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Under the deep end! Feds may bury Gowanus sewage tank beneath Double D Pool

The Brooklyn Paper

The feds may force the city to bury a giant holding tank for raw sewage and runoff beneath Thomas Green Playground and Douglass-Degraw Pool as part of the planned half-billion dollar cleanup of the Gowanus Canal.

The massive catch basin would be installed directly under the parkland according to a recently unveiled Environmental Protection Agency Superfund proposal, which calls for the city-funded construction of the $46.5-million container to prevent millions of gallons of human waste and stormwater from pouring into the waterway when rain floods sewers past capacity.

Superfund project manager Christos Tsiamis said at a Jan. 24 community meeting that the eight-million-gallon subterranean catch basin must be built on city-owned land and “has to be close to the source” — a sewer outfall at the head of the canal, just one block away from Thomas Greene Playground and the adjoining “Double D” pool, that dumps most of the human waste into the waterway.

The feds say those two factors make the parkland a prime location, but neighbors and Gowanus activists worry excavation and construction will sink their ability to enjoy the open space along Third Avenue for far too long.

“It would be a very poor choice to put [the catch basin] under a swimming pool, which could probably put the pool out of commission for 10 years,” said Sue Wolfe, president of Friends of Douglass/Greene Park, a community group that rallied to save the beloved outdoor swimming spot from city budget cuts two years ago. “We need the pool and the children need the pool.”

Members of the park advocacy group are particularly worried about a construction-related closure because the newly renovated greenspace is slated for a full reopening in March after activists lobbied electeds for nearly $1 million in funding.

They are also afraid of storing contaminants deemed too toxic for the Gowanus Canal beneath the treasured public pool.

“You’ll have millions of gallons of raw sewage beneath the pool and I just don’t see how that is safe,” said Friends of Douglass/Greene Park board member and Gowanus resident Sabine Aronowsky.. “This shouldn’t happen — I don’t feel comfortable with it and I don’t know any parent that would.”

Federal officials could not offer more details about the catch basins by press time, but at the forum Tsiamis said the agency is open to community suggestions for other potential locations.

He also stressed that although the construction of the tank might be a temporary burden, it’s a price worth paying to keep raw sewage out of the waterway.

“Almost all segments of the community along the canal will be inconvenienced for a short time in one way or another,” said Tsiamis. “So for the short term there will be inconvenience for the long term benefit.”

The details of the extensive cleanup plan are not yet in stone, but the current proposal calls for dredging toxic sediment from the waterway, capping the canal-bed to keep contaminants from bubbling up, and constructing an additional $31.2-million holding tank buried alongside the banks of the canal at the head near Butler Street.

Federal officials have tapped three-dozen polluters, including the city and energy giant National Grid, to foot the bill for the cleanup, which is expected to cost between $467 million and $504 million.

The plan will be finalized by the summer after a public commentary period. Then comes a two-year design phase. The actual cleanup will go on until about 2022, agency officials said.

The agency will accept written and public comments on the proposal until Mar. 28, 2013. E-mail gowanuscanalcomments.region2@epa.gov or write to:

Christos Tsiamis, project manager

Central New York Remediation Section

US Environmental Protection Agency

290 Broadway, 20th floor

New York, NY 10007-1866

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

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Reader Feedback

Steve de Seve from Downtown says:
Thank you for spreading the word about the secret plan to take away the much needed Double D pool from the Gowanus neighborhood. The kids and families who rely on the pool need to know they are in the sights of the cleanup. Of course other properties can be found and purchased for the sweage tank. The park and pool are on the chopping block specifically because the city already owns the property, and building the sewage tank there will save the city money.

The Superfund law, however, requires the polluters themselves to pay for the cleanup. Since the city is one of the responsible polluters, it must pay. Closing the pool and park for ten or twenty years is not short-term, and it is not an inconvenience. It is making the kids and families who rely on the park and pool literally pay the city's way. And that is illegal under Superfund unless those kids are the polluters.

The city, not the EPA, is the villian here. And we are talking about major robbery of innocent families. Their loss will subsidize the city and National grid by $2 to 4 million dollard over the cost of the cleanup. Plus the loss of an additional million in neighborhood funds that was just spent to remodel the park.

Robbing a neighborhood of $5 million is no small inconvenience. And because of the demographics, many would see it as major financial racism.

Too often children in poorer neighborhoods are preyed on by administrations and polititians this way. Kids will lose their pool for their entire childhoods if these crooks succeed in stealing it from them this way. The city must spend the full and proper amount and acquire nearby property that is not currently a crucial community resource.

