City to Seize Land for Gowanus Sewage Tanks to Keep Them Out of Beloved Park

Kayakers on the Gowanus Canal. Photo by Hannah Frishberg

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It’s cleanup time. After years of debate about how to proceed with the cleanup of the toxic Gowanus Canal, the city has decided to seize private land along the waterway to store two Environmental Protection Agency-mandated sewage tanks, the city and the Environment Protection Agency announced Thursday as part of a joint agreement.

The EPA has long expressed a preference for placing the tanks beneath a public pool in Thomas Greene park — affectionately known as the “Double D Pool” for its location on Douglass and Degraw streets — but the city has now decided to place the tanks elsewhere.

The two overflow tanks, intended to catch sewage discharge and storm water before it enters and contaminates the canal, play a key role in the EPA’s $504 million efforts to clean up the Gowanus’ toxic pollution.

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The Double D Pool. Photo by Park Slope Patch

Where to place the tanks.

By putting the sewage tanks under the pool, the EPA and local environmentalists argued, the city could kill two birds with one stone, since the soil beneath the pool is contaminated with coal tar and will need to be excavated anyway, whether or not it becomes host to the tanks.

However, a number of locals didn’t like that the pool — in one of the area’s few green spaces  — would have to be closed more than twice as long if the tanks were located there. City officials have stated that remediation of the site without placement of the tanks would mean closing the pool for four years, while incorporating the tanks would add another five, according to the Brooklyn Paper.

Another option.

So the city has proposed placing the sewage tanks beneath privately owned land nearby. This strategy will involve using eminent domain to take the land from its current owners — as well as long-term leaseholders Dumbo-based developer and architect firm Alloy Development — who previously offered to donate half their land for equipment for the tanks if the city would let them keep the other half.

The city rejected Alloy’s offer, even though the firm argues it would be faster and cheaper for the city than going through the lengthy legal process of eminent domain.

Even though the park will still need to be closed temporarily for cleanup, the city wants to avoid putting the tanks under park land to “avoid a potential permanent loss of parkland,” according to the statement from the EPA and the city. You can read it in full here.

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An aerial view of the properties the city has announced it will be seizing for the sewage tanks. The red rectangles designate areas in need of coal-tar remediation. Image via Alloy

Owners and tenants react.

The owners and tenants of the property the city plans to seize said they were dismayed by the news.

“We’ve worked tirelessly for more than a year with all stakeholders to develop a plan that would ensure the timely and cost-effective cleanup of the canal by avoiding eminent domain,” Alloy spokesperson James Yolles said in a statement, noting that, “While not surprised, we are disappointed with the EPA’s decision, which runs counter to its stated policy goals.”

Also frustrated by the eminent domain route is the owner of 234 Butler Street, Sal Tagliavia, who called the city’s decision a “delay tactic” and a misuse of eminent domain. “My family and I are upset that the EPA did not stick to its original plan,” Tagliavia wrote in a statement sent to Brownstoner by Alloy. “This property has been in our family for decades. Our livelihood and the livelihood of many other families are at stake.”

The city can’t take forever.

Some local residents, such as Katia Kelly of the blog Pardon Me For Asking, worry the city’s decision will needlessly delay the cleanup. The EPA has given the city four years to acquire Alloy’s lots at 242 Nevins Street and 234 Butler Street. If the city fails to secure these sites by the deadline, the EPA will move ahead with placing the tanks beneath the pool, the Brooklyn Paper reported.

The area has changed despite pollution.

The Gowanus canal has been a key industrial waterway in Brooklyn and New York since it was created in the 19th century. It was designed from the beginning to carry sewage and waste — today its contains chemicals from the heavy industries that lined its shores, including the byproducts of coal gas production from Victorian times.

More recently the area has become home to artists, restaurants, small makers and big-box retailers. New development in the area includes Lightstone’s mixed-income complex at 365 Bond Street. The Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup will help improve conditions in the neighborhood, which is prone to flooding with toxic overflow from the canal in heavy rains.

[h/t: BK Paper, Pardon Me For Asking]

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