City’s plan won’t fully clean up polluted Gowanus Canal, as Bloomberg fights to keep feds out
The city has only $15 million to dredge one-tenth of the polluted Gowanus Canal – and the cleanup won’t even go deep enough to remove toxic sludge from the 1.8-mile waterway, the Daily News has learned.
Battling a plan to designate the canal a federal Superfund site, the Bloomberg administration is trying to convince the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help pay a portion of the $150 million pricetag to dredge the entire canal.
City officials are also pinning their hopes on getting canal polluters to voluntarily pitch in and pay to clean up the high levels of coal tar, PCBs and heavy metals that are in the waterway instead of facing years of litigation under the Superfund program.
“Our goal is to identify all the responsible parties and engage them in the process,” said Daniel Walsh of the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation.
But a top federal environmental official said the city’s plan to get financial help from the Army Corps and private polluters is unrealistic.
City officials are scrambling to come up with an alternate cleanup plan to avoid having the canal placed on the Superfund list – a lengthy process that could take decades to complete and could drive away $400 million in private development planned for the banks of the canal.
The city’s plan to spend another $160 million for a new flushing tunnel and pumping station to keep the canal’s water moving and minimize its foul odors is set to begin this fall and take four years to complete.
But city officials concede that without funds from the Army Corp and private polluters, their plan hardly scratches the surface of the canal’s environmental problems.
The $15 million of dredging, set to begin in 2014, would only allow 3 feet of the waterway to be dredged, taking off accumulated surface debris such as raw sewage, but not touching the decades-old industrial contaminants.
“We know full well that the work planned does not constitute comprehensive cleanup and would have to coincide with the rigorous remediation plan that we’re developing now,” said Bloomberg spokesman Andrew Brent.
Federal Environmental Protection Agency officials say this is exactly why the canal should be designated a Superfund site – to ensure a thorough cleanup.
“[The city's plan] leaves the vast majority of the heavily contaminated sediments totally untouched,” said Walter Mugdan, director of the EPA’s Emergency and Remedial Response Division.
“They would be removing not the heavily chemically contaminated material that’s deep in the canal,” he said.
City officials said their plan will clean up the canal faster and more efficiently without the Superfund designation – but Mugdan said it is unlikely the city will get enough money from the Army Corps or private polluters.
“That money has to come from somewhere,” said Mugdan, adding he believes it’s unlikely Congress will vote to give the Army Corps the money, and that polluters don’t usually step up to pay without the threat of Superfund litigation.
“Most people are not willing to just put a lot of money on the table unless there’s a real risk for them not doing so,” Mugdan said.
BY Erin Durkin and Elizabeth Hays