GOWANUS — A neighborhood park that locals feared would be dug up and turned into the site of a massive underground sewage tank will be spared under a proposed agreement between the city and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA announced Thursday.
The deal, when finalized, will end years of sparring between the city and EPA over the location of two underground sewage tanks that will keep raw sewage from flowing into the Gowanus Canal and re-contaminating it after it's cleaned up under the EPA's $506 million Superfund effort.
The agreement will be finalized after a 30-day public comment period. The EPA will hold a public meeting to explain the plan April 25 at 6:30 p.m. at P.S. 32, 317 Hoyt St.
Under the agreement, the EPA will ask the city to build the larger of the two tanks on two pieces of privately-owned property at the end of the canal at 242 Nevins St. and 234 Butler St.
The city will have "approximately four years" to acquire the private property, the EPA said Thursday. If it doesn't meet that deadline and stick to other EPA requirements, the feds will instead force the city to build the eight million gallon underground tank beneath Thomas Greene Park and the "Double D Pool" at Third Avenue and Douglass Street.
The EPA has long preferred building the tank beneath the park and pool because the land there is contaminated and will need to be dug up anyway to remove pollutants. But the city opposed that plan because it would mean closing the park — one of the few green spaces in the neighborhood — for years longer.
"Cleaning up the Gowanus Canal is a daunting task which not only involves dredging toxic sediment, but also building huge retention tanks to reduce the amount of raw sewage that flows into the canal," said EPA regional administrator Judith A. Enck.
"Getting these tanks installed is a key component of the cleanup. The New York City Parks Department prefers not to have a large sewage retention tank permanently located in a city park. The EPA is also committed to preserving urban parkland and therefore spent time working with the City of New York about an alternate location. This proposed location meets the EPA’s twin goals of cleaning up the canal while also protecting urban parkland."
EPA officials said in 2015 that the canal's Superfund cleanup would be delayed by at least a year if the sewage tank was built on the privately-owned Butler and Nevins street properties, because acquiring the land will probably require a lengthy eminent domain process. An EPA spokesman reiterated Thursday that building the tank on the private property would likely create "some delay," but said estimating the length of the delay would be "speculative."
The city has previously said that building the larger of the two tanks will cost between $480 and $650 million. The smaller of the two tanks will be four million gallons and will be built at a city-owned lot on Second Avenue and Fifth Street that's now used by the Department of Sanitation to store salt, according to the agreement announced Thursday.
"We are pleased to finalize an agreement with EPA today that is good news for the residents of Gowanus,” said Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Emily Lloyd and Parks commissioner Mitchell Silver in a joint statement Thursday. “Over the last year, DEP and Parks have worked with the Departments of Sanitation and City Planning, as well as the Economic Development Corporation, to design a solution that preserves the vital open space and recreational opportunities provided by Thomas Greene Playground and the Double D Pool, while also ensuring the ambitious cleanup of the Canal that the community has worked so hard to achieve."
The privately-owned Butler and Nevins Street sites the EPA has selected for the larger tank is where Alloy Development hoped to build a commercial project. The developer offered to donate a piece of the property to the city for public use if the city agreed not to seize the land using eminent domain.
After this story was originally published, a spokesman for Alloy said Friday that the developer has "worked tirelessly for more than a year with all stakeholders to develop a plan that would ensure the timely and cost-effective cleanup of the canal by avoiding eminent domain — all while creating new public open space and spurring local economic development."
The Alloy spokesman continued, "While not surprised, we are disappointed with the EPA's decision, which runs counter to its stated policy goals. There's still a long road ahead, and we remain committed to working with everyone involved to find the best way forward for the EPA, the City and the Gowanus community."
A DEP spokesman said Thursday that "DEP will continue to work with Alloy, the company who has leased the canal-side property, to find a way to meet our goals in Gowanus together."
Under the agreement, the city will be required to prepare 242 Nevins St. and 234 Butler St. for the tank installation, including removing contaminated soil there. The agreement also requires the city to work on tank designs for Thomas Greene Park and Double D pool as well, so plans will be ready to implement there if the city doesn't meet the EPA's timeline.
The EPA declared the 1.8-mile Gowanus Canal a Superfund site in 2010 and announced its cleanup plan in 2013. The Superfund cleanup is now in the design phase and operations are expected to start in 2019, EPA officials said Thursday.