EPA Concerned About How Gowanus Rezoning Could Negatively Affect Canal Cleanup

Work along the canal in October. Photo by Susan De Vries


In a letter sent to the departments of City Planning and Environmental Protection on October 27, an official from the Environmental Protection Agency asked for more awareness around potential impacts on the cleanup of the Gowanus Canal involved in the city’s planned rezoning of the neighborhood.

Peter D. Lopez, the EPA’s Regional Administrator, wrote that “any rezoning impacting the Canal must proceed in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment,” as stated in a Record of Decision the EPA issued in 2013.

The proposed rezoning, whose public review the city plans to launch in January 2021, includes moves to allow higher density mixed-use development around Thomas Greene Playground and 3rd Avenue, as well as facilitate public access and permit residential development along the Gowanus Canal.

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Along the Gowanus Canal. Photo by Susan De Vries

With the first phase of the dredging and capping of the canal set to begin in November and progress on the CSO tanks delayed by the Department of Environmental Protection, the EPA wants to make sure that “hazardous substances and solids from additional sewage loads do not compromise the effectiveness of the permanent CSO control measures by exceeding their design capacity.”

Essentially, what that means is that they are nervous about future apartment towers overwhelming the sewer system and polluting the just-cleaned canal.

In May 2019, the EPA, in response to DCP’s scoping documents for the Environmental Impact Statement, projected that “wastewater generation is estimated to increase from 178,795 gallons per day (gpd) at present to 1,977,302 gpd once the proposed development has been completed.”

The letter, which you can read here, puts the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (aka the city’s water and garbage) on notice that they will be responsible for upgrading city sewer services to proposed building sites to make sure waste doesn’t discharge into the canal during storms.

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View from the Third Street Bridge. Photo by Susan De Vries

Before the rezoning officially starts, a series of community meetups will take place. The next meeting, with a focus on Gowanus Green, will happen on November 19, followed by an infrastructure update on December 2, and a third meeting that addresses Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and affordability on a date to be announced later.

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