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Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group Meeting
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street, Carroll Gardens

Presentation: History of the Gowanus Canal

CAG Member Joseph Alexiou and EPA’s Natalie Loney reprised their presentation of the history of the Gowanus Canal, originally presented at EPA’s national community involvement conference, outlining the development of the Canal and corresponding areas of Brooklyn over time, up to the present-day Superfund cleanup.

Questions and Answers

Q: What is the argument for restoring the 1st Street basin?
A: Toxins that are in the site and could recontamination

Q: What about flooding?
A: Not a main reason for restoring the 1st Street basin, but will provide some benefits which is important in light of climate change?

Q: What about smells and air pollution exposure? We are looking for stronger protections from certain exposures for the very young and the very old.
A: Superfund looks at future exposures over a timeframe of 30 years so the effects of chemicals in the past are less relevant and more emphasis is placed on the future.

Q: Environmental Justice Concerns – can you explain this a bit more? Does the CAG or EPA have certain roles or responsibilities with specifically impacted communities?
A: Superfund involves Environmental Justice by necessity, one major component or the remedy was thought out with the Environmental Justice community in mind. EPA became familiar with the neighborhood and noted that communities of color seem most significantly impacted.

Q: What has happened in the 7th Street basin?
A: There is substantial and innovative work in the basin, the first of its kind in the country. A pilot study will be concluded soon and a presentation will be brought to the CAG.

Q: How often will monitoring be conducted? Will EPA conduct it?
A: Once the canal has been remediated, EPA is responsible for monitoring in perpetuity.

Q: What is the projected lifespan of the in situ stabilization and the cap?
A: Is is designed to a 100-year lifetime

EPA Update

An upcoming Community Board 6 meeting has been scheduled to discuss the location of retention tanks that the City must build; particularly the tank at the top of the canal.

EPA will make the decision on where the tanks will go based on the large amount of data gathered and analyzed. The decision is still forthcoming. The northern section of the canal currently has two likely site options: one is the current city-owned Thomas Greene Park and Douglas-Degraw pool, and the other is comprised of privately owned lots alongside the Canal.

Discussion of key issues related to siting of tanks

EPA Gowanus Canal Project Manager Christos Tsiamis provided an overview of key issues related to tanks siting.


  • Park is free for the city
  • Side of Canal is privately owned and the city will have to pay for them

Implementation/Impact of particular location on Canal cleanup schedule

  • More challenging project next to the canal site: digging next to a body of water and coordinating with the other agencies responsible for remediating upland contamination, retaining wall construction, and retention tank construction.
  • This can have significant impacts on the timeline of cleanup for the canal

Use of pool and park services and potential future parkland loss due to construction in the park

  • Continuous services to the community at alternative locations will need to be provided during disruption.
    • Will there be a permanent loss of parkland should the tank be sited at the pool?
  • The city has come up with different numbers based on whether or not the project has a head house etc.
  • EPA and the city differ significantly on their views about this location. EPA does not share the view that the park needs to lose 20-30% of parkland
  • The footprint of the head house is for screens to remove solids.
    • EPA does not think that these screens are necessary as there are screens at the top of the canal already
    • Some physical access point will need to exist
    • EPA advocates for no park alienation and believes there can be engineering that obtains that

Questions and Answers

Q: If for some reason the retention tank does not go on the park side, what kind of commitment has National Grid made to remediate the pool site (former MGP site)?
A: EPA is prepared to order National Grid to clean up this site in order to ensure that it is completed in the timeframe of the Superfund cleanup. Provisions for temporary services and pool restoration will need to be made to ensure that the pool be returned to its original state.

Q: Who approves the design of the tank and the head house?
A: EPA looks at the designs and approves.

Q: Who is doing the design work: agencies or consultants?
A: City consultants.

Q: If the park is not used, will eminent domain need to be used?
A: This is in fact possible, and this will take more time than if the tanks are located beneath the park site. It does not mean that there will be no use of eminent domain to locate above-ground infrastructure required for a park location on adjacent property.

Q: If this happens, could this happen on other parcels of the MGP site?
A: Since the park needs to be cleaned anyway, while it is possible that eminent domain would be needed for other infrastructure, it is likely that putting a retention tank below the pool will greatly expedite the cleanup of this site.

Q: What are the” minimal impacts” that the EPA estimates may happen (given that it disagrees with the 20-30% less parkland that the city foresees)?
A: Replacement facilities have to be one to one.

Q: Can the facility have a green roof?
A: EPA is looking for solutions, not for obstacles.

Q: Because of contamination, it sounds like it doesn’t make any difference where the tanks are placed, because the pool will be disrupted for mandatory MGP cleanup anyway.
A: This is true.

Q: Has the city considered loss of jobs and economic activity via the takings in the event of eminent domain used for canal adjacent sites?
A: Jobs could be relocated.

Q: NYC DEP designs for tanks – how long can bad plans stall the process?
A: The order that EPA has with NYC and National Grid is an administrative order to do things, the provisions include:

  • No penalties stipulated in the order.
  • Final arbiter is the EPA
  • Theoretically this could cause delay
  • There is a way the EPA can move around the City should their actions stall the project.

Key responsibilities related to this action:

  • National Grid is responsible for cleaning the pool site because the site used to be an MGP facility
  • The city owns the site as a park
  • Parks Department is responsible for the pool and the Thomas Greene Park
  • The DEP is responsible for construction of the tanks

Key CAG concerns:

There is continued frustration about the lack of clear communication between coordinating agencies, and a lack of communication about accurate information with the CAG. Everyone seems to have a different analysis of different data to come up with different conclusions.

Committee Reports


  • Currently working on development of the Communication Plan, seeking more members to assist with this.
  • Issues with the website
    • Not actually communicating CAG information as well as it could be
    • Frustrations around lack of timely updates, lack of communication, and a murky grasp of what the Website should be communicating to the Public.


  • Tabled a number of items at its recent meeting
  • Marylander Park & use of eminent domain were the major topics – specifically whether the CAG should support the efforts of other Community groups to push for the creation of the Marylander Park and monument.
  • Scope of work is large and needs to be finessed.

 Water Quality/Technical

  • Would like to invite Riverkeeer to do a presentation about water quality and about findings regarding sediments in the Canal
  • Holding tanks: the committee has been investigating tanks and public space developed by H and Sawyer.
  • The committee is investigating the possibility of using the TASC grant to look into who has done this work and could come present to the CAG. Unfortunately, the CAG can’t use TASC in that way, as TASC experts must be selected from an EPA-approved roster.
  • It has been nearly a year since AKRF undertook the design of the First Street Basin and the Committee believes it is time for an update.
    • EPA is planning to meet with AKRF about the First Street Basin.


Reminder that the January meeting will be retreat-style, focused on reflections and improvements to the CAG.

Meeting Participants

CAG Members (24)

Joseph Alexiou
Jerry Armer
Sabine Aronowsky
Paul Basile
JoeAnn Brown
Diane Buxbaum
Theresa Davis
Michelle de La Uz
Sean Dixon
Marlene Donnelly
Nekia Jones
Katia Kelly
Betty Lester
Linda Mariano
Eric McClure
Rita Miller (alternate Maryann Young)
Maria Pagano
Andrea Parker
Debra Scotto
Mark Shames

Others Present

Doug Sarno, Gowanus CAG Facilitator
Natalie Loney, EPA
Christos Tsiamis, EPA

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