EPA breaks ground on $1.6 billion Gowanus Canal project

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New York Construction Report staff writer

Construction is underway on the first of two underground storage tanks that will have the combined capacity to prevent up to 12 million gallons of sewer overflow during rainstorms, stopping it from polluting the Gowanus Canal.

The two major infrastructure projects will cost $1.6 billion and create 3.6 acres of new public waterfront open space and amenities for the Gowanus community.

“Today’s groundbreaking will protect the Gowanus Canal from pollution and deliver acres of new public spaces and waterfront access to New Yorkers,” said Mayor Eric Adams. “This project is a powerful statement about our city’s adaptability and determination, and we’re not stopping here in Gowanus.

“We want to make sure that every waterway in New York City is clean enough for the dolphins we saw in the Bronx River to swim in, and whenever we have opportunities to bring new public open spaces to communities that are crying out for them, we’re going to seize those chances.”

The Gowanus Canal was originally a tidal creek winding through marshland, but, in the 1860s, it was converted into a 100-foot-wide, 1.8-mile-long canal for industrial use. Chemical plants, oil refineries, and other heavy industries operated next to the canal and discharged their waste into it. Sewer overflows only added to this pollution. The EPA declared the location a Superfund site in 2010 and is dredging approximately 581,000 cubic yards of polluted sediment from the bottom of the canal and capping the bottom to prevent further contamination.

“The PDC is thrilled to support the construction of the Gowanus combined sewer overflow facility, which will help keep the Gowanus Canal clean,” said executive director Sreoshy Banerjea. “The exemplary design, which was recognized with a PDC design award in 2019, employs a terracotta façade to blend in with the surrounding brick buildings, while also establishing a contemporary presence in the community. “

Gracious areas for multipurpose and passive recreation are provided and will be an incredible asset to the community. The Gowanus facility illustrates how critical infrastructure can be integrated thoughtfully with community space in service of New Yorkers and their public realm.”

This week’s groundbreaking was for the first tank, located at the north end of the canal, bounded by Nevins Street, Butler Street, and Degraw Street. Over the last year, the city has cleared the project site, including carefully deconstructing and salvaging the brick, terracotta, and bluestone elements of the 1913 Gowanus Station building, which will be reconstructed as a part of the project. Today, the city is kicking off the $329 million contract for the excavation and construction of the tank that will hold up to 8 million gallons of combined sewage during rainstorms, as well as the waterfront public open space that will sit on top of the tank.

In addition to the tank, the project will include a headhouse building to host the mechanical and electrical systems for the tank, odor control equipment, and screens that will remove debris from the sewer overflow.

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