Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group Meeting
Tuesday September 30, 2014
41 1st St. Brooklyn NY 11231, Mary Star of the Sea, Community Room
Update from Christos Tsiamis, EPA Project Manager for the Gowanus Canal Cleanup
Remedial Design Work:
A lot has been done, working closely with National Grid and other responsible parties. While there has not been much activity on the Canal, residents should prepare to see crews on the Canal starting in late fall doing all kinds of work.
- Crews will assess the state of the bulkheads underwater
- EPA will lay cables from the head of the Canal to the 3rd Street bridge to measure seepage of the groundwater from the bottom of the canal – this will help determine how large the cap needs to be
- Cap will be cement and cement-like materials into native sediment where it will solidify the bottom for approximately five feet. No dredging needs to happen – a pilot study will be conducted late fall to make sure this remediation is appropriate.
Additional Questions (Follow Ups)
Q: (CAG Member) Are there detrimental aspects to leaving Coal Tar beneath the cap rather than removing it?
A: No. The tar that we are discussing is a mobile tar moving upwards and the solidification is intended to keep it from moving up through the sediments
Q: (CAG Member) For the last three years we have heard that Natl. Grid has been willing to clean up contaminated sites. Ferraro Brothers would need to move – when will that happen?
A: Unsure: when it needs to happen.
Q: (CAG Member) How big is this plume of contamination?
Q: (CAG Member) Is all of the information of the pilot study available publicly? It seems that CAG members are concerned that the cap/pilot study will maybe not work. Will it?
A: Documents are available. Work plan will be posted when it is available. Many meetings and discussions about this particular remedy and need are the correct way to go about addressing the issues discovered and meeting the ROD.
Q: (CAG Member) How will capping a portion of the canal be useful?
A: The whole canal will be capped. Where we solidify the bottom is where tar might be more extensive.
Q: (CAG Member) Who will pay for the replacement of the bulkheads, and how can you guarantee to this community that they won’t be replaced with metal bulkheads when some might be wood in nature? This is a big issue for the canal and will determine some of the environment that remains.
A: The historical nature is important, but the ecological portion of our cleanup is more important. There will be places that aren’t hard edges, there will be remediation. What we would like it to be and what it can be are two different issues. Where we can have soft banks and create ecological landscapes, we are fighting for that. Where it is not possible, we will require sheet piles for stability and protection.
Other EPA Representative: We have consulted with the State Historic Preservation Commission, which are not in favor of ‘fake’ restoration, and we are working on places where we can have containment (steel) to the waterline and then soft edges above.
Q: (CAG Member) What about conservation easements to create a comprehensive treatment for the Canal?
A: Other treatments are impossible. Structurally and integrally and from an historic preservation standpoint it is very, very difficult to come up with another solution.
Q: (CAG Member) There is an historic height that needs to be maintained, and while sheetmetal will be necessary, the historic character of the height is really important because it leaves options for other landscaping treatments.
A: Where the city sets heights for various building purposes, we defer to the city. General preference is to maintain the existing height where DCP has not made a different ruling.
Q: (CAG Member) Who set the standard for the bulkheads anyway? This is the only time in the history of the Canal that we have had the opportunity to think about these things.
A: CDC had created a bulkhead survey -> Gowanus Canal has no historic uniqueness to the entire length of the canal.
Q: (Non-CAG representative from NYCHA, local houses, not administration): I’m hearing discussions about contaminants, and you are going to put a ‘sponge’ in there to trap them, what happens if another Superstorm comes in? What about the bacteria, and about the raw sewage?
A: I will bring a diagram next time, but storms won’t impact the bottom of the Canal so much. We will address CSO later on.
Doug Sarno: This conversation is too big for tonight, we need to have this conversation but we need to talk about when we can devote a meeting to this and when we can have drawings and information from EPA about the conditions of the canal.
Contamination from Upland and Retention Tanks
New York City has to build two underground retention tanks to hold the excess storm water. This will help eliminate to a great extent the raw sewage that runs into the canal. The city originally had 14 locations, and now (by 9/30) they need to narrow it down to 4 locations: 2 at the top and 2 at the middle of the canal.
Q: NonCAGFuree rep: These chemicals have been around for a while; what is the risk? What if we get sick?
A: We have done a risk assessment, and now we are cleaning it up
Q: NonCAG: But look how many years it took you to clean it up?
Q: NonCAG: You need to know where you are going with these toxins!
A: Cleanup will be done by Natl Grid and NYS, nobody has seen the plan. Digging at the park will begin
Q: NonCAG: What about the pool?
A: EPA is advocating for replacement facilities. The EPA also advocates for inter-agency coordination.
Q: CAG: What is the cost?
A: Unsure. CAG member brings up a $30 million price tag for Gowanus and for Newtown
Q: CAG: Can we get a timeline?
A: 2015-2016: We will complete the design outlining all of the plans moving forward. After this, we will begin the actual remediation.
