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Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street

EPA Updates

Updates on the Fourth Street Basin

Work is being planned at the extension of Fourth Street Basin by Whole Foods and the other side of the Third Avenue Bridge (National Grid is conducting the work). The Record of Decision (ROD) calls for the restoration of the Fourth Street Basin on the Park Slope side of the bridge.

  • When EPA conducted the initial investigation, they only installed one sampling point to help identify the presence of contamination.
  • During the design phase, EPA goes back and collects confirmatory information that might be needed to help in the design. EPA has now added six or seven additional borings to see how far the contamination goes toward Fourth Avenue.
  • The borings are 50 feet deep. EPA is collecting soil cores, making observations, and sending them to lab for testing. EPA will also install wells for testing.
  • The work in the Fourth Street Basin will evaluate methods for removing debris, while also removing all debris in the basin. The work is planned to start August 15 but will move toward the end of August or beginning of September. EPA will notify the community and businesses around the basin before starting work.
  • EPA has received several requests from property owners who need to upgrade their bulkheads. One of them is at the Fourth Street Basin, at a property that used to be a scrap metal facility. The new owners will build a storage facility and want to upgrade their bulkheads. The second request is from 450 Union Street on the bridge side of Carroll Gardens – EPA has received preliminary drawings.
  • EPA met with the City this week under a new order for the retention tank. This was an engineers’ meeting. EPA submitted additional requests for explanations of the City’s design; between now and the next meeting (in September), the goal is to define the basis of the design and resolve differences over how tanks will be built.

Questions and Answers

CAG Member: Have you made a decision on what materials you want to use for the bulkheads?
WQ Member: We discussed this at our meeting, specifically where bulkheads will be permeable and where they will not. In some places they will contain coal tar, in others they will not.
EPA: The type of bulkheads and the finishing on the slopes depends on many factors; one major factor is the preference of the owner. EPA has no jurisdiction over private property. We only ascertain that there is structural stability to the construction so that the remedy is not compromised. When we review something we ask whether it’s appropriate for the remedy and other considerations, for instance, whether there’s contamination upland and we have to apply materials like sealants, which will be done in certain places. We noted the preference from the community for wetland-style soft banks and we will try to employ this type of finishing when we can. One particular location is the First Street Basin, which we discussed last time.

WQ Member: Can you identify the locations where bulkhead walls will be holding back contamination?
EPA: There is coal-tar contamination between Union Street and the head of Canal, and also at the Fulton MGP site and the banks on either side – that’s where we have to look at taking preventative measures. Likewise, for the entire RTA-2, south of the Third Street Bridge, all the way down to almost Hamilton Avenue, including the Public Place MGP and Lowes – both sides and basins. In those areas, we’ve detected an influx of tar in various lots and sheet piles will be placed there.

CAG Member: What is the design height of the sheet piles?
EPA: It has to be high enough that the water will not go over.

CAG Member: Does that mean sea level plus 8 feet? Do you go by FEMA guidelines?
EPA: We’re looking at the effects of sea level rise in our analysis but we’re not building the bulkheads to it – we’re building for the remedy and for the next 10-20 years. If events happen, additional measures will be taken.

CAG Member: Has any further decision been made as to whether Eastern Effects is a desirable staging area? Is there a deadline? This decision has impacts on other planning and zoning issues in the community.
EPA: We’ve floated ideas to the City, and they’re looking into it. We signed an order and everything now proceeds according to this order. We’ve heard some from the City say they don’t want Eastern Effects to be affected. We’re moving forward with the schedule and the program; right now Eastern Effects is the staging area – if anything changes, we’ll let you know.

CAG Member: We’ve put in additional borings at the Fourth Street Basin, on the other side of Third Avenue. Why are you stopping at a depth of 50 feet?
EPA: It’s about where the water would come to the bottom of the Canal.

