Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street
- September minutes approved.
- A petition to rename part of Union Street to Bette Stoltz Way was distributed.
- Message from former CAG member Angela Murphy – she misses the CAG.
- Admin Committee requests response to this year’s member survey.
- Newtown Creek CAG will put together an informal meeting of area CAG groups early next year.
- EPA has started the debris removal study and will use the results in planning the overall Canal cleanup.
- The subcontractors on this project got a late start. The original plan was to take all debris to the staging area but that would really delay the process. The new approach is to ask National Grid to bring a staging barge to the project area; they started removing debris on Monday. Once they finish loading, the debris will be taken for disposal. They expect to finish before Thanksgiving.
- EPA will continue with the next stages – dredging of soft material and capping, along with some support of bulkheads. That work will be finished by the end of 2017. Then we will have all of the information to start planning for the start of dredging at the top of the Canal.
- Air-monitoring stations near Whole Foods are monitoring emissions that may be coming from the work; we are monitoring for volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, ammonia, and dust particulates – we get readings every 15 minutes. EPA had four days of air-quality measurements before beginning on Monday, which are being used to establish background levels. After two days of operation, EPA has not noticed any incidents.
- EPA is removing targeted debris (from a previous sonar scan of the bottom). We’re going to use regular dredging buckets along the Canal. At the bridge, we’re going to use different techniques in order to not damage the structure.
- One private party will be replacing their bulkhead (the new owner of the scrap-metal operation in the southern part of the basin). A Cube Smart self-storage facility will be going up there.
- Over the summer, EPA will work at the extension of the 4th Street basin and the 5th street basin. We will excavate and restore the basin to 20 feet beyond the 3rd Avenue bridge (we have flexibility to adjust that length). EPA has conducted an investigation with National Grid and went over 100 feet further from the point of the sample. Right now, we are interpreting the results.
- EPA found some petroleum contamination at the 30-foot layer. This geological layer has a high quantity of organic matter. We are assessing the extent and will update the CAG once we’ve come to conclusions and decisions.
- EPA is working with the city to open and restore the 1st Street basin. Land Use Committee recommendations, approved by the CAG, have been sent to the City. We will try to address the following points: to support marine life and wet-life species. We can provide areas to support marine life at the bottom of the Canal – it doesn’t necessarily need to be in the bulkheads. There are recommendations for a shelf on the Power House side, which would be a habitat. The proposed width is 10 feet. There’s also a possibility of a 20-foot wide shelf (the whole basin is 50 feet wide).
Questions and Answers
CAG Member:What’s the name of new DEP Acting Commissioner?
EPA: Vincent Sapienza.
CAG Member: Is that wide enough to allow flow of water?
EPA: It can be designed for more natural water-flow. We are looking into that.
CAG Member: What process will you use to decide what the design will look like?
EPA: We promised the CAG that we will involve them – they sent this proposal. Right now the idea is to widen the shelf and have a 30-foot body of water with a slope, so that there is self-cleaning. Once we have drawings, we will present them. Next, we have to take probable sea-level change into account. Sea-level change is a problem for the Canal and the City is looking into it already. The decision has to be made side-by-side, but is not part of this project. Whatever we do for bulkheads will be for today’s conditions. If the sea level rises in 20 years, the City will have to do something. We are working with wetland specialists and making sure we hire experts. Next, we will work with property owners to identify areas of coordination – the City is also talking to them. Finally, we will report to the CAG whenever we deem necessary.
CAG Member: Back to the 4th Street basin: How did the state office of historic preservation deem the boat not worthy of consideration?
EPA: The ship is historic and old and interesting and the specifics were documented. However, in its condition, with contamination and sewage, it is not salvageable. There are other representative samples of ships that are preserved and in museums. This item can’t be saved and used. Its historical integrity is compromised.
CAG Member: With the historical significance of the Canal, is it something symbolic that can be put into the Hall of Gowanus?
EPA: Today I saw part of the ship and the wood. We have an oversight person who observes as they bring in pieces of the ship. If she recognizes anything other than wood debris, she will alert us. All this debris will be moved to a permanent station and will be inspected by archaeologists before it’s disposed of. If they see anything worth preserving, they will make a record of it.
CAG member: How many feet down was that boat? Are you going below the water surface to the bottom of the Canal?
EPA: The purpose of this phase is to remove the debris identified with the sonar scan. The contractor has been told to remove objects that have been identified. Debris removal is done to facilitate dredging, not for archaeological purposes. Then we will go back with dredge buckets that will go down deep and remove material that will be placed on a barge. If something comes to our attention, it will be removed and the archaeologists will be made aware.
