Locals Rally to Save Swimming Pool Threatened by Canal Cleanup

By Leslie Albrecht on April 16, 2013 8:24am 

GOWANUS — Local residents are fighting to save a beloved public pool that could be closed when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency starts its cleanup of the toxin-tainted Gowanus Canal.

Residents near the "Double D" pool — nicknamed for its location between Douglass and Degraw streets — have launched an online petition asking the EPA to spare the pool, which sits on land where an underground sewage storage tank could be built during the proposed $500 million canal cleanup.

The underground tank, a block from the canal, would keep raw sewage from flowing into the water after heavy rains — a major source of the waterway's infamous pollution. Residents say they support the cleanup effort, but losing the Double D pool is too high a price to pay.

"It's such a valuable community resource," said Sabine Aronowsky, a member of Friends of Douglass/Greene Park. "This is really a very underserved area in terms of access to green space and other resources."

On hot summer days the oasis is an escape for residents of the nearby Wyckoff Gardens and Gowanus Houses public housing, Aronowsky said. The pool serves as a cooling center, and kids get free lunch there. The city wanted to close the pool in 2010 for budget reasons, but neighbors and local officials rallied and saved it.

The Friends group is hoping the online petition and written comments submitted to the EPA before the April 27 public comment deadline will convince the feds to find another spot for the sewage tank.

The final decision on whether to build the tank at the pool site rests with the city's Department of Environmental Protection, an EPA spokesman said. He added that "there are reasons to consider the site" because retention tanks — which safely hold sewage out of the canal until it can be treated — are one of the "few viable...technologies" for controlling excess sewage.

The pool's future will also be affected by National Grid, the gas company responsible for cleaning up the contaminated soil beneath the pool and playground.

If cleanup activities force the temporary closure of the pool, "interim arrangements could be made with the city of New York to relocate the pool" on the eastern side of Thomas Greene Playground, the EPA spokesman said.

Aronowsky said she's been frustrated by a lack of details from EPA about how the proposed cleanup could affect the pool. The only written explanation she could find was buried in a 265-page addendum to the EPA's cleanup proposal.

Gowanus residents will already bear the brunt of inconveniences during the EPA's canal cleanup, which could involve several years of dredging and removing toxic sludge from the contaminated waterway, Aronowsky said. Losing the pool as well would deal a blow to a neighborhood with few assets, she said.

Last year the city renovated the Thomas Greene Playground adjacent to the pool, and the site has become more of a draw for local families.

On a recent Thursday, dad K. Johnson visited with his three kids, who romped on the new play equipment. Johnson, 34, grew up in Wyckoff Gardens and learned to swim at the Double D pool. Now he works as a lifeguard at another city pool.

"[The pool] is a necessity in the summer," Johnson said. "There are no outlets to deal with the heat, and no recreational outlets for [low-income] parents. The federal government should find some other options."

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