CAG Member:So you’re assuming the only contamination would be water from the Canal.
EPA: We are assuming nothing. We’re taking samples every 5 feet and all around. There’s a line of 4 borings on the U-Haul side, and same on the other side. The borings go down to 50 feet, where the former basin used to be.

CAG Member: The Canal was authorized by New York State as a drainage basin in 1860. Now we’re putting in sheet piles that are sealed – how will stuff drain away when the land is saturated? Lightstone ended up building out further than their original plans – is that what we’re going to see on Third Street? Are we diminishing the size of the Canal and the drainage basin?
EPA: Yes, it is a drainage basin. Everything north of Union Street will be impacted by the remedy. The bulkheads will be done on an individual basis, with the owners. We have a requirement to remove sludge from the bottom of the Canal. We’re working with National Grid and our water modeling takes into consideration that there will be places where bulkheads will be sealed.

CAG Member: The community is interested to see how the bulkheads develop and we don’t yet have those details.
EPA: We heard from the community that you want soft banks – that’s why we looked into one side of the First Street Basin being a soft bank. If the community is very interested, you have to make a case at properties owned by the City, including street ends. The City has already done this in other areas and we’re evaluating with them to see how we can replicate it. Public Place already has a slope because it collapsed. Also, developers are buying large parcels of land along the Canal – if the community has a rapport with them, that might be possible, but it’s less feasible to go to small parcel owners and convince them to build a slope.

CAG Member: Are you authorizing stepping out into the water for bulkheads?
EPA: Yes, because it’s impossible to remove the existing infrastructure. We expect a 1.5- to 2-foot encroachment into the water for new bulkheads, but we’re compensating in the Fourth and First Street Basins. National Grid has asked for a 4-foot offset at the top of the Canal. We try to minimize encroachment as much as we can.

CAG Member: The steel piles are only intended to control contamination at the mean sea level. Everything above the high tide line is clean soil so we don’t need impermeable bulkheads there. Can we tell people to punch holes in the steel and grow plants (e.g. Whole Foods)?
EPA: As part of the remedy, we’re going to block all the pipes and raze the pipes that are there.

CAG Member: If the private property owners are sitting on contaminated land, would the EPA have some say on the designs as concerns permeability?
EPA: Yes, but in some places, such as the scrap yard lot, we detected no contamination.

CAG Member: We’d like to see a map that will show the design of the bulkheads and where they will be sealed. You must have some sense of where that might be, i.e., where it will be impermeable and where it can be soft bank?
EPA: The impermeability has to happen where there is tar. At Sackett Street, it might not be necessary for 200 feet – we’ll have to make a determination in the design stage and the design is being done by the state.

CAG Member: Has the coal tar underground been mapped?
EPA: Yes, in the state’s application for the MGPs. The extent is determined at the time of the design. We put in borings to see how far the tar extends – right now we do not have exact data but we can anticipate.

CAG Member: If you put in sheet pile, what happens to the contaminants between the pile and the land?
EPA: We remove it. At Public Place, they know the tide is moving, so they have recovery wells that pull up the tar at the sealed bulkhead. Eventually it will dissipate.

CAG Member: We’re very concerned with wetland restoration. Ten years ago, the Army Corps showed drawings with restoration at the hard edges. I know you’re doing mitigation, not restoration, but at some point, we have to bring the Army Corps into this conversation. Once the remedy is there, can we have restoration at the bottom of the basin?
EPA: We are communicating with all parties. The Corps is involved in the bulkheads but not the process of remedial investigation. The First Street Basin bottom will be finished in accordance with the remedy. We are open to community ideas but we don’t want the basin to be a collection pond. We’re working with DEP on this.
CAG Member: We talked about this in the Land Use committee and will continue to discuss.