CAG Member: Back to the 1st Street basin. Part of our concern is that the shelf might be 10-20 feet but there is something called a tidal prism which helps determine a tidal exchange. We want to make sure that we are making decisions to encourage tidal exchange. Can we get that kind of information in making a 10-20 foot shelf decision?
EPA: We have experts who have done similar projects. They bring in information and I analyze it and make sure it makes sense. The City has the same type of contractors. Right now, we are at the very early phase. We don’t want the basin to be a stagnant body of water so we’re looking into the sloping. We’re thinking about how we can maximize wetlands and make it safe and effective if people go to that part of the basin. These are the initial considerations.
CAG Member: So a size will be set based on what makes the whole Canal functional?
EPA: We are setting our basis for solving the problem. The basis is the exchange of water in the basin and maximizing wetland space. Our experts are going to work on balancing the two. We will keep you informed throughout the process.
CAG Member: When you get EPA experts on wetlands and wildlife, can they meet with the Land Use Committee? Riverkeeper as an organization makes these decisions all the time; I would love to help make these decisions with the rest of the CAG.
EPA: We will give you a draft plan when we reach that point. There are a lot of people involved, I [Christos] have to make a decision. It works best when we engage you at the moment it makes sense to engage you.
CAG Member: I’d love to get more information.
EPA: You will.
CAG Member: When will you have the whole thing completed?
EPA: We would like to finish sometime in summer 2017. We have a schedule, but delays are not built into it. I’ll update you as things change.
CAG Member: Is the 1st Street turning basin being created to replace bulkheads?
EPA: It used to be a water body. Since the community wants the water body to be restored, there is an advantage to replacing the bulkheads.
CAG Member: Then how do you define the surface area of water in the 1st Street basin? Partial wetland?
EPA: We’re looking at the overall area of restoration and not depth. If it’s wet for a couple of hours a day, that counts.
CAG member: This came up at the Land Use Committee meeting where DOT presented the bridge options. If they do a fixed bridge, where does EPA fall on that?
EPA: EPA does not have a position on the navigable part; we have a position on the timing – it has to be navigable while we are there cleaning up the Canal. After we finish and move, other agencies will get involved. If someone wants to change something that’s more of a land-use function, that’s outside the EPA’s scope, which is addressing a release of hazardous substances.
CAG Member: So the navigable waterway only has to be maintained while you’re cleaning up.
EPA: For our purposes, yes.
CAG Member: There are other agencies?
EPA: Yes, for example, the Coast Guard. The Canal depths are being returned to their original design navigational depths. Part of that is to make sure that boats don’t interfere with the cap.
CAG Member: EPA owns the Superfund decision until the cleanup is complete and then it’s turned over to the City. The ability to drive a boat or a barge is separate.
EPA: If they want to put in a fixed bridge, they are going to have to buy out the property owners above the bridge. This means they’ll have to condemn the rights of those property owners to have boat access, which will be very expensive.
CAG Member: The tank business could be delayed 2 to 8 years, which means you may have to re-dredge long after you finish. Would a fixed bridge allow that if that delay becomes necessary? What happens then?
EPA: We told DOT that we will comment on their plan – we have to meet with them. EPA is interested in the bridge as it impacts our work. If we deem maintenance dredging is required, we’ll discuss it with DOT and stretch the time frame for building the bridge.
CAG Member: Do you have the authority to influence that decision?
EPA: It depends on where we are – if it’s clearly affecting things, we’ll have our way. If there are other ways around it, we won’t be involved.
CAG Member: Will boats still be able to get there to do maintenance dredging?
EPA: We don’t know what maintenance dredging will look like then. It will be considered.
CAG Member: The contract you signed with DEP – does it stipulate that they will be fully responsible for any recontamination and for future dredging?
EPA: Yes, they have committed indirectly to any future dredging that may result. They’ve agreed in theory, but it’s not written in the agreement – it’s noted there but it’s not binding. It’s an understanding between managements.
CAG Member: A moveable bridge not only costs more but requires more maintenance, i.e., substantial ongoing costs. Regarding the resolution – I didn’t understand your reasoning behind the two points you said were impossible. In view of the fact that we anticipate higher sea levels, the issue is bulkheads, not sea gates. The bulkheads are for environmental purposes.
EPA: The answer has to be Canal-wide. The City has hired experts to look into the effects of flooding from sea-level rise. We are not designing with that in mind.
CAG Member: So the bulkheads will be same height as the current Canal?
EPA: You cannot have both wetlands and bulkheads that cover the Canal.
