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Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street

CAG Facilitator Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:40 PM. CAG members and guests introduced themselves.

July minutes were presented and approved.

EPA Updates

At the July CAG meeting EPA discussed the start of work at the Fourth Street Turning Basin, which was intended to begin in August.

  • At this time, National Grid is having minor challenges getting subcontracting in order.
  • Debris removal has been delayed, and is expected to start sometime in mid-October.
  • This delay allows EPA to develop a more robust communication strategy.
  • EPA will provide fact sheets with visuals to the CAG and the larger community.

Questions and Answers

CAG Member: Do you have a target date for providing the information?
EPA: No, we do not.

CAG Member: Are you referring to the archaeology component?
EPA: No, we are talking about the contractor who will perform the debris removal work.

CAG Member: What does this work involve – will there be sampling? Will it smell?
EPA: There was some sampling taking place behind the bridge and the Al-Madinah School. What we’re talking about is the debris that needs to be removed before dredging can take place; it’s the preparatory (non-remedial) work of removing material from the Canal. Depending on what we find there, there may be some odors, but part of the process will include air monitoring on the perimeter.

CAG Member: There are clearly strong feelings about dredging the Canal. The problem is that there’s been a government claim until all the land on the sides of the Canal have been cleaned so that it doesn’t re-pollute the Canal.
EPA: The Fourth Street Basin is not the area we’re talking about. You don’t see the coal tar migration here like at other locations, for example, the head of Canal. This work is preparatory – we’re not going to be dredging right after that. There is a concern about recontamination of the Canal and portions where there is coal tar down to the native sediment – that’s where the solidification process will take place. There are certain sources upland where EPA is working to address contamination and there are steps being taken to address continued contamination in the Canal. We are not remediating all of those properties.

CAG Member: Regarding work on the Fourth Street Basin, we had contractors here saying that they were going to start in August. Are these typical delays? Does the EPA have any authority to limit contract negotiation issues? We foresee potential delays every step of the way. You’re allowing the PRP to extend the deadline via delays.
EPA: Each Superfund site is different. EPA has no involvement in the relationship between a PRP and a contractor; they just have to meet specific qualifications. It’s in their interest to move forward because they’re responsible for the work they intend to do. However, the PRPs have a clear relationship and legal responsibility to the EPA and we’ve had conversations with the PRPs in question regarding this issue.
National Grid: There is work being done now on the Citizens’ site. There’s movement and activity.

CAG Member: Christos mentioned that there would be a meeting with the PRPs in September. Has that happened?
EPA: Not yet.

CAG Member: Is it one contractor? Can’t you postpone it until next year when all the paperwork and equipment is done? Can’t all your contractors come together and do that? We don’t know what the weather will be like – they may have to postpone the work and start in the spring.
EPA: Yes, I believe it’s one contractor. The work that will be done in that portion of the Canal can be conducted in October, November and December. What we’re looking to do is remove debris from the bottom of the Canal. The work is not related to pipes or threatened by freezing and is only in that one area of the turning basin. Our objective is to move forward – if we delay this portion beyond this year, it will push back the next phase of the cleanup.

CAG Member: I understand there’s going to be a wall to stop the plume from migrating. Can the plume travel toward Thomas Greene Park? Is controversy over the tanks and the head-of-Canal location affecting that strategy?
EPA: Part of the remedy calls for removal of the contamination from under the swimming pool at Thomas Greene Park which is a large source of migrating coal tar. The cutoff wall acts as a barrier for the coal tar from entering the canal. There are other portions of the Canal where there is ongoing contamination. For example, at the Citizens’ site, part of the remedy looks at putting in walls and a collection site. The intent of the remedy is to protect the cleaned up canal from future contamination. Regarding impacts on the strategy – yes and no. The pool will be removed regardless of whether the tank is located adjacent to the Canal or under the pool.

CAG Member: How are the negotiations proceeding with National Grid and Thomas Greene Park?
EPA: We haven’t heard much about that. Right now the discussion is focused on the Fourth Street Basin.

CAG Member: What about Eastern Effects? They’re saying that the same contamination is under their building. What are the contractors planning to do with the Eastern Effects building? Will eminent domain be involved? Where do they plan to put the new pool in Thomas Greene Park?
EPA: We do not know the current status of Eastern Effects but this issue is getting a lot of attention. The issue of the pool is one that we’ve really thought about it. We recognize that it’s an important amenity for the community. During cleanup of the park, a temporary facility will be built within a reasonable distance. The remediation of the coal tar under the pool will take quite a while. The actual design of the park remedy has not been completed. EPA and the PRPs have all committed to the temporary pool as a key point.

