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Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group Meeting
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street


Introductions and CAG Updates

  • Salvatore Basile (alternate for Gowanus Alliance moving forward)
  • Also present: Eastern Effects, 280 Nevins Street, Parsons Engineering, Geosyntec, National Grid, NYCHA Residents Committee, Mayor’s Office of Television and Film, Dan Wiley (representing Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez)
  • April minutes approved


Project Updates (Christos Tsiamis, Project Engineer, EPA)

Debris Removal at the 4th Street Turning Basin

  • This is the second pilot, next to Whole Foods; the first pilot was a year ago
  • Cannot have successful dredging without removing debris in the Canal
  • PRPs have joined efforts to clean up the Canal, including National Grid
  • At the next CAG meeting, EPA will make a presentation, with the City, about upcoming work at the 1st Street Basin
  • Both basin projects have an archaeological component (John Vetter, EPA consultant archaeologist, will touch on these issues following Geosyntec’s presentation)

Geosyntec Presentation

  • Gowanus Canal Remedial Design Group – 4th Street Turning Basin Debris Removal Pilot Study
  • Failure to consider debris removal impacts is the single largest source of significant project delays
  • The Gowanus Canal has a lot of debris and the 4th Street Turning Basin is very shallow with a lot of sediment
  • The three objectives of the pilot study are:
    • Clear large obstructions from the turning basin that prevent navigational access
    • Evaluate different types of equipment to remove and manage debris
      • Will need to clean and handle contaminated debris and water
      • Expect to excavate 300 cubic yards of contaminated sediment as part of the debris removal
    • Evaluate environmental monitoring approaches to ensure water and air quality
  • Design assumptions for debris removal
    • Debris types and sizes
      • Large objects are larger than five feet in any dimension
      • Debris Targets – 2016 survey yielded 36 large objects (tires, trees, etc.)
      • Debris Fields – estimated at a total volume of 325 cubic yards of material (approximately one bargeload)
    • 2010 EPA Sonar Survey identified three large objects of potential significance (under evaluation by SHPO)
      • Item 31 (small vessel, metal motor boat)
      • Item 31a (sunken boat hull, repurposed military vessel)
      • Item 31b (rectangular feature, collapsed bulkhead)
    • Material Handling Evaluation: Test Three Types of Equipment
      • Grapple or Rakes
      • Conventional clamshell
      • Environmental Clamshell
    • Material Handling Evaluation: Evaluate Equipment
      • Productivity and performance (including water quality)
      • Sediment resuspension
    • Debris Management
      • Debris will be transported to staging area by Huntington Street and separated into recyclables and non-recyclables; tires will be managed separately
      • Sediment will be washed and shipped offsite to commercial facility for disposal, water will be sent there afterwards
    • Water and Air Monitoring
      • Water: turbidity and sheen control
      • Odors: will be minimized using successful techniques from other sites (foams, covers, etc.)
      • Air monitoring: hand-held monitors for dust, volatile/semi-volatile organics (an independent consultant will do air monitoring)
      • Looking at sensitive receptors and worker safety
      • Perimeter monitoring: real-time information will be passed on to EPA; Geosyntec will stop or modify operations if thresholds are exceeded
    • The project will take six weeks from mobilization to completion; it is going out to bid for contractors at this time
    • There will be no cars or trucks used in the project except on Huntington Street – Geosyntec hopes to have large materials transported by barge
    • The Ferrara site is problematic due to narrow passage in the Canal. EPA coordinated with Ferrara on earlier project, and Geosyntec has a good relationship with the company (they’ve taken numerous samples at the site).

John Vetter (EPA Archaeology)

  • Worked on an analogous project in New York – the Hudson River cleanup (PCBs)
  • It’s important to minimize exposure to workers at contaminated archaeological sites
  • Progress to date:
    • Studies have looked at sonar data and EPA has gone out to the site with interpretation experts
    • Reports have been prepared and distributed to SHPO; they will also be distributed to the CAG and the Archaeology Committee
  • The artifacts are hidden, which means that examination is not possible. EPA will set up a monitoring protocol (TBA).