CAG Member: The environmental aspect of this is having bulkheads that can support life, by affixing materials such as eco-concrete.
EPA: We hear that and respect it but first we have to take into consideration that we are providing a clean bottom and a shelf. We need to provide support, which is created by the type of bulkheads we are restoring.
CAG Member: The community would like to see something that looks a little bit alive.
EPA: We’re constructing the project to accomplish removal of hazardous waste. Incidental to that, there is habitat restoration but it is not a primary driver of the cleanup. We are not required to do it, but we are doing habitat restoration along the bottom. We’re doing what we can.
CAG Member: I am still concerned about this idea of not addressing sea-level rise or asking people who are committed to projects involved in this – I think it’s a grave mistake.
EPA: We’re doing groundwater monitoring – our model is informed by the output. Engineers will look into different opinions on sea-level rise. I directed my engineers to look into reasonable assessment. That information goes into our analysis. We’re not ignoring it but we’re not constructing walls for it. If it’s six feet you don’t want six-foot walls.
CAG Member: Is there a way of addressing this where bulkheads can accommodate sea-level rise if needed?
EPA: Every project has a scope and ours is to address contamination.
CAG Member: The Department of City Planning is beginning a neighborhood study for Gowanus which may address some of these land-use issues. That’s getting started on Thursday night.
CAG Member: A few points of clarification; The City, DCP, and FEMA are finishing an industrial-resiliency project, which may not result in many changes, but they’re looking into it. With wetland creation, if you have sea-level rise, wetlands might disappear because they’ve been drowned. My actual question is on the tanks – can you give us an update?
EPA: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There’s a schedule for the tanks and the City will proceed according to that schedule. It will take a few years, through 2020. Then we have the middle part – there’s no schedule but we will get into discussions.
CAG Member: Has there been progress on the cleanup of the area in the park? DEP was at a meeting and made it sound like maybe it was not necessary to remove the pool. Has progress been made on an agreement?
EPA: There has been progress made on our part – we have an order for National Grid to do work related to this and expect to have it soon. The Fulton ROD doesn’t set a timetable for the park but EPA will trigger the cleanup of the park. Our intent is to clean up the park and create a replacement pool. We are in discussion with the Parks Department to move it along but don’t have anything firm.
CAG Member: It’s described in the plan but it said the City would be removing the pool.
CAG Member: Back to the tank at the head of the Canal: 2020 is the point when the City needs to acquire property, not have the tank built. Is there still no agreement as to when the tank will be constructed?
EPA: Acquisition, demolition, and clean-up work are covered in the agreement but it stops before construction of the actual tank. The Superfund law requires that to be negotiated in a different type of agreement. After I’m done with the current negotiations, we will begin negotiations on the tank. Sometime in 2017 we will have a remedial-action agreement. When the property is acquired, it will trigger the next step. We currently have plans for the demolition. The City is also designing the park and the pool.
CAG Member: If we have an administration that wants to remove regulations, what happens?
EPA: Unless Congress totally changes the Superfund law, it can’t be revoked.
CAG Member: Back to the 4th Street basin. The debris removal will be done ahead of Thanksgiving and then what?
EPA: Dredging will begin in late 2017.
CAG Member: Is the retention tank at the salt lot in progress?
EPA: We have some ideas about timing and will be talking to the city about it. DOT is building a garage there right now. We became aware and brought up to city that whatever they build there might have a short life.
CAG Committee Updates
● Did not meet – members need to provide input to the year-end membership survey.
● Did not meet.
Land Use Committee
● Had presentation by DOT on the bridges.
● Requests that the next CAG meeting be a community update meeting, to draw a bigger crowd, and bring in city organizations, along with artists and possibly leaders of different churches.
● Would like to use the CAG space to update the community on what’s going on with the clean-up (similar to what was done at the beginning of CAG season last year with a general overview of the Canal). Many of us understand the details but there are members who are not as well versed so we thought it would be a good idea to get everyone on the same footing.
● Might also be an opportunity to invite leaders of different churches
● The idea was discussed by the CAG. It was agreed that this is a great idea but may be better to postpone until 2017 as there is no December meeting.
Water Quality and Technical Committee
● Did not meet.
- If you want to hear about negotiations for the 5th Avenue Key Food site, come to meeting on Nov 1st 6:30 PS 133.
- Saturday is the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy in Red Hook.
CAG Members Present
Michelle de La Uz
David Meade (alternate Justin Collins)
EPA, Staff, and Presenters
Doug Sarno, Facilitator
Brian Carr, EPA
Natalie Loney, EPA
Christos Tsiamas, EPA