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Gowanus Canal cleanup crews find garbage, trees, and wrecked boats

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Debris is finally getting removed from the murky, polluted Brooklyn waterway

Eastern Effects Gowanus tour Photo by Max Touhey

For better or worse, we are about to learn what is lurking at the bottom of the Gowanus Canal. On Monday, EPA contractors began removing debris from the polluted Brooklyn waterway, using a “100,000-pound hydraulic excavator perched atop a massive barge” to fish out assorted urban detritus, reports DNAInfo.

Over the next three to four weeks, they’ll be excavating sunken objects in order from largest to smallest. What we know so far, alas, isn’t all that exciting: sonar scans have revealed 36 “large objects” on the canal floor, including “two boat wrecks, eight support pilings, a tree, and 25 other items that measured greater than five feet across,” EPA officials told DNAInfo.

What are those objects? While the agency says they’re expecting to find mostly quotidian garbage—hubcaps, bikes, shopping carts—they acknowledge the possibility that there “may be some surprises.” One can only hope.

The debris removal, which EPA officials say is a crucial step in the $506 million Superfund cleanup, will also serve as a pilot project, allowing contractors to figure out the best techniques for fishing stuff out of the rest of the canal.

Once it’s removed, detritus will be sorted into recyclables and landfill materials, before being “transported by barge to facilities that can handle hazardous waste,” DNAInfo says. Don’t worry, though—there will be air quality monitors during the excavation, to make sure workers and area residents (like those living in Lightstone’s pricey new rentals on Bond Street) aren’t being poisoned by the process.

Once the junk is out, workers can move onto the next phase of the canal cleanup: dredging contaminated sediment out of the canal, a process that’s slated to start in 2017 and last for the next six years. If all goes according to plan, the entire cleanup should be complete in 2022.