Posted by & filed under EPA Updates, Frontpage, General Meetings.

Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street


Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:40.

The May meeting summary was approved with no revisions.


Project Updates

Christos Tsiamis, EPA Project Manager, presented the updates.

Two things have happened since last meeting:

  • EPA received a proposal for the Fulton Wall. If you recall, EPA is overseeing National Grid for the construction of the Fulton Wall – we had our first meeting after we issued the order. National Grid has submitted a proposal, which we are currently reviewing and we’ll go on from there, so that process has begun.
  • We finalized the order with the Power House for work we’re going to do there. EPA is overseeing the cleanup work we’ve deemed necessary with regard to the Power House being a potential source of contaminants to the Canal, and also building the bulkhead in front of that property to specifications so it will be able to withstand dredging. We’ve been coordinating closely with the state on the Power House project.

Over Memorial Day there was partial collapse of the bulkhead on the Lowe’s property. We understand the CAG has drafted some language regarding that collapse. Let me explain to you what happened – we were not there, but we were alerted by the community. Natalie and I went there the day after the collapse and inspected the area.

  • Based on the inspection, I issued (through EPA Staff Attorney Brian Carr), a list of required actions that we asked Lowe’s to undertake, which includes the following:
    • Put a turbidity curtain around the collapsed portion of the bulkhead so no further suspended matter goes into the Canal
    • Remove all the large debris (big chunks of concrete and pieces of wood) from the Canal
    • Stabilize the area and reconstruct the entire bulkhead at the Lowe’s property (recommended)
    • Before the above, a plan for how they’re going to go about these actions
  • EPA detected soil erosion behind the existing bulkhead. This is the right time to replace it, since EPA will eventually require them to put in a bulkhead that can withstand the dredging action (the request to reconstruct the bulkhead now is an accommodation). Lowe’s hired Langan Engineering and initial steps have already been taken (the debris is being cleaned up).
  • With regard to the proposed language of the CAG resolution:
    • From our inspection, I don’t know exactly how that bulkhead was constructed but it’s not really an engineered bulkhead; it’s a few layers of cribbing at best, not a bulkhead with deep foundations. At this stage we will require them to install an engineered bulkhead for dredging purposes.
    • All bulkheads we’ve been installing (several so far) are engineered to do exactly what the CAG resolution says.

Update on cleanup schedule:

  • What we have now is the PRP schedule for the top of Canal (February 2019). At the previous meeting, I said that we would work with them to compress the schedule and suggested different approaches to achieve it.
  • The first item of Canal work that will take place is the pilot study at the Fourth Street Basin. I said we would go back with our idea of adaptive management where you do things stagewise (five different contractors instead of a single contractor). I asked the PRP group to give me their estimates based on these two options, and EPA would make a decision about which option to follow. When I received these, there was a limiting factor.
  • It doesn’t matter what we use – we’ll end up in the same place because it will take three months for the materials to get here. The steel for the bulkheads will not arrive until the middle of September. We can’t start work at the turning basin until the materials arrive.
  • Could the materials have arrived faster? The materials were ordered on June 9. On April 10, I sent the PRPs a memo specifying the type and size of the materials. I want the PRP group to know the community is aware of this (the National Grid representative was present) and we will push to improve on what is becoming progressively more difficult with this type of approach. Having said that, how does this delay affect the schedule?
  • We built other bulkheads along the Canal (EPA has overseen orders that Brian has signed with owners) using the same kind of material. We have a good idea of the lead time between ordering and receiving materials (usually 3 days to 3 weeks).
  • Once the materials arrive, we will build the bulkheads to support the dredging and then do the dredging pilot study, which has now been pushed even further. We need to incorporate the results into the design so that it becomes 100% design.
  • From the time we start the pilot at the Fourth Street Basin, until the prescribed end of design (according to the PRP group), I’m going to apply all of our energies to compress the time, and again try to come up with different methods. I hope at some point to see eye to eye with the PRPs.
  • What we’re promising to you (EPA’s goals) in 2018:
    • Finish the turning basin pilot
    • Finish the Fulton Wall
    • Finish the First Street Basin excavation (You heard the City say they’ll finish 35% design by the end of the year – this is not acceptable and can be done at a faster pace)
    • We would like the PRP group to finish the 100% design for the top of the Canal. If we’re able to do that and start excavation in 2019 then we won’t complete the Canal by 2022 but we’ll be able to complete the first area (RTA1) and start work in the second.
    • Through the efforts of the whole EPA team and the property owners, we will be giving the PRPs 75% of the bulkheads on RTA1. By the time the PRP group starts dredging, ¾ of bulkheads will have been completed through private initiatives (orders and agreements formed between EPA and private parties).