Shame on the city for making kids subsidize them. And shame on the EPA for not, so far, insisting that the city, and not the kids, pay the full price to clean up its mess.

And shame on the gas company, who sells gas to the families that use the pool, for participating in this robbing of their customers.
Feb. 5, 2013, 10:19 am
casual observer says:
So.. why not have the city fix the sewer problems without taking the park? is EPA suggesting that there isn't some old run down piece of industrial property along the canal that could be used instead? seems like the park was an all too easy target for this insanity...leave our park alone please..
Feb. 5, 2013, 12:34 pm
Leave the Kids Alone says:
The city can condemn other property near the canal, use eminent domain, or just purchase it outright. Any property near the canal can meet the EPA's requirement that it be "city owned land."

The current EPA proposal unfairly targets the most vulnerable members of the public, when it should instead be protecting them.

It sucks that the EPA is asking the kids to pay the city's way.
Feb. 5, 2013, 1:19 pm
priorities says:
so where is the common sense in all this? EPA is asking to take away the one place kids can swin safely in the hopes that the waters of the Canal are made safe to swin in?? what planet are these people from?
Feb. 5, 2013, 1:28 pm
priorities says:
so where is the common sense in all this? EPA is asking to take away the one place kids can swin safely in the hopes that the waters of the Canal are made safe to swin in?? what planet are these people from?
Feb. 5, 2013, 1:28 pm
ty from pps says:
Where does it say ANYWHERE that the pool or park will be closed?!?
Feb. 5, 2013, 1:29 pm
common sense from bay ridge says:
@priorities: The idea is to make the public beaches safer to swim in, which are used by many more people than one specific pool.
Feb. 5, 2013, 1:59 pm
Keeping It Real from Park Slope says:
@common sense: why not have clean beaches and a clean pool?

there is no reason to shut this pool when there is other land available for the city to use.

it is a false argument to say the beaches are more important than a pool.

the point is the pool can be left alone and the sewage can be treated.

the most people are helped by keeping the pool open and storing sewage somewhere else. then you get your beach and the kids get their pool. this should make you more happy.
Feb. 5, 2013, 2:13 pm
Keeping It Real from Park Slope says:
@tt: the park and pool will be closed for the duration. this could be ten years, it could be twenty years. who knows. it's a government project so the ten year estimate is probably too short.

since childhood only lasts 16 years, lots of kids will lose park and pool for their entire childhood.

then there is also the possibility the city may never reopen the pool after the work is done. the city is not known for keeping its word, or for generally doing the right thing overall.
Feb. 5, 2013, 2:17 pm
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
Save the Pool! again. the City has wanted to close the pool for a long time. There is plenty of empty space around for them to use if they want to.
Feb. 5, 2013, 2:20 pm
priorities says:
@common sense: this is not about public beaches.. there are no beaches in the canal and the EPA has already proclaimed that nothing they are proposing will in the future allow for swimming in this industrial canal...but to ask the community to close its park and pool for several years is not equitable... find another location to store sewage..
Feb. 5, 2013, 2:21 pm
concerned says:
who amoung us wants a sewage tank built by their home?
Feb. 5, 2013, 2:23 pm
concerned says:
who amoung us wants a sewage tank built by their home?
Feb. 5, 2013, 2:23 pm
ty from pps says:
Keeping It Real -- WHO is saying the pool will be closed for the duration? The EPA? The City? No. None of them.

No, the hysteria about the possible closing is coming from seemingly ignorant local volunteers. Comments like the following are quite telling....

“You’ll have millions of gallons of raw sewage beneath the pool and I just don’t see how that is safe,” said Friends of Douglass/Greene Park board member and Gowanus resident Sabine Aronowsky.

There's a massive pipe full of natural gas outside everyone's home... I don't see how that is safe! Someone has to stop this madness! (See what I did there?)
Feb. 5, 2013, 2:45 pm
common sense from bay ridge says:
@keeping it real: I would be more than happy if there is another place that can store the tanks that would let the pool remain open and unaffected. However, there is probably better funded opposition elsewhere, and they is why the EPA is focused on the area under the pool.

@priorities: It's not about swimming in the canal. What is flushed out of that toxic soup of a canal certainly affects the water quality at beaches used by millions during the summer.
Feb. 5, 2013, 3:05 pm
dopey in PS says:
can someone please tell me how long it will take the city to demolish the park, dig a massive hole in the ground, build a huge sewage tank, then cover up the tank and rebuild the park??
Feb. 5, 2013, 3:10 pm
priorities says:
@common sense....Really?? Sorry to disappoint .. there is no evidence presented by EPA that the Canal is impcting our beaches...the nearest beach to gowanus is how far?? that's trillions upon trillions of gallons of sea water between ...
Feb. 5, 2013, 3:17 pm
Pat I from 70's Brooklyn says:
I remember my friends and I being told to stay away from the place.

