GOWANUS — A popular public pool and playground could close for up to nine years during the cleanup of the contaminated Gowanus Canal, city officials announced Tuesday.
Thomas Greene Park and "Double D" pool on Third Avenue and Degraw Street are well-used neighborhood attractions, but they're also on top of toxin-riddled land right next to the heavily polluted canal.
Locals have fought to keep the pool and playground open, but officials with the city's Department of Environmental Protection announced at a public meeting Tuesday night that cleaning up the area could close the pool and park for at least four years and and possibly as many as nine years.
"Losing a park for eight to nine years is an entire childhood," said Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver, noting that the park and pool are rare recreational spaces in an underserved community.
The nine-year closure is the worst-case scenario for pool and park users.
It would happen if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chose to put an underground sewage storage tank directly beneath the playground and pool.
The EPA is forcing the DEP to build two such sewage tanks near the canal as part of the $506 million Superfund cleanup.
The EPA has final say on where the tanks will go, but the DEP was in charge of coming up with a list of recommended sites.
DEP officials want to build one of the tanks on a piece of property known as the Salt Lot, where Second Avenue meets the canal. Right now it's an empty lot that the Gowanus Canal Conservancy sometimes uses for projects such as sorting compost.
While the construction of the tank will temporarily displace the Conservancy's projects, executive director Andrea Parker said the group hopes to spearhead putting a public park on top of the sewage tank site once it's finished.
For the second tank, DEP presented a few different options on Tuesday, including one site directly beneath Thomas Greene Park and Double D pool that would close both facilities for up to nine years. DEP doesn't recommend that option because it's most expensive, at $650 million.
DEP's first choice for the second tank is on private property right next door to the pool and the playground. That site is the cheapest, at $480 million, and DEP officials said Tuesday that building the tank there wouldn't take over the pool and playground.
However, that doesn't mean the pool and the playground would be unaffected if EPA chose that site, DEP officials said.
It's likely that EPA will require National Grid to clean up the contaminated land beneath the park and the pool, and that would force them to be closed for four years, a DEP spokesman said.
An EPA spokesman confirmed that the agency “believes that the contamination has to be addressed in a timely manner by National Grid.”
As for where the sewage tanks will be built, EPA will announce its final decision in late summer or early fall, a spokesman said.
“The EPA will carefully evaluate the city’s report, including its cost, the impacts to the community and time estimates, before making a final determination on the location of the retention tanks,” the spokesman said.
Construction on the underground sewage tanks would start in 2018, DEP officials said.