CAG Member: The Army Corps is not very creative on bulkheads. Have you consulted with natural resources damage trustees? Two weeks ago at the Newtown Creek CAG, we had a presentation from NOAA and the trustees with maps of restoration opportunities in Newtown Creek. They suggested that we need to start planning now because there’s almost no space left. Why don’t PRPs start buying up parcels to hold for restoration and other mechanisms in the future? Also, is there a timeline on the information you want from us (you said please give us information)?
EPA: There is a timeline – we want to deliver what we promised in 2010. We’ll be back in September to update you on the timeline of the First Street Basin restoration. I had a discussion with NOAA – they know encroachment is coming and they want some restoration.

Dan Wiley: We spent eight years on a restoration feasibility site with the Army Corps. They agreed to step back so that we could do the cleanup, but we can invite them back to help the community with restoration ideas. Congresswoman Velazquez will hold a meeting with the new Army Corps Colonel in this district and we could set something up with the CAG.
EPA: We reviewed Army Corps reports very carefully, so we’re aware of all their ideas and work they did six years ago.

Doug Sarno: Is the NRDA process going to come in at the end of the Superfund process like it always does?
EPA: Yes.

CAG Member: We also need to be up front about the conditions in the First Street Basin. If you put in restoration there, it will fail because there’s too much fresh water. If we want a salt marsh, we need to plan for it in advance.
EPA: There are consultants who have worked on restoration with the EPA and the City so we’ve had these discussions. We don’t want to create a problem so we’ll start with the bottom remedy and then get creative.

CAG Member: What is the mechanism to get the trustees to come and talk to the CAG?
EPA: I’ll talk to the person at NOAA who works on the site and see if it’s a good time to meet. We’ll get back to you in September. The trustees are NOAA, New York State, the Department of the Interior. We will start work at the Fourth Street Basin as soon as I get back in August, so please ask questions now.

CAG Member: This is the perfect opportunity for us to observe the actual work and comment so this is our time to organize how we want to observe and inform others. We think we might want to come up with a schedule for CAG members to observe and document and put this up on our website. This will tell the community what they can anticipate in the Canal based on the pilot.
EPA: You’ll have a viewing point at the Whole Foods site. This phase of the work is debris removal, which brings up some sediment as well. We’ll announce when the work starts and post it on our website. We’ll also have real-time air monitoring and that data will be posted daily on the National Grid website for the cleanup, with a link on the EPA site and the CAG webpage. This pilot is preparatory work, it will give you a sense of some of the work we’ll be doing but not the dredging conditions for the Canal. For the month of September, we’ll only do removal in the Fourth Street Basin, then we’ll do dredging and capping, all before we move to the Canal.

CAG Member: What is the anticipated date of completion for the Fourth Street Basin?
EPA: Sometime in 2018. We anticipate that the Canal will be nonuniform.

Dan Wiley: The Canal varies in depth but the basins were privately built so they’re not as deep. How deep will you dredge in that basin?
EPA: We can’t tell you right now but it’s one uniform navigational depth in the basins.

CAG Member: What type of medium will you be using to notify people around the area?
EPA: Certain basic techniques; we will notify impacted properties, just as we did for the mitigation pilot, and we’ll probably put some notifications in display ads – maybe signage. We’ll notify everyone on our mailing list. The challenge is that when we worked on the Seventh Street Basin, it was relatively isolated and this is not. Whole Foods will be notified – we can provide them with flyers.

CAG Member: Is there any way you can have tents on weekends to answer questions? This is an opportunity for education. If you can’t do it, maybe we can get together and be there to give it out?
EPA: We can talk about it. There won’t be activity on the weekends so it might be better for us to be out there on weekdays.
CAG Member: Signage would be very helpful.

WQ Member: We talked to DEP – we want to know what’s in the foam and why it’s happening. It’s a water-quality and contamination issue.
CAG Member: There are pathogens in the foam and the contaminants stick to it. Then it hits the sludge and gets churned up [in the Canal].
WQ Member: It’s happening before it reaches the Canal. We have pictures of foam coming out of the window and onto the street.
EPA: I’ve seen the pictures and spoken to EPA. DEP sent me some information. Originally, they said it was just the air but there are effects coming in from the East River and the Canal. The water discharges from many apartments and the increased turbulence results in foam. The City has tried some foam-suppressing techniques.

