The feds may force the city to bury a giant holding tank for raw sewage and runoff beneath Thomas Green Playground and Douglass-Degraw Pool as part of the planned half-billion dollar cleanup of the Gowanus Canal.
The massive catch basin would be installed directly under the parkland according to a recently unveiled Environmental Protection Agency Superfund proposal, which calls for the city-funded construction of the $46.5-million container to prevent millions of gallons of human waste and stormwater from pouring into the waterway when rain floods sewers past capacity.
Superfund project manager Christos Tsiamis said at a Jan. 24 community meeting that the eight-million-gallon subterranean catch basin must be built on city-owned land and “has to be close to the source” — a sewer outfall at the head of the canal, just one block away from Thomas Greene Playground and the adjoining “Double D” pool, that dumps most of the human waste into the waterway.
The feds say those two factors make the parkland a prime location, but neighbors and Gowanus activists worry excavation and construction will sink their ability to enjoy the open space along Third Avenue for far too long.
“It would be a very poor choice to put [the catch basin] under a swimming pool, which could probably put the pool out of commission for 10 years,” said Sue Wolfe, president of Friends of Douglass/Greene Park, a community group that rallied to save the beloved outdoor swimming spot from city budget cuts two years ago. “We need the pool and the children need the pool.”
Members of the park advocacy group are particularly worried about a construction-related closure because the newly renovated greenspace is slated for a full reopening in March after activists lobbied electeds for nearly $1 million in funding.
They are also afraid of storing contaminants deemed too toxic for the Gowanus Canal beneath the treasured public pool.
“You’ll have millions of gallons of raw sewage beneath the pool and I just don’t see how that is safe,” said Friends of Douglass/Greene Park board member and Gowanus resident Sabine Aronowsky.. “This shouldn’t happen — I don’t feel comfortable with it and I don’t know any parent that would.”
Federal officials could not offer more details about the catch basins by press time, but at the forum Tsiamis said the agency is open to community suggestions for other potential locations.
He also stressed that although the construction of the tank might be a temporary burden, it’s a price worth paying to keep raw sewage out of the waterway.
“Almost all segments of the community along the canal will be inconvenienced for a short time in one way or another,” said Tsiamis. “So for the short term there will be inconvenience for the long term benefit.”
The details of the extensive cleanup plan are not yet in stone, but the current proposal calls for dredging toxic sediment from the waterway, capping the canal-bed to keep contaminants from bubbling up, and constructing an additional $31.2-million holding tank buried alongside the banks of the canal at the head near Butler Street.
Federal officials have tapped three-dozen polluters, including the city and energy giant National Grid, to foot the bill for the cleanup, which is expected to cost between $467 million and $504 million.
The plan will be finalized by the summer after a public commentary period. Then comes a two-year design phase. The actual cleanup will go on until about 2022, agency officials said.
The agency will accept written and public comments on the proposal until Mar. 28, 2013. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write to:
Christos Tsiamis, project manager
Central New York Remediation Section
US Environmental Protection Agency
290 Broadway, 20th floor
New York, NY 10007-1866