CAG Member: Has this situation with the Canal gotten worse since we started this process almost 10 years ago?
EPA: If you mean the conditions in the Canal, it depends on what you’re measuring. The coal tar is not getting worse, because no additional coal tar is being produced. However, the existing coal tar is continuing to migrate into the Canal. Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and other upland sources of contamination are still contaminating the Canal.

CAG Member: Isn’t it imperative then to try to move this along?
EPA: The canal was built over 150 years ago; when you look at the lifetime of contamination versus the amount of time we’ve been working on this project, it’s relatively small. We have not seen a significant spike in contamination over the last five years. Moreover, continuing contamination does not result in a less effective remedy. In the scheme of things, the Superfund process is moving very quickly, from listing on the NPL to remedy design. EPA is very committed to keeping things on schedule.

CAG Member: Who will be responsible for designing and building the temporary pool?
EPA: The remedial design will be done by the PRP group, with oversight from EPA. One of the parties is National Grid – the others are to be determined.

CAG Member: Has there been any progress between the City and the owners of the two head-of-Canal properties? Will you ensure that they’re proceeding? They have a deadline.
EPA: I don’t know what conversations have occurred, but there’s a lot of concern about Eastern Effects in the community and at the City level. The DEP commissioner stepped down and we have a new person. We’ve made the schedule public and we intend for the parties to adhere to it.

CAG Member: It was mentioned at a previous meeting that property owners will have to be much more responsible about management of their CSOs. In light of the anticipated rezoning of Gowanus, can EPA provide us some guidance as to how property owners may be impacted? Are you talking to DCP about their Places Study?
EPA: We had a conversation earlier this summer with representatives from the Places Study. EPA’s role is remediation – when we’re talking about property owners, we mean larger properties, not single-family homes. We have not come up with a formula for how much sewage each owner has to keep on site; a lot of this is theoretical because we don’t know what facilities will be built. The remedy has to be maintained with specific actions to ensure that the Canal stays clean.

CAG Member: Before the designs are finalized, will you come to the community to get their opinions?
EPA: Yes, we probably will but it will not include a process for formal public input and community acceptance. Community input is always welcome but may not affect the final design.

CAG Member: Part of our Water Quality Committee discussion this month is about CSOs. Water quality testing shows that we’re getting a lot more CSOs than we’re supposed to even with the Flushing Tunnel running. We were told that we would get a 30-40% reduction with the Tunnel and more with the future holding tanks. Is there some way to have DEP evaluate and present that to us and assure EPA that they achieved the CSO reduction they claimed? The size of the holding tanks is based on this assumption. Pathogen levels were very high this summer and there was little rain.
EPA: So you’re asking me to re-evaluate the numbers?
CAG Member: Yes.

CAG Member: Lightstone has opened up 700 apartments on the Canal, there is a desperate need for additional affordable housing in this community. We’re going to get additional development and hopefully housing for senior citizens and veterans. Lightstone is assuming that pollution is controllable – can you comment on that?
EPA: When the Canal became a Superfund site we recognized that there was dramatic real estate pressure in this community. The other issue is the health and safety of people living adjacent to the Canal – we’ve always said people can live near the Canal or walk across it. We’re taking into consideration the impact of additional facilities on CSOs and cleanup with regard to maintaining the long-term effectiveness of the remedy.

CAG Member: Perhaps the Flushing Tunnel is not adequate for the density of the neighborhood. That should be re-evaluated.
EPA: EPA’s remedy is based on toxic waste in the Canal. Biologicals going into the canal is under a different umbrella but we recognize it as an issue. We don’t want to have to revisit this after the remedy is implemented.

CAG Resolution: Gowanus Canal First Street Turning Basin Restoration

There is no process in the CAG charter for comments, so the Land Use Committee wants to treat this document as a resolution with a vote for approval. There is a quorum present and based on the 17 CAG members present at the time of the vote, 14 members will be needed to carry the required 4/5ths vote. Land Use will present their resolution, followed by a discussion and Q&A. Then we’ll move with any proposed amendments and a vote.

Questions and Answers

CAG Member: Can you explain what mussels you’re talking about?
Land Use: There are a lot of mussels living in the Canal; they are very good at filtering water. When the steel walls are built, that habitat will be removed and we want to support keeping a habitat present in the canal.

