Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group Meeting
Tuesday April 22nd , 2014
41 1st St. Brooklyn NY 11231, Mary Star of the Sea, Community Room
Update from Natalie Loney, EPA Region 2 Community Involvement Coordinator
- Unilateral Order: EPA sent it out to all Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) except NYC; Unequivocal Order to Comply deadline 4/28/14, received responses from all PRPs, reviewing docs from NYC right now, no design has taken place, just legal review.
- Received request from Al Jazeera reporter who wants to speak to community representatives, meeting with Natalie on Thursday
Q: How is the timeline going?
A: EPA has given basic overview of a schedule but no legal documents have been created with a deadline. Some docs have been submitted from the City to EPA but no firm date.
Q: How has the new mayoral administration been with EPA compared to old?
A: It’s relatively early. Many of the same people they’d been working with in the previous administration are still there (e.g. Angela Licatta at DEP); they’ve been cooperative, meeting with EPA but too early to tell if there’s been a personality change.
- (Only committee that has met) – put off, hope to hear from Outreach later in the evening.
Water Quality and Technical Committee
- Committee Report: Haven’t really met but Committee Member Eymund Diegel attended presentation at Stevens Institute of Technology, commissioned by FEMA. One conclusion: Dredging of canals around Jamaica Bay increased flooding. Implications for Gowanus: what will be the impact of the Record of Decision to dredge the Canal on flood levels and what study has been mad?. Mitigation measures: storm breakers. Eymund will circulate technical memo.
- Question: If you increase opening to Gowanus Bay allowing more water to come into the Canal, will it increase flooding? Not that it’s good or bad but what are the issues? A) will it have an impact, B) if it’s shown to have an impact, what are the mitigation measures – raising level of Gowanus Bay “speed bump.” Originally had a sandbar that was removed, served as “speed bump.” As water comes in faster, it allows flooding to go higher.
- EPA: This would not fall under purview of remediation. Certain limitations under CERCLA, remediation of Canal associated with risks contained. Had discussed possible ways to reduce storm surges but EPA cannot spend Superfund money on flooding mitigation. Cannot have PRPs doing a storm surge study if they’re there to clean up contamination.
- Audience Member: EPA climate change adaptation plans stated that hydraulic measures would be put in to mitigate flooding.
- EPA: This is a lot more involved and more specific, goes too far afield of the stated purpose, which is to remediate the Canal.
- Audience Member: Ask Phil Orton to come down and address the CAG.
- Representative from Brad Lander’s Office: This is where Superfund overlaps with bigger land use issues. Not just EPA but City has interest, other actors: Gowanus Alliance, etc. Will need to bring in expertise across government agencies to address in the future.
- Eymund has been doing a lot of mapping of the old streams. Tracked old stream at Whole Foods back up to Park Slope. Will be contacting Emily Lloyd, new DEP Commissioner re: connections between Prospect Park streams and Park Slope sewer system with implications for Gowanus.
- Audience Member: Proposal to invite Emily Lloyd to CAG May or June meeting, ask about retention basins. Does City plan to partner with EPA?
- Eymund: Current plan to block off 4th or 5th St basin might increase flooding for 4th Ave subway. They need to coordinate with EPA.
- Doug Sarno: No set agendas for next couple of meetings so if CAG committees want to invite speakers, there is room for that.
- Archaeology Committee (Eymund): Met with 2nd Street Sponge Park reps (2 architects: DLand Studios and architect of Ikea Park). Integrating 1st Street Basin restoration with park design.
Discussion of CAG Comments on Draft Gowanus Canal Public Health Assessment
- Sean Dixon (CAG Member) will walk CAG thru the Assessment (distributed last week).
- Tried to get down all the questions that people had and get in depth on some of them. Department of Health basically said everyone should be safe, and that’s not good enough.
- Need specificity with findings (DOH said they didn’t do any of their own sampling, accepted other studies); location, fish, time & exposure (~30 yrs). Need to know more.
- DOH claimed a lot of “periodic findings” (it’s better or worse after rain events, etc.)
- A lot of assumptions called out in eight-page CAG letter. DOH says they didn’t get enough samples of fishing crabs, assume conditions same in other bays and rivers (not good enough).
- Recommendations: more specificity on fish; lots of questions re: data coming on the back end; lack of acceptance of citizen science (e.g. Riverkeeper); be more proactive about filling gaps; a lot of unanswered questions in Q&A (e.g. community events – need to give people more than a giant fact sheet); air problems – bad sampling/science/data – DOH compared samples to Elizabeth, NJ – concluded it was the same as in NY; better warnings (DOH claimed they put up signs but they got taken down); best practices while boating; general vagueness – CAG called them out on it because it goes a long way toward protecting the people (example: DOH said if you wade in some places you’ll get lead poisoning almost immediately – what is that?)
Audience Member: This is careless science – unacceptable.
Louis Kleinman (CAG Member): Newtown Creek is having a presentation in May (Sean says it’ll be the same thing). Should get together with them and press DOH to change the way they look at public health.
Sean is on Newtown streering committee, has brought up the same concerns there.
Bette Stoltz (CAG Member): Shocked that DOH said it wasn’t OK to eat the food but OK to handle the fish (take out hooks, throw them back).
