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Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street


Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:30 PM.
The March meeting summary was approved with no revisions.

Project Updates (Christos Tsiamis, EPA Project Manager)

We have differences of opinion about schedules that came up fairly recently. I had given National Grid a schedule for the Canal; the deadline for design completion is end of summer 2017. We have three design stages: 35%, 65%, and 95%. The 35% design was due in October 2016 and they met that deadline. It was not reasonable to ask for six months to complete the 65%, and six additional months to complete the 95%. I was getting schedules that were not to my satisfaction and could not assess the progress of the work. Finally, I directed the group to give me a schedule to compare with the one we had, which I received two months ago.

  • There is a big difference in the schedule for summer work (the end of the pilot which started with removal of debris, and will now will finish with removal of sediment and capping of the 4th St Basin next to Whole Foods). I had wanted this completed by the end of the year, but the schedule now goes into 2018. I still believe it can be done.
  • This schedule difference gets magnified in the overall design for remedy, which has to do with how we approach the project. The 100% design is now expected February 2019, according to group schedule.
  • What does this mean? You saw a press release talking about completion in 2022. After design completion in February 2019, we would have to prepare bids and an RFP, so it would be 2020 before we get started with the cleanup. We have estimated it will take 2 years for RTA1, RTA2, and RTA3 each, so we are now going into 2026 to complete that part of the cleanup. We have two other sites, and if we add a year to each, conservatively speaking, we are going to the end of the next decade (2030).

Our principle from the beginning was to build from work that already exists (for example, USACE) and add what’s necessary for us to exercise good engineering judgment and make decisions. For example, EPA spent a lot of time and couple of million dollars to do the in-situ stabilization pilot study in 2015. That is not what is happening with the work EPA is seeing now which forces me to send an email to them saying “stop – you’re wasting your money and my time.” The group has chosen to repeat things, which slows down the work.

One important thing, before we start dredging and capping is to fix the bulkheads in the Canal. From our perspective, it makes sense to go out there and do that. Brian and I have gone and spoken all these years to individuals and prepared orders – we’ve been successful in completing a number of bulkheads, and new constructions will occur in the near future. We are separating the tasks, but National Grid and the group for the 4th Street Basin are talking about getting a general contractor to do all the work that needs to be done. That’s not necessary: you can decouple the bulkhead construction from the rest of the work.

Combining them is not better for the project – it only magnifies the difference in overall project schedule. We are not happy about this – I’m doing everything in my power to push the work forward, and have issued a number of directives in the last month – one is to send me the engineering drawings for bulkheads in the 4th Street Basin.

This brings me to the question about the budget. One thing that came out of the last meeting is that we eventually found some money, but what will be available to us will bring us to about the end of the summer. The design with the City, by the order, goes to April 2020. So for now, we have another 3 years, with 2 to 2.5 years for the design of the Canal. You can do the math to figure out how much money we’ll need. This will be an issue continuously until we get additional funds. We are looking at 2 or 3 PRPs who have not settled, but there is no rush on their part to settle, so we can’t tell you if we’ll have an agreement in the next nine months. We will continue the work in the Canal and we’ll leave it to DEP to describe the progress we’re making in the design of the tanks and the 1st St Basin.

Questions and Answers

CAG Member: Do you have money for contracts?
EPA: Yes.

CAG Member: What’s changed since you last spoke to us and what does this mean in terms of the contract money you would have had? You may potentially go to 2028 – hopefully you can negotiate something so this won’t be the case.
EPA: It’s not potentially, it’s actually – if we follow this schedule. Based on the schedule that the parties are working on, they say they will finish the 100% design at that time. With that date for the end of design, I see the completion of the project toward the end of the decade.

CAG Member: So you have no leverage over the PRPs to pay up? If the project goes eight years over your estimate, who is going to pay your operating budget? Are you going to get that back from the PRPs?
EPA: That money is recovered. We have to negotiate settlements with PRPs and if they refuse to pay up, then we have to sue them and that can take several years. I’m going to be upfront with this schedule – it will take time to bring it to something workable at a certain time. If we have the sequencing and organizing principle, we can do it on schedule, but no promises right now.

CAG Member: So this is a schedule you received from the PRPs before the last meeting?
EPA: This is something I had before the last meeting, I knew this since February.

