A long-awaited groundbreaking was held Wednesday, setting in motion a $1.6 billion project beneath the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal.
“This groundbreaking is our way of continuing to move forward with the real challenges that we are facing storm after storm, year after year, and how we come up with effective solutions,” said Mayor Eric Adams on Wednesday as he and the federal Environmental Protect Agency marked the start of a $1.6 billion project to clean the Gowanus Canal.
Construction has officially begun on the first of two tanks that will be able to hold a combined 12 million gallons of wastewater.
The goal is to prevent severe flooding and further pollution of the canal.
“These storms are going to continue coming. Climate change is here and the storms are going to become more frequent,” said Martin Bisi, a local business owner and member of the grassroots organization Voice of Gowanus. He says the city’s $1.6-billion-dollar project falls short.
“It’s not enough to take care of the environmental problems in Gowanus,” said Bisi. “It does not address the profound contamination that we have in the sites around the canal.”
Gowanus has seen a surge in residents in recent years and thousands more are expected to arrive in the near future The Gowanus rezoning, which was approved in 2021, will add roughly 8,000 new housing units to the neighborhood.
“These tanks won’t be built until 2030 and in the meantime, they’ll continue building this housing that will bring more residents in and tens of thousands of toilets, and right now it doesn’t take much rain for the sewer system to go over capacity,” said Bisi.
This project follows a years-long struggle to clean up the canal after the Environmental Protection Agency designated it a “Superfund site” in 2010.
Bisi says the only way to keep residents safe from harmful toxins is to restore the canal to pre-contamination conditions.
“Full comprehensive cleanup of all of the worst sites and there’s many of them. There’s up to 30. And of course, that means halting construction on those sites fully,” he said.
The plan also includes creating 3.6 miles of waterfront parkland along. The city says the project is expected to be completed by June 2030.