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After Complaints From Red Hook, Contaminated Sludge From Gowanus Canal Will Not Become Glorious Sludge Island

Do not ever swim in here.
Do not ever swim in here.
Photo by Anna Merlan

In 10 years or so, the fragrant banks of the Gowanus Canal may smell less like supercharged sewage, while the waters might lose their pus-addled-Ninja-Turtle hue. The Environmental Protection Agency announced its final plans yesterday to clean up the canal, a process that's expected to take around a decade and cost $506 million. As part of the cleanup, hundreds of thousands of pounds of black, sludgy contaminated sediment will have to be dredged up and put someplace else.

But after complaints from Red Hook residents, a plan to put the sludge over there has been scrapped. That dashes the hopes of controversial developer John Quadrozzi Jr., who once dreamed of turning some of that sludge into a giant new landmass. It's a weird story.

--See also: The Gowanus Canal Is Terrifying, Filled With Shipwrecks, Will Cost Millions to Clean Up

As we told you last week, the Gowanus Canal is a completely terrifying place, chock-full of shipwrecks, exotic types of pollution, jagged chunks of metal, and probably more than a few bodies. (Who are we kidding? I's probably 80 percent bodies, 10 percent guns, and 10 percent pollution.) But federal and local officials feel confident they can change all that; at a press conference announcing the cleanup, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said, "I dream of Brooklynites taking a boat ride along Brooklyn's own Venice." Stop laughing.

Before the Gowanus becomes our very own Venice, though, the EPA has to dredge up total of 587,000 yards of contaminated sediment from the canal, which Curbed once memorably described as looking like "black mayonnaise", ew ew ew. And the sediment has to go somewhere safe to be treated, at what's known as a Contaminated Disposal Facility (CDF), where it won't leak out and turn all of us into Ninja Turtles.

After spirited opposition opposition from Red Hook residents, mainly a group called No Toxic Red Hook, the EPA scrapped a plan they were mulling to build a CDF in the water near that neighborhood.

"The community was totally against that," says Elias Rodriguez, an EPA pubic information officer. "Community acceptance is one of the criteria we utilize before making a decision. Once it was pretty clear that did not have any sort of support in the community, that was dropped as an option."

But the EPA very much wants to reuse that sludge somehow. According to the press release, some of it will be "thermally treated for the removal of the organic contaminants" and then put to "beneficial reuse," possibly as a landfill cover. "For the less contaminated sediment, treatment includes stabilization of the sediment at a facility out of the area, followed by beneficial reuse."

Last year, John Quadrozzi Jr. hoped that newly cleaned black sludge could be his. Quadrozzi owns the Gowanus Bay Terminal and the Gowanus Bay Industrial Park, and his plan, essentially, was that the less-gross sludge would be mixed with concrete and dumped near the terminal, adding an additional 300-by-900-foot slab, according to the Brooklyn Paper.

"Like turning water into wine, the dredge sludge could be remediated and beneficially re-used locally as both a building material and in the creation of ... future maritime economic development in Red Hook," Quadrozzi told DNAInfo's Alan Neuhauser in an e-mail.

 

Red Hook residents didn't quite buy it, especially after Neuhauser reported that Quadrozzi's commitment to "beneficial re-use" seemed a little shaky. The state Department of Environmental Conservation had previously accused him of leaving a huge pile of contaminated material on a broken pier in May 2006. At high tide, all the debris washed into the water. Quadrozzi and the company were fined $60,000, and also ordered to tear down a fence they'd built illegally around the property.

More recently, though, Quadrozzi has seemed more gung-ho on recycling, including requiring tenants at the industrial park to sign a lease agreement saying they'll use "sustainable practices." But with yesterday's decision from the EPA, he's still not getting his sludge-island, and the rest of the sludge isn't going in Red Hook either.

"We're obviously very happy about that," says Paige Tooker, one of No Toxic Red Hook's members, and the owner of the New York Art Foundry. But Tooker says she's still nervous about where the "de-watering" of the contaminants will take place, as well as other potential ways the canal cleanup could affect the neighborhood, like overrunning it with rich people. Tooker runs the Art Foundry out of the boiler room of an old baking soda factory, and she's pretty sure the cleanup is the first step toward artists and working people getting priced out of the area so the condos can flood in. (If there's one thing the rich appreciate, it's a neighborhood not filled with toxic waste.)

"The property value's going to go sky high," Tooker says. "I don't even know where I'm going to go next."

There's also one other, more pressing, problem. If it's not going in Red Hook, where will all that black sludge go? The EPA doesn't know yet.

"All of those things will have to hammered out," Rodriguez told us. "Sediment will go out of NYC," he added in an e-mail. "But where won't be determined until remedial design phase. Could be upstate NY, we just don't know yet."

Just the thing to further endear us to the upstate crowd. A call to Quadrozzi has not yet been returned. The full press release from the EPA on the cleanup is below.

EPA Finalizes Cleanup Plan for Gowanus Canal Superfund Site in Brooklyn


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