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City Mulls Plan to Dig Up Gowanus Park and Pool to Install Sewage Tanks

By Leslie Albrecht | September 19, 2014 11:19am | Updated on September 22, 2014 8:47am
  The Department of Environmental Protection named 14 possible locations for two underground sewage tanks.
City Could Dig up Park, Pool and Rock Climbing Facility for Sewage Tanks
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GOWANUS — A city park, a public pool and a rock climbing school have landed on the controversial short list of sites the city could dig up to build two underground tanks that will keep sewage out of the Gowanus Canal.

Officials with the city's Department of Environmental Protection unveiled the list of 14 sites they're considering for the massive sewage tanks — including the Thomas Greene Playground, "Double D" pool and Brooklyn Boulders rock climbing center — at a meeting with neighbors this week.

"There's not a single site here that doesn't have things about it that may make it difficult," DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd told community members, adding that the agency is still evaluating the sites and that a final choice won't be made for nearly a year.

DEP is building the tanks under orders from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is conducting a massive cleanup of the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal. The city at first refused to build the tanks, which will together cost between $400 and $700 million, but later consented. The subterranean tanks will hold 12 million gallons of sewage and stormwater run-off, and keep it from flowing into the canal.

Locals expressed outrage at the list, which includes sites that had not been discussed previously in conversations with the city. In particular, they're upset the city is considering tearing up the park, formally known as Thomas Greene Playground.

"It would be a disaster for the neighborhood," said Sue Wolfe, a member of Friends of Douglass/Greene Park.

Wolfe added that the park, which contains the public pool on Degraw Street and Third Avenue — known as the "Double D" pool because it's between Douglass and Degraw streets — is heavily used by families from Park Slope, Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens, including residents of nearby public housing. Neighbors have long feared that the pool would end up on DEP's short list.

"To do this to this neighborhood, which doesn't have any green space as it is, to take away an entire park, that's absurd," Wolfe said.

She and other advocates have lobbied for DEP to put the tanks in an empty Con Ed lot at Nevins and Butler streets, but that site wasn't on the list DEP released this week.

The list of potential sites also includes property at 575 Degraw St., the home of Brooklyn Boulders rock climbing center. Owner Lance Pinn said he's confident DEP won't choose the property, because the agency said it will steer clear of sites that are "cultural resources" or places that would cause too much "community disruption."

"I'm assuming that they’ll understand I can’t exactly move my rock climbing walls elsewhere," Pinn said.

Other locales in the running for the sewage tanks include a lot next door to The Green Building, a popular wedding venue on Union and Bond streets, and a Nevins Street building owned by the film company Eastern Effects, where the FX series "The Americans" is filmed. A representative for Eastern Effects could not be reached immediately for comment. The owner of The Green Building, Akiva Reich, said he wasn't concerned about the proposal.

DEP hasn't contacted property owners yet because the list of sites is still being narrowed down, a spokesman said. The full list is available on the DEP website. Consultants initially came up with 86 possible sites, including the Whole Foods at Third Avenue and Third Street. The roster was whittled down to eliminate residential properties, schools and religious institutions, Lloyd said.

DEP is still evaluating the 14 sites and will trim the list further after it weighs the pros and cons of each location. The agency will submit four final options to the EPA at the end of the month. 

DEP expects to update the community on the final locations in the spring of 2015.