Questions and Answers

CAG Member: Could the archaeological committee be witness to this activity?
EPA: You can witness it from the shore but cannot be on the barge with the workers. When it is staged at Public Place, we can set up a “hole in the fence” type viewing.

CAG Member: If you pull out a culturally significant item – what do you do with it and where does it go? Will you have a site in proximity to the canal to evaluate/store these objects? What if you find human remains?
EPA: Some things that come out in soils or wet environments can be very fragile; a determination has to be made about stabilizing it for future study. If it can be carried out and the object is significant, then we determine where it can be archived. If we get a collection, it should be archived somewhere local (CAG: how about the Brooklyn Historical Society?). Having spent federal funds to preserve these materials, we are obliged to ensure they are taken care of.  If we find human remains, we call physical archaeologists and physical anthropologists.

CAG Member: What is the water depth at the 4th St turning basin? Whose barge is it?
Geosyntec: The mean level is one to two feet, at low tide, completely exposed. We had to come in at a six-foot tide to take samples without running aground. The boat is 60×35 feet and, has been there since it was sunk in the 80s – it will be a process to get it out safely. It’s as far as you can go on the low tide. (EPA: it’s an old boat, not a barge). As for the contractor’s barge – they’ll have to supply it and the PRPs are paying for this.

CAG Member: When do you plan to start the process of the pilot study?
Geosyntec: We’re going out to bid and have to select them. The target date is August 15.

CAG Member: The air and water data – will that be available to the CAG in real time or in disbursements? Could you also share it with the Newtown Creek CAG?
EPA: It’s the same contamination we witnessed previously, so there’s no point in sharing with the Newtown Creek CAG. With regard to air monitoring, we are primarily responsible for worker safety. When an independent evaluator finds that a contractor has reached the safety threshold, we will communicate to EPA and stop work.  Records will be available upon request.

CAG Member: What kind of separation will be used to pull sediment out from the washing water?
Geosyntec: There will be a settling basin and we’ll do gravity separation; we are still working out design

CAG Member: Ferrara is supposed to be off their site by the end of September – did you know that?
Geosyntec: We have two projects we’re doing at the Canal, and we have to be out of there by November 1 to coordinate upland remediation work. Our goal is to be done between August 15 and November 1.

CAG Member: If EPA goes forward with eminent domain on three blocks of the Canal, does that fall under the Superfund process and Section 106?
EPA: Yes – we’ll discuss it.

CAG Member: That area is by Whole Foods and a school. It’s very populated Monday through Friday. Will there be a fence to block out dust and other effects?
Geosyntec: We will patrol everything at the barge but attempting to wall off that entire area defeats the purpose of the project. We will provide protection against any fugitive dust, but there should not be any because the sediment will be wet. We are in contact with the school and businesses in the area and have agreements about the work we’ve done.
EPA: We have already done one pilot on the water, where we brought sediment up. We know how to control the fumes and particulates. Workers have the most exposure, because they’re there longest and closest. Therefore, their safety ensures everyone else’s.

CAG Member: Is there a system in place for notification of the adjacent school and businesses if there’s a release?
EPA: We will notify the school and businesses.

CAG Member: Are you planning to notify the community by letter when you get started so that each NYCHA development can post a notice downstairs? During the summer the smell is really horrible. Will you clean the barge? Is it reusable or are you going to burn it? A lot of people in the houses have asthma. How will you address this when you start digging?
EPA: We will not be sending out letters to individuals but we will be notifying the CAG and CAG will notify the attending organizations. There will be air monitors and probably some form of signage for people in close proximity. If they are protected, then people further away with less contact are protected as well. We are aware that there are sensitive populations – we will do a Health and Safety Plan with all the procedures that need to be put in place to protect the community. When we get closer to the work start date, all the information will be shared with the community.

CAG Member: What about stores, important buildings, etc.?
EPA: We can have a conversation about what you think is an effective method to notify the people and businesses nearby.

CAG Member: Is there a team of archaeologists or is it John?
EPA: John is our contractor archaeologist who works closely with SHPO – the hired contractor will have their own archaeological team.