Questions and Answers

CAG Member: Has this risen to the level of enforcement penalties or are you not free to say?
EPA: Last time we mentioned that a letter has gone out and we will be willing to go down that road. We have increased the enforcement – every letter that goes out from me to them is a directive and I have to say they are responsive to the directives. Initially I thought we had a working relationship; right now, I’d like to get back to that because we have our own ideas and a different way of managing the site that we think is faster and better. We will push the process through directives – a number have been issued so far and a number will be going out in coming days.

CAG Member: Are all of the PRPs equally unresponsive or is it one or two major ones? Who is it?
EPA: All of the discussions I’ve had here have been about the work in the Canal, which is managed by the PRP Group. When I’m dealing with the representatives of that group, I have to say that things should move faster than when we dealt with National Grid alone. I believe that having to go through all these internal steps gives them less flexibility.

CAG Member: You said that the remediation treatment area will be complete by 2022. How are things progressing with National Grid on the Fulton MGP site? Is there an update on the DEP CSO tank?
EPA: Last week we started the order with National Grid and the first item was the wall. They’ve already come to us with a proposed design and we’re working on that. Regarding the CSO tank – we haven’t had any recent meetings but we’re having a meeting on Thursday to discuss the progress of both tanks. DEP has been on schedule and they have to meet those requirements because there are monetary penalties.

CAG Member: Can you explain how the collapsed bulkhead at Lowe’s prevents work from starting on the Fourth Street Basin?
EPA: It doesn’t – they are two separate things. It just creates more work for me. Lowe’s is cooperating with us so there is no delay. Their bulkhead will probably be done several years before we need to dredge in front of it.

CAG Member: Is that site owned by the Lowe’s Company?
EPA: No, it’s owned by Forest City Ratner and a couple of site-specific LLCs.

CAG Member: There is concern in the community about the bulkhead at the Power House. How do you allow water to drain when a certain amount of water is held back? I’ve been looking at the Salt Lot on 2nd Avenue, and how water gushes over there – it’s like a huge river and a three-foot waterfall. If you raise the bulkheads higher, how is this going to affect that?
EPA: We made engineering assessments. I asked Lowe’s to give us an engineering assessment of why the collapse occurred. My assessment is, it did not happen because of the drain because the water was running on concrete. We are not raising the height of the bulkheads.

CAG Member: If they had water coming up through fissures and bulkheads, they might not even know it. I’ve said it all along when they were building walls near the Fulton site, that the water has to go somewhere.
EPA: It is a finite obstruction – the water goes sideways, underneath etc. In November we will get 65% design for RTA1 and we’re going to be looking at all of this, including groundwater. This is not the first site where there are bulkheads wall to wall.

CAG Member: 100 years ago, when they engineered the Canal, they said the bulkheads should be 7.5 feet above mean high tide. Are we looking to maintain a standard so that we’re not raising them any higher?
EPA: We are not raising bulkheads higher (for flood protection) than they were. When you engineer something you have to do it one thing at a time. The primary thing is that the banks don’t collapse – we are creating structural stability.

CAG Member: That was done at end of First Street, at the Lightstone site, where the bulkheads are now higher.
EPA: The ground was raised at that site, which the City approved but that’s not holding the groundwater back. The street water flow on 2nd Avenue, groundwater being retained behind bulkheads and flooding – every single thing you’re describing is a different engineering issue, but in general, we are not doing sealed bulkheads that will affect groundwater flow. Street water flow is going to change based on what the City is doing, and drainage. The only places where we are sealing bulkheads is where it’s required to make sure contaminated groundwater is moving in the right direction.

CAG Member: Brad Lander secured $9 million to lower bulkheads at Lowe’s for a flood remediation project by DOT and DEP. Are you integrating that into your process?
DEP: We are in the process of getting DDC to come out and talk to businesses there about how flooding will affect their operations.
EPA: Yes, we are aware of that water that comes down 9th Street and discharges into the Canal. It’s going to affect how we design the bulkhead so that it doesn’t block the City’s pipe.

CAG Member: Is there one person or a group of 3-5 people representing this entire PRP Group?
EPA: Right now, I deal with 15 engineers, who represent the different PRPs so when we have a meeting, we have a whole day workshop. That group has a representative and that’s who I deal with. My sense is when I ask for something to be done in a certain way, the decision has to be discussed by the entire group, which is cumbersome. The schedule includes items that require review by the group, which requires finding a resolution or new ways to get around delays. We constantly have to solve very simple problems for them, which sometimes involves providing basic information about their organization.