I admit, I'm not familiar with the canal's history. But the city can't be the only party responsible. Also - the project should be handled by a private company as well as the Army Corps of engineers.

Locals don't want their park taken away. But buying up another property might prove to pricey, pushing up taxes.

So damned if you do and damned if you don't.

What might be a problem is the smell - specifically hydrogen sulfide. They'lll need to incorporate some high-tech bio system that will eliminate the odor.
Feb. 5, 2013, 3:55 pm
p in da pool says:
so is the pool built over toxic waste from the old gas plant that used to be there?
is the pool water safe to swim in?
did the city take a million bucks from the surrounding hood knowing it was going to tear the park down two years later?
will they pay it back?
will the buildings near the pool that are also on the site of the same coal gas plant be torn down, too?

and, can we trust the city to rebuild the pool when they have already tried to close it once and with spending the million bucks while planning to tear it down again?

a lot of questions, very few answers . . .
Feb. 5, 2013, 4:38 pm
Throttle Back from YerHysteria says:
I'm glad our good friend "p" pointed out that the entire Douglas Greene Park is built over contaminated land left over from when a gas manufacturing plant was there! Oh, those poor little babies, forced to play hopscotch on poisoned land! Oh, wait...you say the land is safe, even if it was done by the City?

The EPA is doing a great job, and they have said over and over and over that they won't FORCE anything to happen if the community doesn't agree. But that doesn't mean the community should be a bunch of NIMBY numbskulls! Maybe we should just all insist on a portable temporary pool be brought into place while the holding tanks (which won't take anything like 20 years of closure!) are being constructed.

There, was that so hard??? Stop sounding like idiots, all of ya, OK?
Feb. 5, 2013, 5:51 pm
Easy There says:
wow, throttle, the only hysteria here is . . . you!

nobody is being a nimby, just suggesting the holding tank be on the next block. which is still in the same "back yards."

double and triple punctuation only communicate desperation, as does calling other commentators idiots.

that said, i do like your suggestion of some kind of tempory replacement pool. or, if the city cannot be trusted to rebuild the current pool, a new pool on a nearby location.

the kids need a pool in summer, the canal and land around it need to be cleaned, and the community needs to be involved in the process. so far the epa has held no meetings in this neighborhood. hopefully they now will.

if you come to such a meeting, please try to focus on the issues at hand, though, instead of attacking and insulting other folks who are weighing in, too.

thank you! lets keep the peace and fight the pollution.
Feb. 6, 2013, 10:27 am
Sid from Boerum Hill says:
As someone who uses the pool, lots of nonsense above. yes the pool built in the 1930's has been there a while. There is not one evidence of any contamination in the pool. Its filled each year. tested daily and is not a problem. The DD park has had its problem soil remedied and has been rebuilt..last year. Its also on the other side of the canal from the gas fractionation plant.

The pool is not dangerous, it well maintained and policed very well.(there is a cop there when ever its opened as all cities pools have). My grand kids love it.
Feb. 6, 2013, 10:37 am
Easy Reader says:
ty: do you think they are going to build a tank under the pool without tearing the pool up? when they tear up parks and pools they close them to the public. so it does kind say that in the article. there is no reference to tunneling under the pool.

also, calling ms wolf and ms. aromowsky ignorant local volunteers, and saying they are spreading hysteria is kind of ignorant on your part. what they both said in the article makes good sense from the perspective of a group that raised nearly a million dollars for the park, and as concerned parents.

thank god for local volunteers. without them the gowanus would never get cleaned up, and kids in less affluent neighborhoods would lose their summer play facilities forever.

sid: i think unfortunately the pool is on the side of the canal that had the gas factory.
Feb. 6, 2013, 11:25 am
It is a toxic site NOW from here says:
The pool currently sits in a highly toxic 'state-superfund' site. The toxic coal tar has never been cleaned from that land.
Seems like current conditions make for a pretty unhealthy place for anyone to spend their child hood. Why would would anyone fight for the right of children to swim inside a toxic Superfund Site?
Feb. 6, 2013, 12:44 pm
Make the City Pay says:
If the pool is toxic, then the epa should mandate that the city build a new pool nearby. Nobody is fighting for their kids to use a toxic pool, of course.

But if the city is shutting down this pool for any reason it must be mandated they replace it immediately. Otherwise it seems like the city is forcing the kids to pay by taking away their pool.