CAG Member: August is really horrible – do you have to be out by November 1st? What if you run into a lot of air problems and hit the worker-safety threshold too many times to postpone work? Also, will you call us if you violate the safety triggers?
Geosyntec: We don’t have to be but we would like to be. The Canal is not known to have a lot of VOCs, which are the ones that really travel – it has PCBs, which are not known to be volatile. We did our earlier pilot study in the beginning of June; it was very hot but you couldn’t hear or smell anything 15 feet away. If we reach the threshold, these are not life-threatening situations, but we will tell people.

CAG Member: When they were digging up the Lightstone project, our whole neighborhood smelled like petroleum and we were getting headaches but we don’t think this is anything near what we dealt with.
Sarno: The Health & Safety Plan and the Community Monitoring Plan documents will all be published and shared with the community.

CAG Member: If the pilot study goes well, does that mean we can expect archaeological studies up and down the Canal? If you hit something really significant, does work stop while you analyze it? If so, will this delay the entire cleanup process?
EPA: We are not doing this study from an archaeological perspective, but that will help us refine the approach we take with the rest of the project. There are no exclusion zones but there might be future protocols at certain depths. There are projects where archaeological discovery has the potential to delay cleanup but this project does not lend itself to that kind of discovery – we’re mostly concerned with treatment of fragile objects.

CAG Member: We don’t have any meetings in August – might we want to shift our schedule to discuss?
Sarno: We can talk about it in July; our summer schedule is always tentative. If we need to, we can schedule an additional meeting in August or move up the September meeting.
EPA: We’ll be getting documents to the public and CAG will have access.

Dan Wiley: The Hamilton Avenue asphalt plant produces a very strong smell. How do PAHs compare with asphalt and how will this operation’s smells compare?
EPA: The asphalt plant is a continuous operation. When we bring anything to the surface, it will be wet and our experience with the previous test was that the smell is not that bad.

CAG Member: You said that the smell is not that bad but you don’t live where we live – we have to close our windows – I had to take the air conditioner out of my window because of the Gowanus smell. There are other people in the community who are having problems.
EPA: That’s exactly why we’re here – to clean up the canal so we don’t have to deal with the smell.

CAG Member: There are a lot more CSOs coming out near where you live versus the 7th St Basin – do you (EPA) think that’s going to impact the smell?
EPA: Yes. The work we intend to do will be controlled and monitored so that it doesn’t add noticeably to the existing smell but we won’t be able to take the Canal smell away until the tanks are built.

Vetter: We’ll be working on the monitoring for the work and develop the protocol which will be very similar to the pilot study protocol. Archaeologists will be available in the field to study materials. As for 1st Street, we are waiting on a proposal from the City (all the published studies have made references to the site). We want to see what the potential is for finding significant material on that site. If the eminent domain site is deemed to be part of this project, Section 106 will be triggered. Those activities that are off-site or directly related onsite will also be subject to Section 106. A memorandum of agreement or programmatic agreement will be prepared explaining how the historic work will be directed in the future. The document will detail the process, timelines, earth-disturbing mechanisms and deviations from the regular review process. It will be sent to the CAG in a couple of months.

CAG Member: There’s a building on the site contributing to the historic district. Will that be part of the review?
Vetter: Yes, it will have to be addressed as part of the review, especially if an adverse effect is associated with it.

CAG Member: Are you planning to recycle the Canal water or take it off site?
Geosyntec: We are not doing any water treatment; we will analyze it to see where it can be properly disposed. (EPA: there’s a small amount of water that will be used to clean the equipment – it will be recycled on the site, but about 600 gallons of water).


Presentation by Eastern Effects (lighting equipment rentals + studios for film/television)

  • Rent out lighting equipment and stages for film and television (e.g., The Americans)
  • The City never talked to Eastern Effects about using their lot as a staging site; one person did a walkthrough
  • Moved to 210 Douglass Street/479 Degraw Street in 2006; moved to 270 Nevins Street in 2009 with a 20-year lease; also have parking lots around their facilities
    • Created a Level II stage (New York State tax requirement)
    • 200 union jobs in the building, 31 additional employees
    • Still have $2M in outstanding loans on construction for the building
  • When 210 Douglass Street was hit by Sandy, Eastern Effects had to move to 9th Street by Lowe’s
  • Worked with landlord to ensure that wastewater, which previously emptied into the Canal, went through appropriate channels
  • Drafted plans for alternative sites (vacant or for sale) that can be used for simple, non-intensive staging (exhibits shared with CAG)

Questions and Answers

CAG Member: What can we do to help and how can we do it?
Eastern Effects: A resolution in support from the CAG would be enormously helpful since you are experts on the cleanup and carry weight with EPA and DEP.