CAG Member: For this meeting on CSO Tanks, are you saying the City’s own schedule is for the hole in ground part or the design and operations as well?
EPA: No, we’re talking about the actual design principles. We have two orders for the tanks; the top of Canal is a consent order – they’re required under threat of penalties to follow the schedule, which requires them to finish the design by 2019 and begin construction by 2020. Then we have the middle of Canal – the Salt Lot tank does not have to follow the same schedule (it can be faster, we haven’t discussed it yet with the City). We’ve asked them to start doing work; they’re doing a geotechnical survey there and at 2nd Avenue, so eventually we’re going to talk about the schedule. Our position is that the schedule has to be faster than the head of Canal tank schedule.

CAG Member: Is there anything that we as individuals can do to help the EPA?
EPA: The voice of the CAG is powerful – you take what I say and decide whether to have resolutions or not. The process is going along and we hope things will progress further. There is nothing you can do.

Doug: One of the challenges Joseph brought up is earlier when National Grid was doing the work, the CAG was able to talk to them – they had representatives and an informational website. It’s a little more challenging to hear from the PRPs now.
EPA: We can provide names of people in the group and they do have a name, which is mentioned when we do agreements with private owners (Gowanus Trust?). The representative is a project manager, whose name was also on the order. He gave the debris removal presentations to the CAG and he’s the one who coordinates the 15 people.

CAG Member: We did meet him when we went to see the debris that was pulled out but one thing we’ve been talking about in the Water Quality Committee is that we’d like to come up with a list of all these people and have them on our website and request contacts for each group so we can post their names.

EPA: We can give you the list if it’s legal and appropriate but I don’t see how it would help.

CAG Member: I do a lot of work on the Newtown Creek Superfund Site, and there is a group of people that runs the PRP group. It’s very useful to know who they are and be able to talk to them.
EPA: And at what stage are they at Newtown Creek?
CAG Member: Far behind where we are here.
EPA: We will provide that list. It’s EPA’s opinion that the organization in that group is far too bureaucratic. At the end of day there’s a group of specialists who are the engineers of record, and they are the ones certifying the work. They could save months per year by cutting out unnecessary levels of review.

EPA: We will let you know about the major targets (2018) – we think this is workable.

CAG Member: I think we have to be really careful that other people are not going to get interested in doing direct contact with the PRP Group – it’s intrusive and might create problems.
EPA: We will provide the appropriate level of information. For last several years, National Grid has been funding the majority of the cost of a facilitator for the CAG, which they agreed to do, and is indicative of their desire to support this part of the project.

EPA: The closest relationship I have is with the people we started working with nine years ago. I foresaw some of these issues. I remember the problems we had when we were going through the remedial investigation process and we got through them and things went really fast.

Discussion of CAG Endorsement of EPA Statement

  • The Facilitation Committee believes strongly that the CAG should have a position on this, in case anybody approaches us and asks for it.
  • This is not a CAG statement, it’s the EPA’s statement – will CAG vote to support it?

Questions and Answers

CAG Member: Who is doing this expedition?
CAG Member: The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club joined the CAG as a Gowanus cleanup organization that picks up debris from and along the Canal, and we’ve been doing it for five years. Dredged circuit boards have been used to fund education programs around the Canal – we’re doing this because we want to educate people about the real risks of the Canal. I want to thank the CAG for making a reasonable community debate about public health issues.

Doug: When a group like the Dredgers goes into the Canal, they’re doing it with foresight and knowledge. What the CAG doesn’t want to do is say anyone is allowed to go in, dive to bottom of the Canal and take whatever they want – we want to discourage that kind of behavior and the EPA’s statement does as well, but they’re not regulating anyone.

EPA: This has nothing to do with the chemicals in the circuit boards. It has to do with the reaction. At other Superfund sites that have metals, we put a fence around the site; here we have a unique situation with a public waterway – we can’t fence in the Canal. We visited the First Street Basin at the Lightstone site – there are unstable chemicals and physical hazards there.

CAG Member: I’m concerned about hand to mouth contact with water – it does contain pathogens. Most people would not get sick but you don’t know if anybody’s vulnerable.

CAG Member: I’m here on behalf of Gowanus Dredgers and this statement seems redundant because it’s directed at one particular person who has explained himself (Eymund). Also, the statement is overly broad with no carveout for the Dredgers (who have been doing things for 20 years) and other groups along the Canal, like the Gowanus Canal Conservancy cleanups and plantings, and the Billion Oyster Project. The community has a very clear sense of the hazards in the Canal. I was here for the Gowanus PLACES City Planning study – people kept saying they wanted to see quirky and unique things here, and that’s what this neighborhood is about.