CAG Member: Two of these objectives might be in conflict with each other. You don’t want stagnant water, which means greater depth, but you also want shallow water for natural grasses. Is there a priority between the two? They will have to be balanced in the design.
Land Use: The idea was that we’d step away from the banks so that the bathymetry is designed to support the natural flow, however that is achieved. The current design is not addressing either of these goals. We are advising, not proscribing; if they come back with a design, we’ll comment on it.
CAG Member: They need to provide an adequate explanation if they can’t do it.

CAG Member: It says that the cleanup should be consistent with current and future plans for ecological restoration. What part would the EPA play in this?
Land Use: The City is designing this restoration but the EPA is supervising and signing off on it.
EPA: This has less to do with cleanup than restoration.
Dan Wiley (representing Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez): We were with the US Army Corps on September 1 to mark harbor deepening of the New York-New Jersey Harbor, and I mentioned that the CAG was interested in bringing them in since they’ve done eight years of feasibility studies for ecosystem and habitat rebuilding in Gowanus. If Land Use wants to work with us to bring them in, they’d be very open to it.

CAG Member: Where it says topography, planning and other landscapes, does that include bioswales?
Land Use: Probably not on this site because it doesn’t make sense to have them there, but it’s possible.

Proposed Amendments

  • A proposal was offered and seconded to add “probable results of climate change taking into account effects such as” before “probable sea level change.”
  • The amendment was approved 15 in favor, 2 opposed.

Vote on Resolution

  • The resolution as amended (and to be re-formatted as a resolution) was approved, 15 in favor, 2 opposed.

CAG Committee Updates

Administration Committee did not meet

  • Sent out request to update annual survey

Archaeology Committee did not meet

  • Concern was raised that since archaeology had not met in more than a quarter that they are officially not a committee.
  • It is important that the Archaeology Committee meets because the CAG has EPA’s archaeology expert on board and there are a number of archeology issues which will be coming up.
  • Eymund said he would be organizing an October meeting – he’ll be added to the Facilitation team as the Archaeology representative.

Land Use Committee

  • Andrea presented three options for the turning basin different from what EPA originally presented. Land Use and local organizations have met with Power House to talk about their plans for the turning basin, which includes a manufacturing center (see the website for more information:
  • Power House is starting construction in nine months; they feel it’s unrealistic to do a land swap, but they have a plan for the basin boundaries with regard to encroachment. Land Use would like to present this to EPA.
  • DOT is coming to the Land Use meeting on October 4.

Outreach Committee

  • Overall, Outreach needs to rethink their role and meeting times.
  • Please include the time and location of committee meetings on the calendar; the next meeting is October 14.
  • Outreach is trying to increase our presence in the community by going to meetings and events; we’ve found that people are uninformed about the CAG and the Superfund cleanup.
  • The goal for 2017 is to put together a community calendar of events; we need to develop a plan to talk to people as they start to see work in the Canal.

EPA noted that the Outreach Committee is not solely responsible for informing the community – this is also EPA’s responsibility. In the next month, things will be happening that people will want to know about. EPA will have a physical presence at the Canal and welcomes CAG members to do the same so they can weigh in. EPA will provide flyers that the CAG can share with the community. There hasn’t been a lot of work for the Outreach Committee to do but there will be now.

Water Quality and Technical Committee met September 12

  • Discussed pathogens and dissolved oxygen as indicator of contamination in the canal.
  • Discussed asking DEP to explain what they’re doing about the Flushing Tunnel.
  • Need more information on the velocity of stormwater coming into Carroll Street and foam.
  • Discussed whether National Grid is moving quickly enough on remediation of upland sites and containing impacts on the Canal.
  • Riverkeeper paddled up the Canal and showed globs of coal tar that come up in warm weather. They’d like to present their findings to the full CAG.

The meeting was adjourned at 8:30 PM.

CAG Members Present 

Sabine Aronowsky
Dave Briggs
JoeAnn Brown
Eymund Diegel
Marlene Donnelly
George Fiala
Rafael Gomez de Luna
Ben Jones
Louis Kleinman
Betty Lester
Linda Mariano
Margaret Maugenest
Eric McClure
David Meade (alternate Justin Collins)
Lizzie Olesker
Andrea Parker
Peter Reich
Buddy Scotto

EPA, Staff, and Presenters 

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

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