Please explain why you believe a delay to the completion of the … tanks is responsible in light of the Superfund dredging timeline and will not result in significant recontamination of the canal,” reads the letter provided to Brooklyn Paper. “Do you project that DEP will incur costs for maintenance dredging of sewage between the completion of the Superfund dredging and the completion of the tanks?”

The city is contractually on the hook to clean up any additional pollution on top of the Superfund remedy, which could include expanding infrastructure to manage an influx of newcomers with the upcoming neighborhood rezoning, EPA officials have said.

Lander said that he doesn’t want city taxpayers to have to foot the bill for any extra pollution due to delays, urging city officials to build on the EPA’s momentum of dredging and get going.

“We don’t want the city to spend extra dollars, but I also don’t want the city to turn around and say, ‘Wait to dredge,'” he said. “We need the momentum of this project to move forward. Let’s get them both [the dredging and tanks] done as fast as we can.”

DEP spokesman Ted Timbers said the agency is preparing a detailed response for the legislators, but declined to provide any details.