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Gowanus Canal Cleanup Could Run Out of Money Next Month, Officials Warn

 An EPA official and a contractor watch the first day of debris removal from the Gowanus Canal waterfront walkway behind the Whole Foods on Third Avenue and Third Street.
An EPA official and a contractor watch the first day of debris removal from the Gowanus Canal waterfront walkway behind the Whole Foods on Third Avenue and Third Street.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

GOWANUS — The pool of money that funds the cleanup of the polluted Gowanus Canal is about to dry up, and the Trump administration isn't replying to requests to replenish it, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials told locals this week.

"We have enough money to perhaps go through April and that’s about it," said Christos Tsiamis, project manager of the Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup. "We have made a request to headquarters for additional funds to continue… and the silence has been deafening. We haven't heard anything yet."

Tsiamis' dire warning — delivered at this week's meeting of the Gowanus Community Advisory Group — was in sharp contrast to previous assurances from EPA staff that the Trump administration couldn't affect the cleanup of the canal, considered one of dirtiest waterways in America.

Without money to pay for the team of experts who help oversee the cleanup, progress will slow to a crawl, Tsiamis said. Tasks that would ordinarily take about six months could stretch out for two years, he warned.

Tsiamis told locals he has asked EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. for about $400,000 to $500,000 to keep the project moving forward but hasn't gotten a response, according to the Brooklyn Paper, which first reported the budget crunch.

But a spokeswoman for EPA disputed Tsiamis' account and said the regional office overseeing the canal cleanup had made no requests for additional funding to EPA's national office.

"Work on the Gowanus is expected to continue using funding that the EPA already has and, as is the goal of the Superfund program, relying on the work being conducted by those parties responsible for pollution at the site," spokeswoman Mary Mears said.

She added that the cleanup is on target to be completed in 2022.

The companies responsible for polluting the canal pay for the cleanup, and they currently owe EPA about $15 million, said EPA attorney Brian Carr at the meeting. But EPA can't collect that money for at least another six months or a year, he said.

"In the interim we’re not really in a particularly good position," Carr said.

President Donald Trump's preliminary budget proposal called for a 30 percent cut to EPA's budget. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sounded the alarm about the deep cuts at a canal-side press conference last week, saying the slashed funding would send New York "back to the bad old days of choking smog and rampant pollution."

The canal was declared a Superfund site in 2010, but the cleanup is just getting underway.

U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez vowed to try to stop the budget shortfall, the Brooklyn Eagle reported.

"I intend to work with the Gowanus CAG and the regional EPA to secure resources they need for the remediation of the canal to go forward," Velázquez told the Eagle. "However, unfortunately, problems like these will only become more common throughout the nation if Trump continues his assault on our environment."

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