CAG Member: You have been great partners to BWI (Fifth Avenue Committee’s workforce development arm) with local hiring, helping to diversify the industry.

CAG Member: I spoke to Dan Wiley about whether you have hot spots under your property but haven’t heard back. DEC has said that it is taking an opportunistic approach – if left alone your site will not have any remediation for another 15 years, which might result in migration to the Canal.  All your alternative sites will get cleaned up and developed but yours probably won’t be because you already have a building there. The CAG is most concerned about the cleanup of the Canal.

CAG Member: If the tank is only taking up a portion of the site, why can’t EPA stage there instead?
EPA: In past discussions with the CAG, we’ve said that we think there are solutions but we have an agreement that incorporates the EE site as a staging area, which is reasonable from a technical perspective.

CAG Member: It’s not actually Eastern Effects’ property. If the CAG came out and supported Eastern Effects, couldn’t the landlord undercut it?
Eastern Effects: If the City pursues the plot and it leads to eminent domain, there is a clause in the lease that there’s no responsibility from the landlord to make Eastern Effects whole. Eastern Effects would then lose 50% of their business and will not be able to go anywhere else – it’s in DEP’s hands.

CAG Member: It would be helpful to understand the property owner’s position on this because you are in the footprint of the MGP site and it needs to be cleaned up – this is the opportunity. The only alternative site that the CAG should support is Alternative Site 3 (Eastern Effects exhibit) because it’s within the MGP footprint. The other sites are outside it so the CAG wouldn’t get as much of a benefit.
Eastern Effects: We approached the owner about injecting the coal tar to nullify it, but he declined.

CAG Member: Does your landloard have any other buildings in the area where you can move?
Eastern Effects: Real estate in this area has escalated in price. We need a large building and to find one at our rate that is available is not possible.

CAG Member: This is a real movie set that used to be a shell of a building 25-30 years ago. If the city takes the site by eminent domain, the business will be gone after the staging, along with Eastern Effects’ investment.

CAG Member: It’s already in it.

CAG Member: Where do you stand with the community board and elected officials on this? I would like to see resolutions passed in writing from the CB and all the electeds in the community.
Eastern Effects: Steve Levin toured the site and expressed support.

EPA: What is the age of your building? 50 years is the national cutoff for historical significance.
Eastern Effects: At least 60 years old, but probably older.

Dan Wiley: In general we have mechanisms for the preservation of open space but we should also look at businesses. Studies of the entire MGP have shown that Site 3 has more hotspots under it. The City is not proposing to take Eastern Effects’ site to clean it up but to use it as a staging area.
Eastern Effects: I believe each time they clean up the site they do bathtubbing to block off each site. This site for the next 15 years will be contained and will not affect the surrounding cleanup.

The Director of External Affairs from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment was also present, and noted that he is not engaged in discussions with DEP but wants to work with Eastern Effects to assist in these conversations.


Discussion of Proposed Resolutions and Processes

15 CAG Members were present as discussion commenced, 12 votes were thus required to achieve the 4/5 requirement for passing a resolution.

Land Use Committee Resolution

  • The City is planning to construct a compost and salt-storage facility at the Salt Lot which is in direct conflict with installation of the retention tank. This resolution asks the City to move forward with the tank and postpone the compost and salt-storage facility. [This is timely but not related to the 5/31 resolution. Work has already started and is not covered by this agreement – EPA has notified the CAG.]
  • CAG Member count: 15 (need 12 votes). Motion seconded.
  • VOTE All in favor: 14 with 1 Recusal, MOTION PASSES.

Water Quality/Technical Committee Resolution

  • Resolution seeks to promote cooperation with businesses and avoid their displacement

Discussion of the Proposed Resolution

CAG Member: We should not be engaging with real estate concerns or bringing up eminent domain. We should support the fast and efficient cleanup of the Canal – real estate does not fall within our driving purpose.