CAG Member: This group of PRPs includes the City, DEP, National Grid, and who else?
EPA: There are about 6 or 7 PRPs at the negotiating table with their engineers and attorneys. There are issues I’ve told you about and there are other issues of review. We think that not every single party has to give an opinion on what the plan should be but these companies do express opinions on matters they are not experts in, which takes up time. Overall, it’s a more complex situation than when we started working originally with National Grid, and there are other subcontractors checking the PRPs’ work. The way it stands right now with this schedule, you can forget about completion in 2022. Could we complete it in 2022 – sure, if everybody plays well and thinks the way I think.

Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Facilities Project Draft EIS (NYCDEP

Kevin Clark, NYCDEP provided this overview.

  • DEP is responsible for the design of the two retention tanks under a consent order negotiated with EPA in June 2016
  • We procured a contract for detailed planning and design in July 2016
  • We are currently in the facility planning phase of the Red Hook tanks (these are the tanks at the head of the canal at the RH34 outfall that feed into the Red Hook treatment facility)
  • We are conducting pre-design investigation fieldwork which includes survey of existing buildings at park site and Head of Canal, preliminary geotechnical sampling, and environmental sampling – some of the work is being performed by National Grid, e.g. samples of sub-surface and soil
  • The bulk of investigation work in the park is complete
  • We are nearly ready to kick off similar fieldwork at Owls Head Tank, starting with DSNY property in early May, and currently speaking w property owners just south of parcel about similar work
  • We are working with DEP operations, who will own and operate the facility once construction is complete – soliciting their input on the design; and held workshops with EPA to provide status updates
  • In the Consent Order, there are several milestones the DEP needs to meet (some construction packages); 1st milestone is 100% design to EPA in June 2017 for construction package 1 with parallel designs for Head of Canal and the Park.

Questions and Answers

CAG Member: You mentioned the salt lot and the businesses below that property – are you going to try to take them by eminent domain? Those are active businesses, with a mix of owners and tenants.
NYCDEP: We tried last year, but they weren’t very responsive. We are talking and working with them this year, and completing access agreements across private property. It’s a mix of owners and tenants and 5th Street is privately owned.

CAG Member: Where is the Red Hook Tank?

DEP: The Red Hook Tank is at the Head of Canal. There are two drainage areas, for each of those plants. The RH34 plant is a relief point for the Red Hook drainage area (around Gowanus). The Red Hook Wastewater Treatment Plan is in Brooklyn Navy Yard.

CAG Member: Is any provision being made to save the station façade at Butler & Nevins Streets?
DEP: We’ve looked at it. There’s a triangle sign – we’re trying to figure out how to preserve it. We’ll consider that.

CAG Member: Will you have a 100% design for the first site and an alternative site location as part of Construction Package 1? As far as notification to minimize disruption to activity at the park – can we get this in advance when you’re doing drilling or testing in the park? We had a close call with an event we did this year.
DEP: Yes, but this is construction preparation. You’re demolishing buildings, disconnecting power hookups and doing some remediation of the site. There will be a process during the facility planning where we’ll bring you information on the conceptual aspects, for example, what the size and design of the building will look like, but that will be later this summer. We are issuing notifications about all invasive activities that are being done in the park and we notify the Parks Department because we need to get permits from them. We can also disseminate notifications through the CAG.
EPA: The Parks Department should also notify the community.
CAG Member: Parks does not do that.

CAG Member: So we’re doing three things here?
EPA: Yes – two tanks on either side of the Head of Canal and one tank near the middle of the Canal where the salt lot is. I think your EIS includes the possibility of a third location, not at the Head of Canal site and not at the park.

CAG Member: Earlier you mentioned the long-term calendar of when these things might happen. Now you’re saying the tank design will come out in June. What is the timeframe for starting the tank construction? There was also an issue with regard to the staging for the other tank location – what’s the status on that?
EPA: Remember, the tanks are being constructed on land. What I discussed before was work in the Canal. For tanks at the Head of Canal (not the tank at the salt lot – that’s a separate consent order), the work has to be complete in 2019/2020.
DEP: There are two deadlines, one in 2019 and one in 2020. It’s all tied to acquisition, which we have until April 2020 to complete. We haven’t had an update on the staging location issue but last I heard, NYCEDC is talking to Eastern Effects about potentially relocating their operations during the work.

CAG Member: I thought your intent was to clean up the toxins in the park anyway? How does National Grid remediation fit into the design and the timeline?
EPA: We’ll address that at the next meeting.

Facilitator: Can we get some sort of overview fact sheet with all this information – it’s very complicated?
EPA: When we meet, I like to give you accurate and up to date information. I will even share documents with you but when something is still being negotiated or otherwise not clear, it would not be appropriate for me to discuss it. There will be negotiations with National Grid, and we are close to something – we’ll have more information in May.

