Work proceeding along Gowanus

It might not be a Superfund site, but that’s not stopping the feds from treating the Gowanus Canal like one.

Contractors working for the Environmental Protection Agency have already completed a depth analysis of the 1.8-mile long polluted waterway, whose fate as far as the Superfund program is concerned has yet to be determined by the agency.

The depth study was finished the week of Jan. 4. Next up will be a sampling of the natural sediment, as well as the gunk that has accumulated on it over the many years the waterway was a thriving, and besieged industrial waterway. Agency spokesperson Elizabeth Totman said the sediment sampling will begin next week, and span until the end of March. The work, she said, will give the EPA a better sense of the nature and extent of the pollutants lurking in the canal. After that, the agency plans to sample the water, and perform air quality tests. That work is slated for the spring.

Despite not officially being named a Superfund site, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), the agency can perform all the work that is required to delineate the extent of the contamination, including extensive sampling, proposing a remedy and deciding on a final remedy. In fact, Superfund is the common name for CERCLA, a law that authorizes the feds to compel those responsible for the pollution to pay for a site’s clean up.

“Basically, we can go about our business — even if it’s not listed,” Totman said. She said the only thing the EPA cannot move ahead with is the “construction of the preferred remedy,” which in the case of the canal, would be the removal of the toxic sediment.

Listing the canal as a Superfund site has generated controversy, with those opposed to the designation, fearing its stigma could stymie millions of dollars in private development contemplated along the water’s edge. The mayor has hatched an alternative plan for the canal’s cleanup, which Totman said is still being considered, along with the entirety of the public’s comments.

The EPA will be meeting with local residents this week to discuss ways the community can become engaged with work that is being conducted in and around the canal. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, January 21, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., in the auditorium of Public School 32, 317 Hoyt Street.

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