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Gowanus Canal Bridge Replacement On Hold Until After Cleanup, Officials Say

 The Union Street bridge over the Gowanus Canal.
The Union Street bridge over the Gowanus Canal.
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Jackie Weisberg

GOWANUS — An aging bridge over the Gowanus Canal won't be replaced until after the federal government finishes cleaning up part of the polluted waterway, city and federal officials said.

Officials from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency and the city's Department of Transportation agreed recently that the DOT will replace the Union Street bridge after the EPA finishes cleaning up the northern end of the canal near the bridge, an EPA spokeswoman said.

The cleanup work near the Union Street bridge, on the northern end of the canal, is expected to be complete by the end of 2018, the EPA spokeswoman said.

The 111-year-old Union Street bridge was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy and the city is eager to replace it with a new span.

DOT officials presented two options at a Community Board 6 meeting in April: a movable bridge (similar to the current bridge) that would allow boats to pass through, and a fixed bridge that would limit marine traffic.

A fixed bridge would make it impossible for barges to pass under the bridge, which could affect the EPA's $506 million Superfund cleanup of the canal. Barges will be used to carry the toxic sludge that's dredged out of the bottom of the canal during the cleanup.

Without barges, the dredged materials would have to be trucked through neighborhood streets.

Now that the DOT and EPA have agreed to coordinate their timelines, the EPA will stick to the plan to use barges for the toxic materials, an EPA spokeswoman said.

"We anticipate that there will be no interference with the transport of materials, including dredged material, via the canal," an EPA spokeswoman said.

Media outlets reported recently that the DOT had decided to pursue the fixed bridge option, but a DOT spokeswoman said Tuesday that no final decision had been made.

The DOT recently started a study about the "navigational impact" of a fixed bridge and expects to complete it by the end of the year. The study is required as part of the DOT's application for a U.S. Coast Guard permit to build a fixed bridge. Permits aren't required for movable bridges because they don't affect marine traffic, a DOT spokeswoman said.

The Coast Guard will gather public feedback on the fixed bridge proposal, then decide on how much clearance is required for boats traveling under the Union Street bridge, a DOT spokeswoman said.

"Such a determination is necessary before DOT can assess whether a fixed bridge at this site is even possible," the DOT spokeswoman said.