CAG Member: Regarding the pumping station at the Flushing Tunnel – there’s been mention of some action to mitigate the foam – do you own this part?
DEP: We have come up with a solution for this. We need to lower that weir which will require shutting down the Flushing Tunnel for eight weeks, sometime this fall. It’s a lot of work, which involves installing gates that have to be electrified and interlocked with the pumps. This might lead into early next year but will certainly be done by next summer.

CAG Member: I was recently on boat with Riverkeeper and they mentioned that there’s a boom there that is totally caked with CSO – can you do something about that?
DEP: The purpose of that was to trap floatables. We actually installed a screen to ensure any CSO discharged is removed and held within the system. That boom could be removed but I don’t know where that is – it’s handled by another bureau.

DEP: Questions have come up about the ownership of the property because we sent an announcement that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was shared on April 4. Anytime the city wants to acquire privately owned property or repurpose city-owned property, we have to go through a ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure). In order to prepare the application, we need to submit the EIS to certify into ULURP (October 1). Will be soliciting feedback on the Draft EIS in a public meeting on May 4, 6 to 7 PM at PS 32. This is an official hearing and we will issue responses to comments in writing. Once we certify, there is a process with designated time frames for reviews with certain entities like the community board and the Borough President. We expect it to be approved by May of 2018 and at that time, we expect to acquire property.

CAG Member: The end result of ULURP is a rezoning, right? What if the city ends up not taking property?
DEP: No, it’s to purchase or take property by eminent domain.

Dan Wiley: Thanks for sharing that the City is talking to Eastern Effects about moving to Sunset Park – this brings up the Bush Terminal project. Does the scope cover both the park and head-end site? Has it been determined if the staging area requires the Eastern Effects site or will that be developed during the EIS?
DEP: NYCEDC brought that up as an idea but there’s nothing official yet. The scope includes both the park and the Head of Canal. The Eastern Effects site will be developed during the EIS.

CAG Member: If you take the site and change the use, it sounds like you would have to do a comprehensive rezoning. If you’re potentially relocating Eastern Effects to Sunset Park, aren’t you saying that $4-5M of revenue is being moved and we’re losing money?
DEP: No, that doesn’t require a comprehensive rezoning. I guess – potentially.

EPA: Are you saying that the City is potentially considering other staging areas for the Head of Canal? I’m trying to clarify your comment earlier that the city had determined that the Eastern Effects site was the sole staging area. Are you looking at other options?
DEP: It’s a likely scenario but don’t want to say that we’re doing that. We can explore other options in the EIS – maybe we can do it onsite.

CAG Member: What is typically the disposition of a staging area once the cleanup is done?
DEP: The current scenario is that we would lease that property from the owners for the cleanup and then give it back to them. If we buy it, we may sell it.

CAG Member: But if you’re leasing it, then you’re not remediating it, as part of the plan. That’s the former Fulton MGP site.
DEP: Yes, that would be correct.

CAG Member: So you would only be returning the land because you’d be taking down the building?
DEP: Yes.

Steve Malinowski, AKRF working for DDC

We are going to design a new 1st Street Turning Basin for the City that includes a wetland shelf. We started some work today – we had a team on a boat in the Canal doing a multi-beam sounding survey. We are coordinating site access with five different tenants and property owners – EPA is assisting us with two. We will have DDC and AKRF members onsite to look at work; during the week of May 8 we’ll have a dive team to inspect the bulkhead and see what’s built by the old turning basin. We are finalizing work plans and getting access approval to conduct environmental and geotechnical investigations in the vicinity of the basin to avoid damage to buildings, and also doing a tree survey. We are hoping that environmental and geotechnical work can be done in June.

Questions and Answers

EPA: I’m pushing to finish the design as soon as possible – we have cooperation from the City. Eventually, you’ll have a new body of water in there. For the site right next to it (the Powerhouse), we have a first agreement with them to do investigation. They’re trying to develop the site with the brownfields program, similar to Lightstone. We’re asking them to do additional investigation (they have PCBs at the site) so eliminate anything that could re-pollute the Canal. We intend to move on to a second agreement to implement any actions beyond the brownfields program. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act, EPA has separate authority in this cleanup from New York State so the state will get its work done first and we’re going to do some supplemental work. The order also requires the Powerhouse to coordinate with the City for all of their work. Hopefully in a year or two, construction will start on the art center there.

