Gowanus neighbors grill agency about canal
by Andrew Pavia
Nov 28, 2012 | 4268 views | 0 0 comments | 50 50 recommendations | email to a friend | print

A panel made up of representatives from government agencies and elected officials inform residents of the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Gowanus Canal.
A panel made up of representatives from government agencies and elected officials inform residents of the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the Gowanus Canal.
Brooklyn residents got a chance to ask questions of government agencies about Gowanus Canal flooding during the hurricane, but received few answers.

Often times when a point was raised, the panel of agencies – including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and local elected officials – gathered at P.S. 32 Monday night would often reply that it was a good question that would be addressed at future meetings.

Judith Enck of the EPA spoke about the impact that Hurricane Sandy had on the canal. She said that a large sewage treatment plant in Newark, New Jersey, “discharged large quantities of untreated raw sewage into New York harbor.”

Although the meeting itself was put together to inform and allow the community members to voice their concerns about the Gowanus Canal flooding, many were focused on what will happen to prevent the next devastating storm.

One community member asked how future infrastructure would be built to improve the quality of the area along with preventing flooding from occurring again, but Enck said the EPA's Superfund cleanup with the Gowanus Canal is not focused on infrastructure.

“I’m going to be honest with you,” Enck said, “When we design superfund cleanups it’s not with a eye toward flood prevention and broader community planning.”

She would later explain that federal law doesn’t allow them to do so. However, she said, “It’s a reminder that we need to work harder to integrate different levels of government.”

As far as the federal cleanup of the Gowanus Canal, Enck said that currently the EPA is doing extensive testing in the area and determining the next course of action.

“In just a few weeks, EPA will be releasing our proposed plan for cleanup that will go out to the public for comment,” she said.

The major issues that Enck said were seen by the EPA during their testing were that of sewage in the Gowanus Canal.

She later called the cleanup a “monumental undertaking” that will take billions of dollars to fix. She said the process will lead to an increase in bacteria in the water, and advised community members to stay away from the canal.

Another resident brought up the issue of residential and commercial development along the canal.

“I think that a moratorium on any building along the Gowanus Canal is the right thing to do,” she said to applause from the crowd. “It just makes sense.”

After a few more community members spoke, it seemed that the idea of slowing down the building of anything along the canal was being overlooked. This was felt by at least one community member who stood up and reiterated the need for a moratorium.

Councilman Brad Lander said he is doing just that. He has called on the Lightstone Group, a developer behind a proposed 700-unit residential building on the banks of the Gowanus Canal to withdraw the proposal until a forward-looking planning process can take place.

However, when pressed by community members about the chances of actually stopping the project, Lander admitted that the issue is “hard and complicated.”
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