CAG Alternate: We can’t consider the cleanup in a vacuum; these are existing uses and we need to consider the effect of the cleanup on workers and businesses.

CAG Member: It looks like the City is taking prime real estate on the Canal for the cleanup and we as community representatives have to say this.

CAG Member: Cost-effectiveness was written into the law to prevent the PRPs from spending more money but it’s not appropriate as a concern for CAG.

CAG Member: In the nine criteria on which EPA bases its decision, #7 is cost, and we should put something in the resolution about costs going up due to delays.

CAG Member: We should make an amendment that names Eastern Effects in the resolution.

CAG Member: The New York City Department of Transportation wants to replace the Union Street Bridge with a stationary bridge and take land on the east and west sides of the Canal, which will only make it difficult for EPA to do their job.

CAG Member: A PRP should be allowed to spend more money but not to undertake a more expensive, and risky, cleanup. The 4th Whereas clause in the resolution is not legally valid – the EPA cannot “allow” the City to use eminent domain [proposing amendment to remove and create unanimity in the CAG].

CAG Member: We should strike the first whole page because this is a request about the timeline and strengthening the order. Some of what’s on the first page is actual resolutions that we passed and the rest was merely discussed in meetings.

CAG Member: I would strongly urge that we not delete this because it is part of an official comment to an agency and the public record.

CAG Member: Amendment to strike bullet about the head house and Public Open Space with all references to the head house.

CAG Member: Taking eminent domain out of this resolution is irrelevant because we passed a resolution last month saying that we don’t want eminent domain used due to the time frame of the cleanup.

CAG Member: Eminent domain is a statement of fact. The cost is relevant because the money DEP is putting toward this is for parkland, not community health and remediation. The Superfund was not set up to create parkland. This PRP is us, the ratepayers, so we do have a say in this. I received an email today that 100% of DEP resources from water rates are going toward this project, which means that the East River will never get cleaned up.

CAG Member: I agree, but the cost of this park is irrelevant to the cost-benefit analysis.

CAG Member: The issue of eminent domain was not brought up by the EPA (which doesn’t want to use the sites the City has proposed), but the City put eminent domain on the table.

CAG Member: That’s why our electeds and Community Board should be passing resolutions about this, not the CAG.

EPA: We do have a cost criterion – the law requires us to be cost-effective. The reason our estimates are different from the city’s is because ours don’t include the cost of acquisition.


  • Amendment to strike first page of resolution (starting at “we urge”)
    • All in favor, 5. All opposed, 9 (?) DOES NOT PASS
  • Amendment to strike clause #4 (re: eminent domain)
    • All in favor, 10. All opposed (?) DOES NOT PASS
  • Amendment to strike first bullet under “We Also Urge” re: head house and other head house point
    • All in favor, 13, All opposed, 1. PASSES
  • Amendment to include “such as Eastern Effects” after “Leaseholders” in point 3 under “We Also Urge”
    • All in favor, 11, All opposed, 4. DOES NOT PASS
  • Amendment to change “purported agreement” to “intended agreement” in 3rd paragraph from bottom
    • All in favor, 14, All opposed, 0. PASSES
    • All in favor, 11, All opposed, 4. DOES NOT PASS
      • CAG will not be able to deliver a resolution to EPA by the May 31st comment deadline
      • While there is no formal CAG statement, there are still many points of agreement – people will have to comment individually, and folks can sign on to a joint statement as individuals and community groups as they see fit.

Next meeting is June 28. We will discuss the resolutions still remaining from the April meeting then.

The meeting adjourned at 9:15


Meeting Participants

CAG Members Present (19)

Jerry Armer
Sabine Aronowsky
Paul Basile
Dave Briggs
JoeAnn Brown
Diane Buxbaum
Michelle de la Uz
Sean Dixon
Marlene Donnelly
Katia Kelly
Louis Kleinman
Betty Lester
Linda Mariano
Eric McClure
David Meade (alternate Justin Collins)
Rita Miller (alternate MaryAnn Young)
Andrea Parker
Mark Shames
Erica Stoltz

EPA, Staff, and Presenters

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

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