CAG Member: I do tours around the Canal and people are always asking me about health hazards. I’m not disagreeing that grittiness is part of the character of the Canal. To me, the active phrase is “at your own risk” – it’s an insurance concern. We as a community have to say there are huge risks (based in science) – this language solidifies that. If people are confused about what the level of health is, it’s important we establish the scientific and community position so that they can make personal decisions.

EPA: We have been criticized for not advising soon enough. The statement does not forbid but we have a responsibility with knowledge – we have to communicate it to you and acknowledge the risk.

CAG Member: The Dredgers continue to take the position that there are no risks in the Canal. The day after the sewage tsunami that Christos showed us, the Dredgers were on Smith Street telling people to get into a canoe, they did not even wait a week. Getting information out there is important.

EPA: As somebody who works around the city on things like this, we also berated the Department of Health for not having strong enough advisories on fishing. We have signs everywhere about CSOs and people still swim in the Canal. We see nothing wrong with the language and letting people know – we support adding “at your own risk.” We don’t even have a “no trespassing” sign like at every other Superfund site.

CAG Member: We want to have a rational conversation about the water risk. It is out there but it’s everywhere, and people should know.

CAG Member: It’s an EPA cleanup site and we do not want to do anything to dilute its purpose. I don’t think it does us any good, publicly, to stifle the EPA and say it’s not a cleanup site.

CAG Member: That’s exactly the issue. No one is asking the Dredgers to stop doing what they’re doing, but our purpose is to inform the community. My suggestion is to delete the first sentence and start with “EPA strongly advises…”

EPA: I wrote it like this because in the context of the email it was tied to the previous CAG meeting and we did have the conversation there – not with the purpose of singling out anybody.

CAG Member: To add more context, there were two versions – you wrote one and we asked you to broaden it to the entire Canal.

Doug: There’s an amendment on the table to drop the first part and endorse the rest.

CAG Member: I dislike resolutions (it’s not a resolution) that don’t have an action plan that follow. If we really feel this is dangerous, are we abrogating our responsibilities by not calling on DOH to do something about it? Should we call for a fence around the Canal?
CAG Member: Our resolutions don’t have action plans attached to them.

EPA: What I’ve put down in bold is the crux of the statement. The way we see it, we issue an advisory and you disseminate it to the rest of the community.

Doug: People want to be able to say “the CAG’s position is this” – that’s all this is.

CAG Member: Is putting out this statement an adequate action?
Doug: It’s going to go on the website, it’s what the CAG thinks, the CAG has written to the health department to say this thing’s not sufficient. If we want to move on to some bigger action, we can discuss it another time. We’re dropping the first sentence and taking out the word such and that’s the statement we’re voting on (CAG’s endorsement of the EPA statement).

Action: The Motion passed, 14 in favor, one opposed.


Resolution on Bulkhead Collapse/Engineered Bulkheads

Based on the explanation provided about the Lowe’s bulkhead and EPA’s approach to bulkheads, this proposed resolution was withdrawn.


Committee Reports


Did not meet.


Working on the Communications Plan. Will be merging with Outreach Committee. Meetings are held the night of Land Use, from 6 to 6:45.

Land Use

The next Land Use committee meeting will not be July 9 – will send out an email trying to reschedule for July 10.


Archaeology discussed two sites (AKRF working at both – First St Basin – digging archaeological trenches – no date yet – still dealing with access issues).

Water Quality/Technical

The Water Quality Committee met and discussed followup on health risks (eating blue crab) and getting actual data on what that’s based on. May want to ask the state to qualify their assessment (how many samples, etc); also talked about the PRP group and trying to figure out how we can understand more about who they are.


Outreach is merging with the Facilitation Committee.


Other Business

Reminder that the July meeting will be held on August 1, a week off schedule. 

The meeting adjourned at 8:15.


CAG Members Present

Joseph Alexiou
Sabine Aronowsky
Dave Briggs
Diane Buxbaum
Justin Collins (alternate for David Meade)
Eymund Diegel
Sean Dixon
Marlene Donnelly
Nathan Elbogen
Rafael Gomez de Luna
Louis Kleinman
Stephen Kondaks (alternate for John McGettrick)
Linda Mariano
Peter Reich
Buddy Scotto
Brad Vogel
Maryann Young (alternate for Rita Miller)
Ute Zimmerman

EPA and CAG Support
Doug Sarno, CAG Facilitator
Christos Tsiamis, EPA
Natalie Loney, EPA

Comments are closed.