No Go-wanus: Pilot canal-dredging program stalled, further postponing cleanup effort

EPA: We found the money to keep Gowanus Canal cleanup going
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Ready, set, no!

The long-awaited cleanse of the toxic Gowanus Canal got stuck in the muck yet again last month when workers hit a roadblock during one of the simplest parts of the cleanup, according to the man in charge of it.

Environmental Protection Agency honchos last September announced that the fetid waterway’s cleanse would resume in October, with workers installing bulkheads along its banks before removing some of the noxious black sediment from the canal’s floor as part of a pilot dredging-and-capping program expected to wrap this April.

But the bulkhead installation isn’t complete, and it’s anyone’s guess when the actual dredging will take place, the federal official overseeing the scrub told a crowd of locals on Jan. 23.

“I’m not going to give you another date as to when we are going to start,” project manager Christos Tsiamis said during a Gowanus Community Advisory group meeting. “If you had asked me several months ago if I would expect so much trouble with the simplest task, I would have told you, ‘No, it’s a simple task, we will finish it quickly and move on to the
actual dredging and capping.’ ”

Tsiamis said workers ran into trouble while driving massive machines he called giant hammers into the canal’s banks to make way for the new barrier walls, because the equipment too forcefully shook the ground, creating fissures in nearby land and buildings.

“We encountered quite a few difficulties with the installation of the bulkheads,” he said. “The cracks became a little wider, and these are things we have to be very careful about.”

Workers will now use smaller, less-powerful tools at the Feds’ request, and only drive in one steel sheet pile at a time in order to prevent more ruptures — changes that will further delay the job that managers last fall said had no end in sight after it kicked off in 2016 with a completion date of 2022.

But doing the project safely is the agency’s top priority, even if it prolongs purging the Gowanus of its “black mayonnaise” once and for all, Tsiamis said.

“If we install one sheet pile at a time, that means we will be going much slower,” he said. “You know how much I care about the schedule, but when it comes to safety and other people’s property, that comes first.”

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.