Gowanus Canal to Become Superfund Site

Word on the street is that the Gowanus Canal is going to be designated a Superfund site. The canal is two blocks from the Brooklyn green show house so it is dear to our heart and very clearly part of our ecosystem.

The Gowanus is definitely a good candidate for a superfund designation. It is a common belief among the locals that those living near the canal, between Bond and Hoyt, get cancer more often than other areas in Carroll Gardens.

There have not been any studies that I know of but that is what the Italian old timers say. And for them to say the canal is toxic really means it is toxic. These are lifelong Carroll Gardens residents who grew up when it was fine to start smoking at twelve.

So what does a superfund designation mean? For one it means that the government will finally formally recognize what any moron can see: that the canal is toxic and needs some serious clean up measures. It also means there are different rules for construction and use of the site until it is cleaned up.

This effects me because it might mean that we can’t have the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club use the canal, which is also just down the street from the green show house. You can’t have people paddling around in a toxic superfund site.

We have spent many an hour gliding along the canal, basking in the sun and watching the city from the very interesting perspective of the canal. It is a beautiful place. The water winds around old relics of industrial industry. There are hidden inlets and unseen tunnels.

You are six feet below the city in your own forgotten world. You can imagine that the city has been abandoned and you are a future explorer discovering a lost civilization. It is a very calming experience to paddle the canal.

During the summer when it has gone a couple days without raining and the water has had a chance to run out to sea a few times the canal is very pleasant. It doesn’t smell and almost looks clean. You see the mussels planted by local ecology groups to help filter the water. The occasional minnow furtively kisses your canoe.

Of course if you take a ride in the canal after a heavy rain the place smells like crap and you have all sorts of disgusting bathroom refuse like floating tampons and condoms. This is because the sewer system overflows into the canal when it gets overloaded, for example during rainstorms.

This is why we are going to such care to decrease the rain water runoff and general water use at the green show house up the street: gray water system, rainwater capture, low flow fixtures, efficinet washing machine, green roof and the myriad of other intelligent water management practices a green contractor should consider in Brooklyn brownstones.

All of this lessens the impact on the sewers. We see the direct effect of bad water management in the canal and we want to reduce it. Most people flush their toilet and are done with it. A green builder understands that there is a connection to everything. In Brooklyn a green builder understands that we have an issue with overflowing sewer systems.

Hopefully the green show house will become a leading example for neighbours to follow and it will help in the cleaning process of the Gowanus canal. We’re not talking a lot of money to do these changes to a green brownstone. If anything you make the money back in time through lower water bills.

If the canal is designated a superfund site it will probably finally get funding. This will clean it up and make it a recreation resource for the community. Not just dire hard Gowanus Dredgers Canoe members will be able to enjoy it.

This will better the community and the houses around it.

The irony is that the largest critic of the superfund site is a builder. The anithesies of green builders, Toll Brothers, is vehemently opposing the superfund designation. They have bought large tracts along the Gowanus canal and want to build shitty “luxury condos” which they’ll probably claim has “water views”.

They couldn’t care less about the toxicity of the canal. Let it rot for all they care. It does not effect their short term gains. In fact it effects their short term gains negatively. If the Gowanus is a superfund site then it has to go through all sorts of testing and clean up.

This could seriously hinder Toll Brothers’ plans to build. And they might even have to aknowledge that they plan on covering up toxic land and building over it. They might even be held responsible for cleaning up the land they bought.

The superfund designation means the Toll Brothers can’t sweep the dirt under the rug and build like normal. They want to build fast and cheap, sell high and get the hell out of there. Making a commitment to clean up the community and plan long term for its health is not part of their business model.

Toll Brothers are the Walmart of the building industry. Brooklyn Green Builders and Contractors are the mom and pop stores. The good news is that Walmart isn’t welcomed by Brooklyn residents and mom and pop stores are doing just fine here.

Green contractors and builders have a welcome community in Brooklyn and that is only going to increase.

