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EPA Selects Gowanus Sewage Tank Sites Allowing Superfund Cleanup to Proceed

 The areas marked VI and VII are where a giant underground sewage tank will be built to keep raw sewage from flowing into the Gowanus Canal, the EPA said Thursday.
The areas marked VI and VII are where a giant underground sewage tank will be built to keep raw sewage from flowing into the Gowanus Canal, the EPA said Thursday.
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GOWANUS — Federal and city officials announced a major milestone Thursday in the cleanup of the Gowanus Canal, saying they've agreed on locations for two underground tanks that will stop raw sewage from flowing into the waterway and recontaminating it after the $506 million Superfund cleanup is complete.

One 8 million gallon tank will be built on two pieces of private property: 242 Nevins St. and 234 Butler St. A second 4 million gallon tank will be built at a Sanitation Department facility on Second Avenue and Fifth Street.

EPA officials also said in comments released Thursday that the project may not doom the Eastern Effects film studio where the FX series "The Americans" is filmed, as locals had feared.

EPA's Region II Superfund director Walter Mugdan called the finalized deal a "critical step forward" in the canal's journey from industrial dumping ground to a waterway clean enough for some recreational use.

"The City of New York has indicated its commitment to going forward with building these tanks and it puts that question to bed as to whether these tanks will get built,” Mugdan told DNAinfo New York, referring to the city's 2013 vow to not build the tanks at all.

"The current situation [of sewage flowing into the canal] contributes to a lot of the contamination and noxious odors in the canal, so having these these tanks will be a huge step forward toward a cleaner canal."

Since the EPA first announced the possible sewage tank locations in April, Eastern Effects and thousands of its supporters — including actors Edie Falco and Zach Braff — have protested a city plan to use the studio's main building at 270 Nevins St. as a staging area for the construction of the larger of the two sewage tanks, a scenario that would shutter the studio.

But EPA officials said Thursday that the city wasn't required to use 270 Nevins St. as a staging area, and that the city doesn't have to use eminent domain to acquire the property. (Eastern Effects' lease says the company wouldn't be compensated if the city takes the land via eminent domain.)

A spokesman for the city's Department of Environmental Protection, which will oversee the sewage tank construction, said the city recognizes that the film industry is "vital" to New York and that DEP will "continue to work diligently and creatively to find the best path forward."

However, Eastern Effects founder and president Scott Levy said he was still "devastated" to hear that EPA and the city had finalized the plan to build one of the sewage tanks near his studio.

"Now, the decision rests squarely with the de Blasio administration," Levy said. "We've heard a lot of recent talk from [NYC Film] Commissioner [Julie] Menin about the importance of the local film industry, and now it's time to see some action. Here's a golden opportunity for her to do the right thing and save one of her own."

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Though the finalized agreement on the sewage tanks clears a major hurdle for the cleanup of the notoriously filthy Gowanus Canal, the news comes with some caveats.

The deal means the canal cleanup will be delayed by at least two years and will cost more than originally expected because the larger of the two tanks will be built on private property on Nevins and Butler streets. The city will have to acquire that land, probably through a lengthy and costly eminent domain process, EPA officials said.

The city has said obtaining the land and building the 8 million gallon tank there will cost roughly $500 million — almost the same price as the entire Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup.

With the sewage tank locations finalized, the EPA will now turn its attention to negotiating a deal with National Grid, the gas company that will help pay for part of the Superfund cleanup.

In a deal that will be hammered out over the next four to six months, EPA will ask National Grid to dig up coal tar from land bordering the canal so the toxic substance won't recontaminate the canal after it's cleaned up, Mugdan said. National Grid will also be responsible for building a wall deep in the mud at the canal's edge to keep coal tar from seeping into the waterway.

National Grid will dig up coal tar at both of the sites where the sewage tanks will be built, and underneath the "Double D" pool next to Thomas Greene Playground. The work will require the pool to be closed temporarily.

EPA had originally wanted the larger of the two sewage tanks to be built underneath the pool, but the city protested that plan because it didn't want to deprive residents of access to the pool for such a long time.

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