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Gowanus Getting $10M to Combat Flooding as Neighborhood Faces Rezoning

By Leslie Albrecht | December 8, 2016 8:49am
 Floodwaters in Gowanus on Oct. 29, 2012, as Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on New York. The city plans to make $10 million in sewer upgrades to combat flooding on Ninth Street and Second Avenue, officials said in December 2016.
Floodwaters in Gowanus on Oct. 29, 2012, as Hurricane Sandy was bearing down on New York. The city plans to make $10 million in sewer upgrades to combat flooding on Ninth Street and Second Avenue, officials said in December 2016.
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Flickr/Proteus Gowanus

GOWANUS — The city will make $10 million in sewer and drainage upgrades to reduce the floodwaters that gush down Ninth Street every time there's a heavy rain — one of a series of infrastructure investments aimed at the fast-gentrifying neighborhood, officials said Wednesday.

The Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Design and Construction said they've finished designing new sewers to be installed on Ninth Street between Smith Street and Second Avenue and on Second Avenue between Seventh and Ninth streets.

The work is slated to start in the fall of 2017 and finish in 2019, a DEP spokeswoman said. The project will install new sewers and replace a cast iron water main that dates to 1913, the spokeswoman said.

News of the project comes as the city is studying a possible rezoning of Gowanus that could open the door to more residential development in the industrial neighborhood, most of which is in a flood zone surrounding the heavily contaminated Gowanus Canal.

The Department of City Planning will host a public meeting Thursday night on how rezoning could affect "sustainability and resiliency" (shorthand for efforts to address climate change and flooding).

City Councilman Brad Lander, who represents the area, said the city's $10 million flood-fighting upgrade is welcome news for residents and businesses along the oft-inundated corridor. The investment also has a larger meaning, Lander said.

"To me, it’s a sign that there is a serious commitment from the city to continue addressing the infrastructure needs that Gowanus faces, and will continue to face, in the coming decades," Lander said. "If there’s going to be growth in Gowanus, there will have to be infrastructure commitments honored."

The city's rezoning plan for East New York includes a host of infrastructure investments, and Lander, in his Bridging Gowanus planning framework, called for similar spending in Gowanus.

The rezoning could also address issues such as the height of bulkheads that line the canal, Lander said. After the storm surge during Superstorm Sandy pushed the canal over its banks, FEMA and the Department of Buildings required a developer building luxury apartments on the canal to increase the bulkhead height in front of its building. The question of whether to require that of all new development could come up during the rezoning process, Lander said.

Another looming issue is how to handle storm surges like the one during Sandy. In 2014, the city hired consultants to study whether some type of storm-surge barrier like a gate or a wall could even be feasible on the canal.

The study is now complete and the city plans to share the results with the U.S Army Corps of Engineers with an eye toward securing federal funding, a representative from the Mayor's Office of Recovery and Resiliency told Gowanus residents at the first meeting on the possible rezoning.

The city has made several other investments in Gowanus to fight flooding and help clean the canal's fetid waters. In recent years DEP has installed "rain gardens" (tree pits with extra water-soaking capabilities), reactivated a tunnel that brings fresh water into the canal, and embarked on a $52 million "high-level sewer" upgrade to reduce the sewage flowing into the canal.

The section of Ninth Street that's getting the $10 million upgrade is at the epicenter of change in Gowanus. A former art studio building is being renovated into a 200,000-square-foot office and retail complex, and one of the neighborhood's first Citi Bike docking stations was installed there recently.

"In conjunction with other work in the area including the installation of rain gardens to further reduce pollution from stormwater runoff, we are providing environmental sustainability to a community long associated with industrialization and urbanization," said DDC commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora.

The Dept. of City Planning's meeting on resiliency, sustainability and the Gowanus rezoning study is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Wyckoff Gardens Community Center, 280 Wyckoff St.