Dan Wiley: Since the bulkhead is a wall, would you consider this an infrastructure project?
EPA: Yes.

CAG Member: How far along are the remedial designs? Will we have a chance to review them and comment on them? We’ve seen the short section but not the long section.
AKRF: We shared some drawings a few months ago. The other design should be complete by the end of the year and we’ll share those too.
EPA: It should actually be complete before the end of the year, there are some complicated engineering calculations. When we’re done, we’ll share it with the CAG, but it won’t be at 95%.

CAG Member: Has the actual length back from the property line been restored? Will you be able to update us on the archaeological investigation of the property?
AKRF: We have to identify it by survey.
EPA: The 1st Street Basin has been occupied and they’ve put all these big vehicles in there – we’re trying to assist with their removal. We have an archeological plan (received comments recently) and we will need to coordinate with SHPO before its complete. We’ll have an archaeologist onsite whenever there’s any digging or drilling.

CAG Member: 35% by the end of the year? It shouldn’t take that long.
EPA: I agree, but this is not the place to discuss it. It depends on how quickly we can get out there and remove the trucks, and that may move this along.

CAG Member: What is the goal of restoring the First Street Turning Basin? Will someone be able to tie up their boat there?
AKRF: To re-establish habitat lost during the remediation of the Canal.
EPA: We wanted first to be responsive to the community (give them back what was theirs) and to justify to the community (when we build the bulkheads, we’ll encroach into the water but now we’re giving it back in the form of a new water body). It’s a public basin and we’re doing the same thing with the 5th Street Basin, past the bridge. We have to go 25 feet after the bridge and re-establish the water body there. Right now we are doing investigations there to see if there’s contamination that justifies going deeper – we’re in the beginning/middle of it so these are the two water bodies that will be reopened.

CAG Member: Regarding the Powerhouse brownfield cleanup – the property has a huge 18 foot tall mound (construction debris fill) right by the bulkhead. Twenty years ago we had men in hazmat suits all over the neighborhood doing asbestos removal. Is that mass going to be removed, if there’s work on that bulkhead, so it doesn’t collapse?
EPA: Absolutely – that’s why we’re asking them to do additional investigation. The entire property is going to be regraded so they can do their construction (10 feet across the entire property). EPA will sign off together with DEC on the remediation of the entire property and the Powerhouse will redo the bulkheads.


Committee Reports

Archaeology Committee (proposed letter to DEC)

  • The comment period closes this week for Head of Canal site between the Canal, and Bond, Union and DeGraw Streets
  • The site is related to the Revolutionary War because it was part of the Battle of Brooklyn
  • The letter lays out the case for archaeological significance and asks for consideration in the remediation.

Vote on Proposed Resolution (letter to NYC DEP)

It was determined that a quorum was present.

Key language of the letter was read to the group.

  • Vote on Amendment: change word “careful” to “careful and appropriate” (16 in favor, 0 opposed).
  • Vote on Letter as amended: Resolution passed (16 in favor, 0 opposed)

Outreach Committee

  • Did not meet.

Water Quality and Technical Committee

  • Met, working to put together resolution for next month’s meeting to ask USACE to re-prioritize the Gowanus Canal in the Hudson River Estuary (HEP) program.

Administration Committee

  • Did not meet.

Facilitation Committee

  • It was decided that the Facilitation Committee would meet same night as the Land Use Committee at 6:00 PM and Land Use at 7 PM for Land Use. Doug organized materials for the Facilitation Committee to begin work on the communication plan.

Land Use Committee

  • Discussing potential sites that might be appropriate for the NRDA assessment

The meeting adjourned at 8:30 PM


CAG Members Present

Sabine Aronowsky
Dave Briggs
Diane Buxbaum
Justin Collins (alternate for David Meade)
Michelle de La Uz
Marlene Donnelly
Nathan Elbogen
George Fiala
Rafael Gomez de Luna
Ben Jones
Nekia Jones
Katia Kelly
Stephen Kondaks (alternate for John McGettrick)
Rita Miller
Andrea Parker
Peter Reich
Triada Samaras
Buddy Scotto
Maryann Young (alternate for Rita Miller)
Brad Vogel

EPA, Staff and Presenters

Doug Sarno, Facilitator
Brian Carr, EPA
Natalie Loney, EPA
Christos Tsiamis, EPA
Kevin Clark, NYCDEP
Steve Malinowski, AKRF working for NYCDDC

There were approximately 20 members of the public and other visitors.

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