GOWANUS — The banks of the Gowanus Canal may soon be home to an expanded, sun-powered composting facility and community organizers are seeking public input to assess other options for open space along the long-polluted waterway.
The nonprofit Gowanus Canal Conservancy is working with the Department of Sanitation to build a facility on Second Avenue near the canal, where food scraps and other organic waste will be turned into garden-boosting compost.
The facility will be built on an empty lot that's owned by the Department of Sanitation, which uses the land to store salt and sand to spread on city streets in the winter.
Composting has been happening on the site for the past six years through a volunteer-run program led by the conservancy, but the new facility will quadruple the size of the existing operation and make it more efficient, said conservancy executive director Andrea Parker.
"It will mean that we can process a whole lot more food scraps and provide a lot more compost for street trees in the neighborhood," Parker said.
The Conservancy takes food scraps collected at farmers markets and converts up to 9,000 pounds a month into compost. Some is sold to homeowners, some is donated to community gardens and some is used in neighborhood beautification projects such as street trees and wildflower planters on Ninth Street.
The conservancy’s volunteers have been working entirely outside, but the new facility will install an open-air shelter that will put a roof over their heads. It will also enhance the operation with a solar panel that will power lighting and a fan that will help accelerate the composting process by exposing it to air, said Robert Lange, the Department of Sanitation's director of beneficial reuse planning.
The new facility will also have "bioswales" — small plots with plants that absorb rainwater during storms and provide a bit of greenery.
"It will be a sharp contrast to what certain areas along the Gowanus look like now," Lange said.
The project was funded with about $1.5 million in grants from the state Department of Evironmental Conservation, as well as $105,000 from City Councilman Brad Lander's participatory budgeting program.
The city's Design Commission recently approved the design of the project, but the timeline for building the new facility is still being worked out. The city's Department of Environmental Protection may build an underground sewage retention tank at the site, and if that happens, the project could be delayed for several years, Lange said.
The new facility is one of several spaces poised for change in Gowanus that advocates see as potential community amenities as the neighborhood develops. Others include waterfront esplanades that will be built in conjuction with new developments along the canal, and neighborhood parks that are slated for improvements.
The Conservancy is leading a series of public discussions about the future of these open spaces and seeking community input on how they should be used. The next meeting is on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Old Stone House, at 336 Third Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues.
“We want to get ahead of the game and make sure these spaces form a cohesive network that meets the needs of the community,” Parker said.