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Gowanus joins Generation Facebook

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The Gowanus Canal has finally joined the 21st century: The fetid waterway has its own group on Facebook.

The Environmental Protection Agency created the page, reachable though, with the hope, it said, of adding a layer of transparency to the controversial initiative to name the canal a Superfund site.

Nothing scandalous — unless one is opposed to the Superfund designation — seems to have popped up on the page just yet. The most recent post, as of this paper’s deadline, urges conversations about the canal to follow “conventions of polite discourse.” An earlier entry lists the EPA sponsored meetingheld Dec. 3 inside Public School 32 on Hoyt Street to update the community about the EPA’s planned activities along the canal.

Natalie Loney, the EPA’s community involvement coordinator, called the page “another vehicle to get information” to the public.At press time, the group had 18 registered members.

The meeting held few surprises. The agency, as this paper has reported, is planning to supplement studies already performed along the canal, an effort to gauge the pollutants lurking in and around the former industrial waterway.

Walter Mugdan, the agency’s regional Superfund director, said the EPA continues to review data and comments submitted by the public during the comment period, but a final decision on whether to name the canal a Superfund site may not be imminent. “To expect a decision in less than a year would be highly unusual,” he said.In April, the agency announced the canal was nominated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation for inclusion in the program, which puts the burden of cleaning up toxic sites on the polluters.

The Bloomberg administration is against the proposal, and has hatched an alternate plan it feels will be quicker, and devoid of the stigma a Superfund listing could have on the $400 private development planned along the water’s edge. Mugdan said Mayor Michael Bloomberg has so far had two brief conversations with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson about the canal, whose cleanup — no matter who is overseeing it — will cost upwards of $450 million.

Despite the canal’s fate remaining in limbo, Mugdan said the agency would nonetheless be a familiar presence in the area, a fact that drew hearty applause from the crowd. “ It is incumbent upon us to move ahead as quickly as we are able. Our goal is to get that work underway as quickly as possible,” he said.

The agency plans to perform a variety of scientific tests along the canal. “We need additional data to calculate human risk and also risk to the environment,” said project manager Christos Tsiamis.

The agency plans to measure the depth of the canal,examine the first six inches of fouled sediment,c­onductsurf­ace water sampling and air sampling, and collect and analyze fish and crabs that call the waterway home.The EPA will also sample the combined sewage overflow that can be seen — and smelled — floating atop the canal, and will also install small wells to collect and test groundwater samples.

The goal, Tsiamis said, is to “get enough knowledge to determine how we are to clean the canal.” The sampling will be completed by the summer of 2010, and a report will be compiled by the end of 2010. A feasibility study, which will offer different methods to clean the canal, is expected to be completed by the second half of 2011, Tsiamis said. A proposed plan and selection of a remedy will come six to eight months after the feasibility study is completed.

In the meantime, updates will be made available on the EPA’s Web site, along with the Facebook page, where Loney is the administrator — but has yet to post her photograph. “I’m trying to find the best possible shot,” she said.

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