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Gowanus goof trips up city officials

If the city wants to win support for its Superfund alternative plan for the Gowanus Canal, it might want to spell the name of the infamous waterway correctly, skeptical local residents said after an informational meeting this week.

A City Hall−produced flyer handed out before a June 23 meeting intended for local homeowners to learn more about the city’s clean−up directs readers to visit the Web Site gowanuasalternative.com, instead of the correctly spelled gowanusalternative.com, which redirects viewers to a page on the city’s own nyc.gov.

The seemingly innocuous mistake was treated as toxic by those in attendance.

“This doesn’t give me any faith,” said Gowanus resident Margaret Maugenest. “The major difference they say in their plan is that the city would be able to do better management — and here they hand out a flyer that misspells Gowanus,” she added.

Further galling those in attendance at the meeting, held inside P.S. 32 in Carroll Gardens, is that many residents living near the canal received no notification of the meeting, and that the flyers being handed out once they arrived, had no indication that it was produced by the city, adding an unnecessary element of suspicion. “It doesn’t make it credible,” charged resident Steven Miller.

“We made a mistake,” confessed Caswell Holloway, chief of staff to Ed Skyler, the deputy mayor for operations. “Maybe we made more than one mistake.”

Holloway, who led the presentation, said the city’s plan relies on the Water Resources Development Act, which allows the Army Corps of Engineers to perform environmental restoration in a navigable channel, which the Gowanus is considered. Up to 65 percent of that work could be federally funded — provided the money is available. The program has only $50 million to spend each year nationwide. Cleaning the canal will cost in the range of $400 million, the Environmental Protection Agency has said.

The city contends that if the EPA designates the canal a Superfund site, a stigma would befall the neighborhood, prompting private investors to flee.

Holloway admitted that the city is unsure it will be able to secure any federal funding. “Right now, we don’t know the answer to that,” he said, adding that if the money is not available, the canal can still be designated a Superfund site.

The presumed federal cash flow, the city reasons, could decrease the cost burden on those charged with cleaning the canal: those who originally polluted it. “The overall cost of a clean−up is ultimately less,” Holloway said.

Holloway said the city would clean the canal as fully as if it were designated a Superfund site — only faster and more efficiently. Using estimates from the Army Corps, Holloway said a city−led clean−up would span roughly seven to nine years, and pointed to the EPA’s comparatively sluggish average of 14 years from start to finish for Superfund sites across the country.

EPA Regional Director Walter Mugdan said EPA’s time frame was the same as the city’s, and that lengthy clean−ups were often a product of the newness of the Superfund program, which was initiated in 1980. The agency has since streamlined its operations, he said.

He said the problem with the city’s plan is that it “magnifies complexities,” relying on several moving parts to align in order to work.

Comparisons to the clean−up of other sites — like the Hudson River whose clean−up has stretched almost 30 years — are not necessarily appropriate, Mugdan told this paper. “The Gowanus Canal is very simple. It’s two miles long instead of 200 miles. It’s smaller, confined and narrower,” he said.

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