Dredgers sour on Superfund

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PCBs be damned — a local canoe club isn’t fazed enough by the polluted Gowanus Canal to support designating it a Superfund site.

“We have less−than enthusiastic embracement of the proposal to designate our recreational [waterway] a Superfund site,” said Owen Foote, treasurer of the Gowanus Dredgers.

“We would like to see it cleaned, and the most important thing for the canoe club is to take steps to facilitate the clean−up,” he added.

“We completely agree that the canal is extremely polluted, as are many properties fronting the canal,” he added. “But after 30 years of not nominating it, why now?”

Foote said his group has a number of lingering questions remaining the Environmental Protection Agency’s initiative, reserved for the country’s most toxic sites. “With the proposed designation should come a environmental impact statement, similar to any other proposal for massive change,” he suggested. “This would enable the community to make an informed decision.”

Foote said designating the canal a Superfund site could be debated by the community board, which would then make a recommendation to the City Council, and then decided on by the mayor, as is done with projects that are part of the city’s Uniform land Use Review Procedure. The city is opposed to the designation, and is working on an alternative plan its says will fully clean the canal without the stigma of labeling it a Superfund site.

Foote said his group stopped short of joining the coalition of developers and landowners opposed to the canal’s proposed designation.

Gowanus developers Toll Brothers, as well as the team known as Gowanus Green have elected to include boating accommodations within their properties. The canoe club has signed binding agreements with both entities, who have agreed to provide the club affordable space for boathouses, Foote said.

The not−for−profit group has received funding from Toll, and the Hudson Companies, a member of the Gowanus Green development team. Foote said his club, which operates on a budget of $40,000, will accept money whenever it can. “We take everything” he said. “But more important are the over 150 local business supporters,” he stressed.

“We have nothing personal to gain as the neighborhood changes,” he added, noting that gentrification and sleek new development may ultimately mean higher costs for the club, which has been advocating for clean waterways through recreational uses for the past 10 years.

The Dredgers offer hand sanitizer —and sound advice to all who embark on the mighty canal. “I tell everyone not to drink the water,” said Foote, who predicted having the “most repetitive exposure to the canal over the past 10 years” compared to anyone involved in the debate.

He said there is a noticeable side effect of joining the club: “You may become slightly more athletic.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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