Barge ship meant to clean up Gowanus Canal sinks off Brooklyn shore

Barges moored in the distance off Gowanus Bay seen from Columbia Street on Jan. 26.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Brooklyn’s nautical purgatory has claimed another victim.

A barge ship loaded with polluted sediment from the Gowanus Canal sank in the Gowanus Bay, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed in a statement Tuesday.

The boat containing the dredged material from the canal bed laced with toxic materials like coal tar was moored in Gowanus Bay and became submerged, contractor Cashman Dredging discovered Monday, according to EPA.

The boat sank in an area of the harbor called the Bay Ridge flats, a 8-20 foot deep shoal area off the coast of Sunset Park, EPA rep for the Gowanus cleanup Natalie Loney told the local watchdog organization the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group Tuesday evening. 

The boat sank in the Bay Ridge Flats, pictured in light blue in section 10 of the map. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Cashman mobilized pumps, booms, and silt curtains to the location and pumped water from the sunken vessel into a different empty barge during low tide as operations to stabilize the boat continued Tuesday, according to the agency.

EPA is investigating the incident to determine the cause, whether contaminated sediment got into the water, and to evaluate next steps, according to the Jan. 26 release.

“EPA’s goals are to do all that we can do to ensure that this type of mishap does not happen again and that any impacts from yesterday’s accident are appropriately and promptly addressed,” the statement read. “EPA will update the public as more information becomes available.”

Local Councilmember Brad Lander said the incident was “very distressing,” adding he was trying to find out more information from EPA. 

“Very distressing to learn that a barge carrying toxic sludge dredged from the Gowanus Canal sank y’day in Gowanus Bay,” the pol tweeted in response to Brooklyn Paper’s story. “I’ve reached out to the EPA for more info. We’ll keep the community apprised as we learn more about what happened & what’s being done.”

The EPA-managed dredging of the upper third of the Gowanus Canal launched in November to scoop out polluted sediment, before stabilizing the ground and capping it with a protective layer. 

Smaller barges transfer the filthy sediment to larger watercraft at the Public Place site at Smith and Fifth streets, before shipping out across the bay to be processed in New Jersey. 

This story first appeared on our sister publication brooklynpaper.com.

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