CAG Member: Can’t you dig out a temporary channel for the water to come out so that you don’t get the foam?
EPA: The easiest solution is for the City to cut down the flood rate of the Canal – I would bring it up with the City again to see what progress they’ve made. Is the foam constant?
CAG Member: It is, but it is more intense at times, perhaps when detergents are used. It sometimes goes as far as Carroll Street. If you’re dredging the 4th Street Basin, why don’t you dredge the top of the Canal first? That would get rid of the foam.

WQ Member: A report published at the beginning of the month about Newtown Creek claims that DEP lies about their numbers. If we engage the EPA Clean Water Division, can we find out if our numbers are real? We don’t have a definitive data set, besides Riverkeeper, to check that we’re actually meeting Clean Water Act requirements.
CAG Member: There was a problem with the water-quality lab at Newtown Creek, which handles testing for a lot of city programs. Newtown Creek asked EPA team to check in and confirm the data.
CAG Member: Water quality varies throughout the Canal – it’s horrible at the head of Canal.
CAG Member: What is the correlation between water quality testing and the sewage tanks?
EPA: The retention tank will store the chemicals and solids. We think it will also eliminate the majority of overflows and reduce the discharge of pathogens, but this is long-term.

CAG Member: DEP presented their long-term control plan data to the CAG. If we were to have a conversation on water quality as it intersects with Superfund, then we can talk to DEP about green infrastructure, street-end runoff, and other issues.
EPA: The Canal is a work in progress. The major issues are the CSO and the sewers. The City has given us pilots with oil-water separators – we’re going to get all the data and in the end, we’ll apply it to the Canal.

Facilitator: There’s a request to have Riverkeeper come present their data to the CAG. Do we still want to do that?
EPA: We think this would be very disorienting because it doesn’t pertain to the Superfund conversation.

CAG Member: If we’re going to have discussions beyond the boundary of the CAG, we should communicate with various communities and not make this CAG-only.

CAG Member: We are putting a Gowanus workshop in the 2017 APA Conference and trying to get the local community involved ahead of time.

Dan Wiley: We had a meeting recently with EDC about the integrated flood system protection study for Red Hook. One piece of Red Hook at the end of Smith Street is in Gowanus Bay. DEC did a study – there will be a lot of meetings with different stakeholders to discuss conclusions on flood gates for Gowanus Bay. They looked at different alignments for putting in the flood protection – high at the water’s edge, lower if you step back – with cost-benefit analysis discussions relevant to this group.

Possible CAG Activities regarding 4th Street Turning Basin (see discussion above)

  • Define a list of questions about the work for EPA
  • Clarify the extent of the work and provide notice on the website
  • Discuss possible EPA notification to locals near the work
  • Establish community observation schedule
  • Share documentation as the work takes place

CAG Committee Updates

  • Administration Committee did not meet
  • Archaeology Committee did not meet
  • The Land Use Committee is trying to reach out to Power House to engage them on the First Street Basin. EPA’s understanding is that the promenade going down to the Canal will not be required as part of the restoration. DCP confirms that turning basins don’t trigger waterfront zoning requirements.
  • Outreach Committee did not meet
  • Water Quality and Technical Committee

8:30 PM: Adjourn

CAG Members Present

Jerry Armer
Eymund Diegel
Sean Dixon
Marlene Donnelly
Rafael Gomez de Luna
Louis Kleinman
John McGettrick (alternate Steve Kondaks)
David Meade (alternate Justin Collins)
Rita Miller (alternate Maryann Young)
Andrea Parker
Peter Reich
Buddy Scotto
Mark Shames

EPA, Staff, and Presenters

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

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