It stinks! Locals pooh-pooh plan for Gowanus sewage-tank site

It stinks! Locals pooh-pooh plan for Gowanus sewage-tank site
Department of Environmental Protection

They’re more like a headache!

City engineers must rip up their plans for a new water-filtration facility called a headhouse and its adjacent public space on the Gowanus Canal, according to many Gowanusaurs, who blasted the proposed scheme as ill-conceived at a meeting about the waterway’s federally led cleanup.

Officials proposed erecting the headhouse on Butler Street on land now occupied by the old Gowanus Station building — which they want to raze in order to bury one of two massive water-storage tanks going in as part of the ongoing scrub — and an open-air community space on an adjacent Nevins Street plot. But many locals argued the two parcels boast enough land to install the tank, build the headhouse, and create the new open space without destroying the beloved 1913 structure.

“I don’t see that it’s a problem to simply move the entire thing down. You sacrifice some of this open space, yes, but also get some public good out of it saving this building,” Brad Vogel, a neighborhood advocate on the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group, said at the Thursday meeting with officials from the Department of Environmental Protection and Gowanus Councilman Stephen Levin. “I would really ask DEP to go back to the drawing board and move this and save this building and still have a win-win.”

Last month, Council okayed the city’s use of eminent domain to seize the canal-adjacent Butler and Nevins street lots — if officials and the property owners can’t agree on a sale price on their own — so that Environmental Protection Department bigwigs can exhume the land to make way for an 8-million gallon cistern to collect future storm-water runoff that the Feds require as part of their cleanup.

But water destined for the underground tank must first be filtered, necessitating the construction of the headhouse — a no-more-than-seven-story facility where large screens will purge the wet stuff of tampons, animal corpses, and other debris that officials want to build with parts of the Gowanus Station they will salvage after hitting it with the wrecking ball.

“We are not trying to replicate what’s here, but we do want to take some of the substantial pieces,” said Environmental Protection Department bigwig Michael DeLoach. “Obviously, the design of the building is more modern.”

DeLoach and fellow officials tapped two firms to design the headhouse — where water will also pass through a so-called “de-gritter,” which removes sand and gravel, and machines that dilute its odor before it is pumped to the storage tank and ultimately a city wastewater treatment plant — with an exterior made of a breathable material such as terra cotta that also exposes the facility’s various parts to passersby, making it an attraction in the neighborhood.

“The strategy is to create visual interest for folks in the community,” said Alicia West, who conducts outreach for the city environmental agency.

Building the infrastructure, however, is difficult and expensive. Its price tag could inflate to a whopping $1.2 billion once officials tally the final costs for land acquisition and construction of the headhouse, public space, large storage tank, and a smaller 4-million gallon vessel the Feds also require along the canal in Gowanus Councilman Brad Lander’s district — which city officials did not share designs for, but want to bury on city-owned land near Second Avenue and the Fourth Street Turning Basin — according to engineers and information from Lander’s office.

But the price to acquire the properties for the infrastructure presents a unique opportunity to transform parts of the land into a semi-green public space along the canal, according to Levin, which is why officials tasked firms Selldorf Architects and Dland Studio to dream up inviting designs for the sewage-tank and headhouse sites that could be incorporated into a larger, sprawling waterfront park down the line.

“Open space is not in great supply here,” Levin said.

Still, the city’s top priority for any such public recreational space should be to ensure it includes the nearly century-old Gowanus Station that is now an iconic symbol of the neighborhood, another local preservationist said.

“That building is integral to the community,” said Katia Kelly. “It’s the only one that says Gowanus on it, and it should be saved. That should be the first thing on the list.”

And if the city cannot acquire all the land it needs for the larger sewage-tank project by 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency officials leading the canal’s cleanse will install it in the grave of Gowanus’s beloved Double D pool, which workers will excavate — and replace — as part of the cleanup.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Going down: The city’s plan for building an underground sewer tank and its association mechanical building.
Department of Environmental Protection