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Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group Meeting
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
P.S. 58 Auditorium, 330 Smith Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231

EPA Update

Report from Walter Mugdan, Director, Emergency and Remedial Response Division, EPA Region 2

  • EPA expects to have a decision on the tanks location in the February/March timeframe
  • Two CSO retention tanks are required by the ROD. The city was under obligation to come up with a siting study and submit to EPA by June 30, 2015.
    • The two top-rated sites are Thomas Greene Park (swimming pool) and the head of canal location, which consists of the two parcels on the east side of the canal, each assigned a roman numeral by the ROD: VI, VII
    • The city proposed the canal-side site, but the ROD selected the park site due to easier site acquisition, permitting, and construction costs
    • The park site is a major source of coal tar contamination. The pool will have to be dismantled (and an interim pool provided) to allow cleanup.
    • NYS DEC issued ROD for the Fulton MGP site, directly under the swimming pool.

  • NYC Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Silver has objections to the park site:
    • With coal tar cleanup and CSO tank construction, the park will be out of service for three years.
    • NYC Department of Environmental Protection concluded that a headhouse needs to be built to manage tank odors. This would take up 20% of the park footprint, permanently.
    • The head of canal location is closer to the discharge point but there are construction complexities in this location
      • The city would need to acquire the property; potential litigation would add time
      • There’s more coal tar in the pool location so National Grid’s obligation is clearer than in the head of canal location
      • National Grid is obligated to do a pre-determination investigation (PDI)
      • EPA will require the city to design retention tanks in both locations because the alternative decision may make sense later
      • The deal will have to go through the NYC Comptroller’s office (30 days)


Questions and Answers

CAG Member: What is the Federal government role in this?

Mugdan: The city is paying for the tanks through a revolving fund.  The cleanup pilot last spring was successful. The design is underway, will start in 2017 or 2018.

CAG Member: DPR is culpable because the park shouldn’t have been built this way. They should be offering alternatives.

Mugdan: No one disagrees about the need to clean up the coal tar beneath the park.

CAG Member: What is the plan for National Grid and DPR to clean up the park? How long will it take and where will they place the interim pool?

Mugdan: As soon as EPA resolves the RH-034 location, we will sit down with National Grid and enter a consent agreement to clean up the coal tar. While they design the cleanup process, they’ll have to identify an alternative location for the pool.

CAG Member: Last time, the city said the headhouse will take up 30%. Now it’s 20%?

Mugdan: It might be even less.

CAG Member: EPA will require city to prepare plans for both locations. Doesn’t that create uncertainty for the parcel owners?

Mugdan: We are meeting with them this week. We hope that deal and and National Grid’s PDI will reduce uncertainty.

CAG Member: Is the Comptroller likely to nix parcel acquisition with taxpayer funds? What are the substantive changes in coal tar removal between the two locations? Why not look for a headhouse location close to the park?

Representative of the Comptroller’s Office: The Comptroller’s approval is largely ministerial. The funds in this case are water tax money, not taxpayer funds.

Mugdan: At the pool location, the coal tar goes way down. We can seal the bottom so it won’t contaminate the groundwater but it will need to be managed. On the pool site, almost the entire footprint of the tank has coal tar contamination. At the southeast corner of Parcel VI, the coal tar is closest to the surface. As you move north from Parcel VI to Parcel VII, you have to go down 25 feet to find coal tar. The ROD says where coal tar occurs closer than 20 feet to the surface, like the pool and the movie studio (old MGP), that has to get dug out. Technically, you can build the headhouse across the street, but it should be as close as possible.

CAG Member: What will happen if National Grid cleans the park, but the city continues with eminent domain? Can the cleanup continue before the tank and the scientists clean up?

Mugdan: That wall has to go in regardless of who owns the property and where the tanks are placed. Then the dredging can start. If the city selects the park, there might still be three years when CSOs continue to discharge after the cleanup. The city has agreed to do maintenance dredging.