Sean Dixon (CAG Member): DOH actually said you can eat fish that if you’re a 16-year old boy that you wouldn’t have been able to eat if you were 15. In other cases, DOH falls back on generics (when they don’t have enough data). They said PCBs were a grave concern that they found in marine life.
Audience Member: What about all the sampling that EPA did for a year, two years? Didn’t they give them to DOH?
Sean Dixon (CAG Member): Air sampling was taken at unspecified locations for two days. Water and soil sampling involved more data (including NOAA). Fish sampling just for two days in 2010. DOH says they’re constrained in what data they’re allowed to use in terms of soil sampling. We do not know where that bottleneck is.
Audience: DOT & DEP signs stay up around neighborhood. They get graffit but don’t get stolen. DOH agrees that more people are going to be using the Canal. Gowanus Conservancy & Gowanus Dredgers will put up their own signs because it’s too expensive to ask the city.
Louis Kleinman (CAG Member): Another problem DOH has with citizen science is protocol (distrust). They have maybe eight people doing research in all of NYS.
Eymund Diegel (CAG Member): We can use better air quality stations down by the BQE. There are five, all in Park Slope.
Audience Member: Empire State Development has been asked to do a special session with some of the organizations that are working with industries on the waterfront to talk about how they can apply for funding through the regional Economic Development fund. Meeting about environmentally sound economic development – June 15.
Eric McClure (CAG Member): Heard a story recently about three people who jumped into the Canal after a night of drinking, maybe we can recruit them to do blood tests.
Sean Dixon (CAG Member): This comment is not designed to be restrictive at all. We want people to use the Canal and get in the water.
Eymund Diegel (CAG Member): This should be broader than the Canal. Public health assessment should give us total relative risk – comparative data spread wide across community. Diesel motors are worse than anything you’ll encounter by Canal.
No quorum present but should CAG letter be sent to DOH? Previously, throwing weight CAG behind actions has been effective. Letter can be sent out to all members to request additional support so no override will be necessary. Doug will check for quorum, may bring back to vote at the next meeting.
Everyone approved letter as is.
Question re: emailing votes. Cannot be done per CAG charter, except for Admin Committee.
Louis Kleinman (CAG Member): Once we send it over to DOH, all local elected officials should get a copy.
Sean Dixon will draft cover letter for elected so they see where it’s coming from.
Doug Sarno: We can send the letter to outreach and ask them to draft a press release (will go to local press). Anyone who wants to forward the letter to press under their own name is free to do so.
Eymund Diegel (CAG Member): Great data resource, Al Medina school (600 students – largest student body near Superfund site), if you want to do research. Al Medina & PS 237(?) have large DOH data sets.
EPA: This is not so simple. Need completed exposure pathway in order to do a health study. Have we established a direct pathway from the Canal? Any health study will be extremely specific – it’s not looking at health records and drawing conclusions.
Only established exposure pathway was subsistence fishing. The fact that there’s a school on top of a Superfund site does not mean it’s being exposed to contamination.
It’s an extremely expensive, invasive process. Need to look at cost/benefit. EPA has moved beyond this, established ROD, now moving to remediate. Going back and doing a study will not change the remedy.
Louis Kleinman: Sean did not mention this but some of us brought up whether DOH study will be basis for City inaction.
EPA: No, we have a signed ROD.
Other Business CONT.
EPA: General environmental discussion at Fifth Avenue Committee to reach out to Gowanus community at large (three workshops – Bridging Gowanus?) Natalie will give a version of her TED Talk.
Also discussed moving forward some of the neighborhood tabling events that happen in the spring and summer. Can be used as outreach opportunity. Hard for Natalie to do on the weekend but EPA has good tools e.g. a one-pager that explains the remedy, also color-coded exposure sheet in English & Spanish, available for anyone who wants supporting documents for distribution.
Audience Member: Website and various groups discussed submitting minutes.
Doug: If committees aren’t meeting, let’s reduce the number of committees. The Administration Committee really needs to meet.
Eric McClure (CAG Member): Could we include a disclaimer for posted documents on the website, i.e. not being endorsed by CAG?
Include other events, sponsored by gov’t agencies (city/state/EPA) – do not want to post events sponsored by real estate developers. City is a PRP, but CAG can weigh on individual basis.
Louis Kleinman (CAG Member): What about our attendance requirement? Don’t people get a letter if they miss too many meetings?
Doug Sarno: That’sAdministration Committee’s job.
Audience Member: Does anyone know what’s happening with the Flushing Tunnel? EPA mentioned they had three propellers to test? Two were supposed to be installed in the fall and one in the spring. Also, was there a response to CAG’s letter re: bridges?
Eymund Diegel (CAG Member): One has been put in but does not seem to be running full force. They need to dredge out the sediment that’s blocking the flow.
Audience Member: Someone has a call to DEP this week, will discuss.
CAG wrote a letter asking city & FEMA… did anybody do a press release? Did anybody pick it up? (Doug: No)
Louis Kleinman (CAG Member): Tons of conferences in May & June, please take a look at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance events calendar.
Overflow opening this weekend with Newtown Creek, citizen science. This Sunday at 6.
May 10 Riverkeeper is doing sweeps pick ups, 10 sites in Brooklyn.