Gowanus Canal designated Superfund Site

Brooklyn’s own Gowanus Canal has been declared a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency, which will begin clean up of this area extending from Gowanus Bay to New York Harbor.

A preliminary assessment of the clouded 1.8 mile canal, found several contaminants, including pesticides, metals and the cancer-causing chemicals known as PCBs.

Superfund is the name given to the environmental program established to address abandoned hazardous waste sites. It was established by the CERCLA act of 1980, in the wake of the discovery of toxic waste dumps such as Love Canal and Times Beach. The statute allows the EPA to clean up such sites and to compel responsible parties for the toxic waste, to perform cleanups or reimburse the government for EPA-lead cleanups.

In May 2008 the NYC Dept. of City Planning released a draft proposal calling for rezoning of 25 blocks along the Gowanus Canal, to permit a mix of uses, including residential, commercial, retail, light industrial, community facility and artist spaces. This Superfund designation of the area, however, may make it hard to attract buyers or developers. Not many people want to live near or by a toxic waste dump.

In 2009, the Planning Commission approved the developer Toll Brothers’ proposal to rezone a three-acre tract of land on the Gowanus Canal between Carroll and 2nd Streets. The project included approximately 460 residential units – 30% affordable housing – as well as a community facility, neighborhood-oriented retail, and accessory parking space. Their plans also created publicly-accessible open space along the entire project waterfront in the form of a landscaped esplanade with benches and other public amenities. Now, however, due to the recent Superfund listing, these developers have pulled out citing that it no longer makes financial sense.

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