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Newtown Creek sludge project nearing completion

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection is celebrating the end of a month-long project in Newtown Creek that, if successful, will eventually make the water running through Greenpoint and the neighboring Queens communities of Ridgewood and Maspeth much more inviting.

DEP crews have been traveling through the contaminated creek since the end of March, cleaning up silt, industrial waste and untreated sewage overflow that has been left largely undisturbed since the 1970s. The project, which is expected to be fully complete by no later than the end of April, aims to make Newtown Creek passable for a new fleet of DEP sludge vessels that will transport wastewater from elsewhere in the city to a new facility deeper inland.

Sludge vessels can be seen six days a week traveling through the East and Hudson Rivers, transporting sludge (semi-solid material leftover from industrial wastewater or sewage treatment) to decontamination facilities. Those facilities then extract any harmful materials and dump the clean water back into rivers around the metro area.

Yet, despite its status as one of the most contaminated bodies of water in the city, Newtown Creek is not currently equipped with its own de-watering plant. Sludge from the area is transported through a pipeline under the East River to a wastewater treatment plant in Greenpoint. City officials hope to soon use that valuable Brooklyn real estate for affordable housing and a new park, but the first step in removing the treatment facility is cleaning Newtown Creek.

Step one, for the most part, is finished. Environmental officials said barges will be taking their final trips through the area using sonar technology to ensure that a new fleet of sludge vessels will be able to travel through without incident.

“Most likely there will be a few spots where they have to touch up and lay a fresh layer of sand down,” a DEP representative said last month. “The barge and dredge machinery will be on Newtown Creek for at least another week or so but the majority of the work will be completed by this weekend.”

Before the project began in March, DEP officials and nearby residents were concerned that the stirred-up silt bed would emit a smell of rotten eggs into the spring air. The very notion was enough to prompt a flurry of social media activity from Brooklyn and Queens residents alike. None of the dire predictions came to pass, though, thanks to the crews’ ‘round-the-clock reliance on air and water quality monitors.

“The fact that there’ve been two complaints and all of our monitoring indicates that we’re well-within our acceptable limits, everything has gone smoothly,” the spokesperson said.

Work at Newtown Creek is a symptom of a citywide effort to equip designated priority areas like Gowanus Canal, Jamaica Bay, Flushing Bay and the Bronx River with green infrastructure. The city will spend $2.4 billion over the next 20 years on treating wastewater and rain overflow before it enters New York’s waterways.

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