In this we expect NYC to give 30% design for retention tanks by July 2015(?)
We expect NYS to finish protective elements
20017-2018: Should be able to clean from top of the canal to the turn, two years from turn to 9th st, and another 2 years for the last part of the canal.
Q: CAG: Is there any potential to locate holding tanks on sites that are contaminated to take advantage of siting tanks and requiring cleanup for construction
A: Unresolved, probably not
Q: CAG: What is the size of the tanks? What about control of the site: does the city need a site where they have full control? Can things be built on top of the tanks
A: ROD specified 48 million gallons and captures all storm events except the two worst.
Q: CAG: We are suffering from a lack of information from NYC
Doug: Do we want to invite the city back to discuss their final locations?
A: We will bring information into the Community.
Q: Non-CAG NYCHA Resident: Don’t forget NYCHA! Where is the NYCHA rep. Why aren’t there any NYCHA reps in the room to listen and discuss what is happening, and how this will impact the NYCHA developments. There are already significant problems in the Gowanus houses that might be exacerbated by the cleanup. When you talk about the ‘community’ you need to be sure you are talking to all of the community, including the NYCHA houses. Have they been invited?
Doug: This meeting has a specific agenda, but is not private and all are welcome.
Various CAG members suggest: We should send a deliberate invitation to NYCHA administration to attend the 250 Broadway: Sophie(?) The Chair
DCP Rep Aline Fader: suggests that Tenants association and CAG invite the NYCHA reps to make a stronger case.
ACTION ITEM: Outreach Committee will call. Motion Seconded.
Former Toll Brothers Property was zoned by the City for residential use.
Under the NYS Brownfields program: you can clean a polluted site up and redevelop it for use. Lightstone took advantage of this, the plan included significant cleanups but then the EPA got involved.
EPA is of the opinion that additional cleaning needed to happen. EPA will continue to request more information to determine the extent of remediation needed. This work will take place shortly.
Q: CAG: Did you see these reports and determine they did not report the truth? I am seeking clarity because I am wondering where the city’s responsibility was during this 4 or 5 years where they designated that this land was cleaned up enough?
A: No, I (Christos) wasn’t satisfied with the extent of the investigation.
- Included in the agreement is the building of bulkheads. Lightstone has agreed to $20 million worth of work and the costs of EPA oversight to remain innocent under Superfund law.
- Lightstone will put bulkheads down to the depth required to allow dredging to happen, height is set by the city and has nothing to do with EPA.
- Water retention (sewer and stormwater) has been approved, by City and independently by EPA.
- Rest assured that any new development on the Canal will take out more contamination than it contributes (EPA, Brian)
Q: CAG: What is the ‘before’ condition that is being used to compare the development efforts of Lightstone’s impact on stormwater?
A: Storm drains on these blocks will contribute LESS to the contamination of the Canal than the development efforts that Lightstone is taking
Q CAG: Are the calculations for sewers made based on the “clean” (theoretical) capacity of sewers? When will DEP clean the trunk lines
A: No, based on existing conditions.
Q: CAG: Can we require all material to be removed by water? Currently suffering odors and quality-of-life issues from movement of material from canal & adjacent sites. (Odors, air quality, noise levels). DEP makes them stop but then work resumes at the same level of noise.
A: I asked for data from Lightstone, we are going to make sure that the least disturbance possible happens.
Q: CAG: What power does EPA have to put air contamination monitoring up on Lighstone site? Further on the PHA with the DOH: where are the issues we requested to be addressed?
A: The DOH study was qualitative, but does not offer the quantitative assessment. Neither is it specific. Lightstone uses data collection devices that EPA uses to monitor and assess impacts of projects on communities. We will have more data before we start digging up the canal in 2015.
CAG Member Statement: Tonight what you heard from the folks from Gowanus, and from Marlene are concerns about what happens when construction starts. There are a lot of things that EPA has the moral power to push to get others to do things correctly. The CAG needs the EPA to help ensure that the regulations and quality of life for people living in and around the canal isn’t totally destroyed.
Q: CAG: What is Lightstone’s responsibility? How is the community doing cleanup in the midst of construction instead of before construction
A: Don’t have the power to stop all construction. EPA acts in the public interest, and if necessary will have pilings removed. Further: Lightstone was deemed an innocent party, and so has to do very little cleanup. In fact the company is going above and beyond by working with EPA to receive a certification that they are in fact innocent.
No Committee Updates
OCT 28th will have a strategic planning meeting to discuss moving forward including structure, committees, and leadership
Summary of Actions
ACTION ITEM: Outreach Committee will call and offer a direct invitation to NYCHA reps, and NYCHA administration in order to bring them into CAG meetings Motion Seconded.
Topics for Future CAG meeting
CAG Members need to be thinking about the structure of the CAG as the group moves forward, facilitation funding may be running out, and the CAG needs to become more self sufficient.