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Gowanus Canal’s toxic ‘tsunami’ %A0

From a window in her home, Margaret Maugenest can see the mighty shores of the Gowanus Canal, a polluted waterway she fears could one day spit its toxic cocktail on adjacent homes and businesses.

If a major storm surge hits the region, she worries, the results could well be catastrophic. “We’re not just talking about water here — we’re talking about [human waste], chemicals and toxic materials,” she said.

She is not alone in her fear.

The New York Sierra Club and Friends and Residents of the Greater Gowanus, of which she is a member, is sponsoring a meeting next week that will explore the science of storm surges and what they could mean for especially vulnerable waterfront neighborhoods like Gowanus and Red Hook. The guest speaker will be Dr. Malcolm Bowman, professor of physical oceanography and a distinguished service professor at the Marine Sciences Research Center at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Bowman’s current research include prediction and modeling of storm surges that threaten the city; his team is looking at ways the city can protect itself from flooding that could happen from an extreme flooding event.

According to the city’s Office of Emergency Management, large areas of southern Brooklyn, southern Queens, the lower east and west sides of Manhattan, and the perimeter of Staten Island could all suffer damage from a hurricane’s storm surge — the water pushed toward the shore by the force of the wind. “Storm surge from a strong hurricane would not be limited to waterfront properties and could conceivably push miles inland in some areas,” the agency states. “Even a low-level hurricane that makes landfall near New York City could wash ocean waters over large sections of some coastal neighborhoods.”

“I have tremendous concerns about this,” said Richard Bashner, chair of Community Board 6, which includes Gowanus and Red Hook in its boundaries. “I think we are experiencing global warming, we are experiencing more frequent bouts of extreme weather and in light of the problems with Hurricane Katrina, we would all be remiss if we didn’t closely look at the potential for a storm surge in such a heavily polluted body of water, particularly when residential development is contemplated on its banks,” he said.

Home builder Toll Brothers is one of the entities contemplating residential development along the canal, which is being considered for Superfund status. David Von Spreckelsen, a senior vice president with the company, said the entire site — two city blocks bounded by the canal, Bond Street, 2nd Street, and Carroll Street — would be raised out of the flood plane.

Bashner stressed that he and others are not raising the specter of a storm surge to be alarmist, but rather to be responsible. “If we need a storm surge barrier at the end of the canal, why are we not installing it?” he asked.

The meeting will be held Friday, Sept. 25, 6 p.m. at Long Island College Hospital, Atlantic Avenue and Hicks Street, in Conference Room A/B.

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