I get it. The city will save money closing the pool. That money can offset the cleanup cost, unless the epa mandates that the city cannot pass on its cost this way to the kids.

Give the kids a pool, either this one, or a new one. Don't just take and take from them.
Feb. 6, 2013, 6:34 pm
OMG says:
Please refrain from such scare mongering. The use of the pool is perfectly safe. Yes the ground beneath the property is contaminated. But reasonable folks understand that it doesn't pose a threat to the users of the pool
Feb. 6, 2013, 6:42 pm
Make the City Pay says:
Sorry if I wasn't clear. I said, "if" the pool is toxic. I dont know if it is or if it isn't. Since the land its on is full of bad stuff (the lot it is on is one that is part of the superfund site) it is possible there is toxic stuff around. But the pool could be perfectly safe.

The only thing we know for sure is that the EPA is proposing that the city tear up the pool and put in a sewage holding tank.

Since the city has tried to kill the pool before it is important to organize and make sure that this pool, a new pool, or a different pool nearby is provided.

That's not scare mongering, its a call to community organizing.

If we don't stick up for a neighborhood pool they will take it away... like they tried to do in 2010 . . . and thats the way it is.

Please send comments to the EPA. The address is in the article. Tell them you don't trust the city to replace the pool if the EPA makes them tear it out for the sewer tank. Tell them the kids should not lose even one pool season.

Its for real that the pool will be torn out if the EPA's current proposal is not opposed. This is not scare mongering, it's telling it like it is.

My neighbor said this is why they are closing the comment period in March -- While nobody is thinking about pools or summer heat. And why the EPA refuses to have a neighborhood meeting about the pool plan.
Feb. 6, 2013, 7:49 pm
OMG says:
I doubt that even the EPA has the authority to order the construction of a pool.
Feb. 6, 2013, 8:06 pm
what's going on? says:
So all this hoopla is to get the community to ask the EPA to make sure they put a new pool back after a tank is installed?
And it not about the park club people being "afraid of storing contaminants deemed too toxic for the Gowanus Canal beneath the treasured public pool", even though the site is currently storing (and leaching) contamination into the canal and neighborhood?
Feb. 6, 2013, 9:06 pm
Hank from Brooklyn says:
Hay. You got to break some eggs to make an omelet
Feb. 6, 2013, 9:43 pm
Hank from Brooklyn says:
Hay. You got to break some eggs to make an omelet
Feb. 6, 2013, 9:44 pm
Hank from Brooklyn says:
Hay. You got to break some eggs to make an omelet
Feb. 6, 2013, 9:44 pm
Hungry says:
hey, that's three eggs, where's the omlette?

question is, whose eggs are you gonna break?

the kids eggs are for easter. break bloomberg's instead!

ok that made no sense.
Feb. 7, 2013, 12:20 am
Newbee says:
Here's a novel thought , instead of fighting with each other over the pool and who gets a noxious sewer tank why don't we work together with the city's program and stop the runoff from getting into the sewers in the first place. Seems like that's a win win
Feb. 7, 2013, 8:46 am
Flushy says:
good idea! if it is raining out, or if snow is melting, nobody should flush the toilet or shower.

if we all work together this is the the way the combined sewer overflows will not carry sewage.

its a rainy day problem. so avoid fiber when its going to rain . . . and try not to pee.

if we work together, brooklyn, we can stop sewage in the canal . . . for free!
Feb. 7, 2013, 5:17 pm
Newbee says:
I guess we can count on flushy to accept a big old tank of sewage outside his window
Feb. 8, 2013, 8:56 am
Joe from Gowanus says:
Flushy and Newbee are both right - except they just need to swap toilets. In 2015, DEP will offer cash rebates to swap our old fashion toilets with dual flush. Let's require dual flush near Gowanus as it's not realistic not to flush when it rains. By 2015, dual flush fixtures will work right so you don't need to flush twice!

The EPA don't care what we think - we send comments and they don't respond - no reply! The whole Superfund is a joke! $75 million is easy for the City to pay - they just spent (are spending) $275m on the flushing tunnel but if our City pays this fine, when does EPA guarantee they will clean our canal? Where's the timeline? 200-400 years?
Feb. 11, 2013, 10:13 pm
Newbee says:
@Joe. Exactly right. And if we begin to understand how we can reuse rainwater as a resource or infiltrated into the ground rather than wasting it down a sewer in the street there is much that can be accomplished. Folks need to open their minds and be part of the solution instead of complaining about the problems
Feb. 13, 2013, 2:59 pm

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