7 Replies to “Gowanus Canal to Become Superfund Site”

  1. —-Currently, all of the project site’s sanitary flow and a portion of the site’s stormwater flow are conveyed to the Red Hook Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP) via the existing combined sewer in Bond Street.—-
    ———————————–Toll Brothers

    It is proclamations like this that place Toll’s reputation in the highly questionable category! What a twisting of words to make it appear that there will be improvements made!

    Anyone can visit this site during a rain shower and watch as the roof gutters spill storm water onto the sidewalk which carry the water direct to the canal. The Bond Street street sewer grate is all up hill from the site–rain just doesn’t run uphill.
    As for sanitary sewer volume, the site’s current use has but a few toilets, where Toll plans to introduce more than 1000 toilets into the site. Considering all those new toilets, showers, kitchen sinks with garbage disposals, it impossible to believe that the Toll project will bring a net decrease in sewage in the Bond Street Sewer–but quite the opposite!

  2. I don’t know Ethan, your post smells to me…do they have Superfund designation for peoples’ posts? Because I think you’d get one. Run back to Toll Brothers and laugh there.

  3. 1. Superfund sites do come with $$$, that is the whole point: EPA fronts the money with bonds and contracts out the cleanup while the EPA’s legal division goes after the polluters.

    2. The Superfund Project will also fix the CSO issues. The amount of excavation required for cleaning up these sites will completely destroy any existing utilities and will replace them with new 21st century items.

    3. The Superfund approach will delay residential development, yes, but it will also create more competition (and hence better designs) between developers by removing the complexity of brownfield remediation.

    4. The Superfund project may be able to use barges to remove toxic materials, instead of creating thousands of 15-ton dump truck trips up Smith Street. BTW the dump trucks will be full of nasty smelling, potentially harmful loads.

  4. Thanks for correcting me on these issues, although anything coming from a Toll Brothers employee is seriously suspect in my eyes. Toll Brothers has too much history of “build crap and run” for me to not suspect their motives.

  5. 1. The Superfund does not come with ANY $$$ for cleanup.
    2. Toll brothers does not own that land yet. Jeopardizing their project will leave that upland parcel uncleaned. It will then prevent them from correcting the CSO problem, which is part of their plan.

  6. I am a public policy consultant to Toll Brothers. This posting is so inaccurate it’s laughable. Toll Brothers is REQUIRED under the zoning approval it was recently granted to completely remove the toxic substances in the land on the property it hopes to develop. In the abstract a Superfund designation sounds like a positive concept, but in practice it will end the cleanup of the land along the banks of the Gowanus that is now poised to happen. The real threat to human health is the toxic materials on the land along the canal, and that huge and costly cleanup will not be addressed by a Superfund designation, which in this case relates exclusively to the waterway. Cleanup of the LAND would be undertaken by the developers of each parcel at their own expense; there is no public funding allocated to remove the hazardous materials from the land surrounding the Canal – which logically should be the top priority since it is substances in the ground that leach into the canal and pollute it in the first place, along with combined sanitary and stormwater overflows that only can be prevented by building vast new sewer infrastructure – which again would have been built by private developers since the City has not funded such infrastructure upgrades in many years. Toll Brothers is committed to privately financing new infrastructure for its property, infrastructure that will not be built if a Superfund designation is imposed. Currently, all of the project site’s sanitary flow and a portion of the site’s stormwater flow are conveyed to the Red Hook Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP) via the existing combined sewer in Bond Street. The proposed project would separate the stormwater flow from the sanitary flow by installing new separate stormwater sewers designed in accordance with NYC Department of Environmental Protection standards in First and Second Streets, with new stormwater outfalls to the Gowanus Canal. These new stormwater sewers built by Toll Brothers would divert the project site’s stormwater from the local combined sewer system, thereby reducing the impact of the project site on the local sewer system and improving local drainage conditions. The stormwater will be treated prior to discharge into the Canal. Superfund will do NONE of these, but with a Superfund designation all private development will halt and the hundreds of millions of dollars in private money that would have built new sewers will be lost.

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