CAG Member: Are you guaranteeing that this won’t affect timelines for cleanup of the canal?

Mugdan: No, this should not affect the timeline.

CAG Member: If there’s no debate about location then no reason you can’t bring the tank online.

Mugdan: You’re right.

CAG Member: The cutoff wall and build-up of groundwater would contain coal tar and have to be pumped out. Whose responsibility will it be to maintain those pumps on city property?

Mugdan: That would be National Grid’s obligation under the NYS ROD, as the inheritor of liability. Conversations about who’s responsible where cannot be allowed to delay cleanup.

CAG Member: If the city buys the parcels, will the coal tar and pumped-out material go out by barge or truck? Could they build something for community benefit along the canal?

CAG Member: The state said it will go out by truck.

Mugdan: If the tank goes into the head of canal location, most of the parcels, with the exception of the headhouse, will be flat surface. No one will build on top of it; it will become open space.

CAG Member: With the administrative order, does that mean that the science is set aside and its administrative?

Mugdan: An administrative order is an action that EPA can do alone as opposed to a judicial order. The city will have to sign a consent order with a schedule, pre-arrangement agreement and design for both locations.

CAG Member: If there’s been cleanup but the parties are still negotiating, who will pay the bills?

Mugdan: No, someone has to pay for it.

CAG Member: Would the city would agree to maintain the canal? Will you be enforcing it?

Mugdan: We will have a binding agreement and enforce it.

CAG Member: Will CSOs now be retested or are they assumed to be toxic?

Mugdan: The CSOs are 50 parts per million of PAH, probably not related to coal tar. In the canal, its parts per 100s where the coal tar is super concentrated. EPA set a goal of 20 parts per million. The CSOs will not change hands.

CAG Member: Ultimately it seems like politics is driving this process.

Mugdan: EPA assumed the park was the fastest and easiest location but we’ve received considerations from DPR since last year.

CAG Member: Are you looking at a vegetation-coverage requirement?

Mugdan: You won’t get vegetation on top of the tank but trees would be good. This should be considered in the groundwater management design.

CAG Member: Are National Grid and the city responsible for replacement parks? Is that in the consent order?

Mugdan: The EPA would look to National Grid to dig up and replace the pool. National Grid’s obligation would be to put in a new pool, but quality is the city’s responsibility.

CAG Member: Can your determination be a precedent for Newtown Creek?

Mugdan: In Newtown Creek, the long-term control plan will precede the Superfund ROD.

CAG Member: How does the pump work with the cleanup?

Mugdan: Should the Flushing Tunnel be fully operational while dredging is going on? The Canal will end up 10 feet deeper when the dredging is done so the water velocity will be lower.


Committee Reports

There were no committee reports.


Other Business

NYC DEP and Alloy Development provided a brief update on activities:

  • There are ongoing productive meetings between DEP and Alloy, and also with DPR and EPA
  • Alloy has an agreement with the property owner at 234 Butler Street to build an as-of-right commercial development
  • Ultimate goal for Alloy is to avoid eminent domain and enhance future park space



  • Celebration for Betty Stoltz planned for January 26
  • Red Hook kickoff integrated flood protection meeting on January 22
  • Opening for Civitas exhibition near the Bell House


Summary of Actions/Motions

None were discussed.


Topics for Future CAG Meetings

None were discussed.


Meeting Participants

CAG Members:

Joseph Alexiou
Jerry Armer
Dave Briggs
Diane Buxbaum
Lucy DeCarlo
Eymund Diegel
Marlene Donnelly
George Fiala
Katia Kelly
Louis Kleinman
Linda Mariano
Eric McClure
John McGettrick
Rita Miller (alternate Maryann Young)
Andrea Parker
Triada Samaras
Buddy Scotto
Debra Scotto
Mark Shames


Additional Organizations:

Alloy Development
National Grid
NYC Comptrollers Office



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