Big spender: City proposing excessive cost, size for Gowanus filtration site, Feds claim

Excessive: Federal officials claim the city is proposing an unnecessarily costly and large design for a water-filtration facility along the banks of the Gowanus Canal required to rise as part of the waterway's ongoing scrub.
Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Talk about government waste!

City officials want to spend unnecessary cash to make a water-filtration facility required for the cleanup of the toxic Gowanus Canal bigger than it needs to be, according to the Feds overseeing the cleanse.

“Why build bigger and more expensive if you don’t have to?” said Environmental Protection Agency project manager Christos Tsiamis.

In May, leaders of the city’s Department of Envrionmental Protection presented draft plans for the so-called headhouse they want to build on the Butler Street lot currently occupied by the ancient Gowanus Station building, following Council’s approval for the agency to use eminent domain to seize that canal-adjacent property and a neighboring Nevins Street parcel so one of two massive sewage-storage tanks also required for the canal cleanup can be buried beneath the land.

The plans, which also call for creating an open-air public space next to the headhouse, could come with a price tag as high as $1.2 billion once final costs for construction, land acquisition, and the tanks’ installation are tallied, city officials said at the time.

The agency employees claimed the headhouse, which will filter poo and other waste from canal water destined for the cistern underneath it, would stand no more than seven-stories tall, and incorporate elements salvaged from the Gowanus Station they intend to demolish — even though many locals argued the two properties boast enough area between them to build the new structure without destroying the old.

And now Tsiamis and his colleagues are doubling down on the locals’ arguments, agreeing that it’s possible to create a smaller filtration facility without compromising its function.

“What we have been trying to do is produce a design for the headhouse in a manner that carries out the engineer functions, and has the least visual impact on the community,” said the federal agency’s attorney, Brian Carr.

Tsiamis sent the city a letter last month suggesting cost-saving ways to shrink the building so it better blends in with neighbors, and asked officials to respond by June 18, but the deadline came and went with no feedback, he said.

And the city’s silence showed a blatant disregard to Tsiamis and his agency’s authority over the scrub, a chain of command that was established back in 2010 when federal officials designated the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site.

“What we have is a non-cooperating party,” he said. “New York City is laughing right now at this, but we have a legal document, and if you don’t follow this directive, you’re forced to remedy, or pay penalties.”

But reps for the city’s Environmental Protection Department denied Tsiamis’s accusation that the agency ignored his missive, claiming its leaders responded suggesting a meeting be set up about the letter, and argued it hasn’t done anything wrong because designs for the headhouse are only preliminary, and hinge on an in-the-works agreement the Feds are drafting with the state’s Historic Preservation Office that would require preserving two facades of the 1913 Gowanus Station exactly where they stand.

“It’s really in flux right now,” said Alicia West, who conducts community outreach for the city environmental agency.

Plans for the headhouse, however, will need to go back to the drawing board entirely if the city does not seize the Nevins and Butler Street properties or work out a private deal to buy them by 2020, at which point the Feds will proceed with their original plan to stick the sewage-storage tank in the grave of Gowanus’s beloved Double-D pool, which must be removed and replaced as part of the cleanup of the canal.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 5:30 pm, July 11, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

Luca Brazzi from Cobble Hill says:
The author of this story reflects a disturbing ignorance of what this proposed DEP facility is for. It is not a filtration facility, it is a big holding tank to prevent untreated sewage from overflowing into the canal when there is heavy rain. The city has similar facilities in Jamaica Bay and they provide a great benefit to water cleanliness.
July 6, 2018, 8:29 am
Joe from Gowanus says:
The EPA should provide backup for their $506M estimate of 2008 [for the entire project] before being critical of any City estimate.

DEP spent $750K to renovate the pumping station. The cost to acquire waterfront property and build a new facility like this is likely to be $1.5B!
July 6, 2018, 8:43 am
Margaret from Gowanus says:
The City is doing such a CON JOB - no other way to characterize this overblown monstrosity at overblown cost and the tax payers are footing the bill. The EPA plan was a WIN WIN for the community - by putting the tank under the pool on land that has to be dug up anyway because it's toxic. The City's plan is an out of scale plain ugly and completely destroys the character of the neighborhood where I have lived for 34 years!
July 6, 2018, 5:16 pm
Roger from South Brooklyn says:
Joe: EPA estimates $78 million for the two inline sewage detention basins was given at about. There are construction pricing guides, updated each year and calibrated by state and city, that allow for such general ball-park estimates. Though such standards are used by developers in NYC, they don’t calibrate for DEP city-government machinations.

So lets see: $1.2 billion - $78 million = an awful lot of dough to pass around to assert power and influence, without having to consult the electorate or rate payers.

The price you gave, $504 million, or just $0.5 billion, was for the entire canal cleanup, dredge, cap, and sewage detained. Any you can bet that the other PRP's picking up all the major costs of the cleanup, will not be spending one-cent more than they need to.
July 6, 2018, 8:50 pm
Humplington Buht from Park Slope says:
It’s not as big as they say - they’re exagerating! Oh, look how big it is! Oh!
July 7, 2018, 2:12 am
Joe from Gowanus says:
Roger: You reinforce my point - EPA's $$ estimate is absurd!

Let's start with the EPA revealing the cost of the 4th St basin pilot project? City contract costs are published - EPA is top secret!

$1.5-5M is the price just for video camera installations at the Red Hook treatment plant (bids were opened 6/12/18 and published online).
July 9, 2018, 10:25 am
Roger from South Brooklyn says:
Joe, you bot it backwards, The DEP budget is extremely,, extremely absurd, because they are abusing the public funds. The EPA estimates are for the infrastructure as required under their order, not the elaborate and extraneous stuff we see in the DEP images.
July 10, 2018, 11:05 am
Roger from South Brooklyn says:
Joe: EPA work is not a government contract projects.

The EPA work is a law-inforsement action. Penalties imposed on those tied to the contamination is that they correct their damage as per the court orders. And it up to those parties to manage their costs.

So how is the EPA to know the cost of the 4th St Basin work, the EPA isn't paying the bills? Are the responsible parties obligated to reveal their costs? What do those costs mean to the public? Do we care what PRP's needs to spend to remove their contamination from the canal?

The DEP sure needs to be upfront with a breakdown on how they are spending the public money here because to is clear there is much being added in here that doesn't fall under the EPA court order.
July 10, 2018, 11:49 am
Joe from Gowanus says:
Before responding, please try using Google:

From its inception, the Superfund program has contracted with private companies to perform work needed for hazardous waste cleanup.

It's sad that our community has been so misinformed.
July 11, 2018, 1:38 pm

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: