Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street
Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:35 p.m.
Dan Wiley announced that Congresswoman Velázquez, who has multiple Superfund sites in her district, is introducing a bill in Congress and wants support of constituent groups. The term Superfund comes from a fund raised from a tax on chemical and oil companies to pay for orphaned sites where no responsible party is available to conduct the cleanup. That tax stopped in 1985, and the fund monies ran out in 2003. This act would reinstate the tax to create funds to address sites where funds are not available. The bill will also help businesses that need to relocate as a result of Superfund, and provide tax deductions and Small Business Administration and economic-injury loans to affected parties.
Christos Tsiamis, Remedial Project Manager for EPA, presented the updates:
The 4th Street Basin Pilot Project
Work has not started yet due to a number of issues. We did not expect difficulty installing the bulkheads, but there were surprises at the site that prevent bulkheads from being installed which precludes work. The location selected has issues because there’s a building on the south side across from Whole Foods in bad structural shape and very close to the canal. When the contractor began hammering the bulkhead in, the building cracks were exacerbated. On the Whole Foods side there is an old bulkhead with new soil placed behind it. When new soil is put there it must be compacted so it is strong enough to support everything. Compaction is not always done at the level needed and we see displacement of the pavers and in the soil closer to the Canal.
The way the project works, the PRPs created a trust which contracts with companies to do the work. That contract states that the contractor is allowed to select the means and methods to conduct the work. Contracts are very important in this country. EPA could not intervene because the contract was between the trust and the company, and EPA is not a party to the contract. The contractor was using a huge vibratory hammer for the installation of several sheet piles – these vibrations get transferred vertically and horizontally. There are tools that try to prevent vertical shifts and stunt it.
Ultimately, the EPA intervened because we have oversight when it comes to safety or application of the clean up procedure. By then, the contractor decided to move across the Whole Foods Site. The first time they stopped the contactor and required the contractor to use equipment that puts less energy into the ground. The second time they stopped the contractor from installing multiple sheet piles at a time. Only putting in one at a time allows for fewer vibrations and damage. The contractor and EPA have different tools that they can use. Ultimately, these changes result in slower work but safety is more important than the schedule. The vibratory hammer still causes issues, but now these are fewer.
Three days ago, there was settling on the Whole Foods side. Whole Foods had been contacted with concerns about the hammering. The PRPs were also contacted with concerns, and the contractor finally went with the tool that works more slowly but also more safely. It is still a difficult situation. We hope to be able to finish the south side bulkhead in the next few weeks. The dredging and capping pilot may then be comnpleted in February or March.
Historical Preservation Analysis for Building at Nevins & Butler Streets
The EPA is working on answering whether this old building formerly owned by NYC is of historic value and whether it should it be preserved. There were letters to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) – EPA was going to get an expert architect and hear what SHPO said regarding making it a landmark or not. The EPA cannot do anything more than they are required to do by law. In consultation with experts will try to pick what is best for the project and community. NYC had a walkthrough of the building with SHPO in December. EPA consulted with SHPO before and after. This information is a head’s up and is all based on up-to-date info.
EPA is leaning toward the following:
- All the features will be architecturally entered by photograph to prepare for the work on it.
- EPA is asking NYC if the façade can be preserved.
If you have different opinions or something, feel free to take it up with the EPA while they continue.
Questions and Answers
CAG Member: Who are all the players involved in the delay at the 4th Street basin?
EPA: The (PRPs) Trust, Design Engineer – Geosyntec, Contractor, Engineer
CAG Member: Was the engineering work prescriptive or performance-based?
EPA: More of performance-based. EPA became aware of the problem, looked at the engineering fact – not looking at the contract, but the safety of personnel and property required action.
CAG Member: How much additional time will this cause?
EPA: Would have preferred to have it done in September. EPA has installed a good number of the bulkheads, but it is a delay from November and now it is January.
CAG Member: Because this is a pilot, will it affect the rest of the Canal clean up?
EPA: The EPA is not going to allow PRPs to fall that far behind. The engineers feel a lot of pressure, and it is Christos’s job to make sure they find the best approach.
CAG Member: Will getting property-owner cooperation make everything take longer?
EPA: We do have the cooperation of those groups for this site. For the building that is not Whole Foods, they have moved but are still involved
CAG Member: Wanted to point out property owner cooperation – for instance before the Whole Foods came around – to allow more things to happen in this area? Are we putting more stresses on the cleanup to the PRPs as rezoning and other decisions occur? New risks have been identified, why don’t we clean up first before allowing additional development?
EPA: This is something for the rest of the CAG to discuss. EPA will be building a new wall and has the cooperation of property owners. We always have problems but we find ways to solve them.
CAG Member: If someone develops a canal-side property now, in fairness to the PRPs – if they’re going to contribute more environmental impacts do they have to abide by the new agreements?
EPA: EPA’s goal is to finish with agreements up and down the canal. EPA is already planning and work will take place. We will deal with any problems the best way possible.
CAG Member: The property owners are not the PRPs. 4th Street needed new bulkheads because they weren’t deep enough to withstand the dredging. Now the new bulkheads are narrower and down the canal.
EPA: 4th Street needed new ones because they weren’t deep enough to withstand the dredging. Need some space to install it. Yes, new bulkheads do result in a two-foot loss in the canal, but we’re giving back more space by opening up other parts of the canal.
CAG Member: Can we have someone who is an expert talk to us about the bulkheads?
EPA: If there is anything specific EPA cannot address, there can be arrangements made to have an expert come in and discuss it with the CAG.
CAG Member: Why did SHPO change their mind about the building?
EPA: SHPO sent out a letter about the historical importance of the building. They called on the city to find alternative locations. EPA made clear that EPA is in agreement because they are allowing the City to build on that location and can’t be superseded. What EPA heard from SHPO is that SHPO didn’t feel it had to be preserved and neither did NYC Landmarks. Knowing what the law is, EPA advised recordation and preservation of the pediment. If someone tells EPA differently, they can include that, but this is the best that can be done with what EPA has heard up to now.
CAG Member: Borough President Eric Adams and area neighbors noted at the end of 2017 that they wanted it to be preserved and thought it would be.
EPA: Based on what we have, this is the best outcome for the neighbors with the power EPA has. That may not be your opinion, but it is not necessarily what happened.
CAG Member: At both CB6 and the CAG Land Use Committee, at the north end of the canal because of the retention tank and rezoning, the biggest issues were noise and preserving the building. Council Member Levin meeting asked that a study be done at North end of the canal to look at preserving the building. There appear to be two things moving on parallel tracks.
EPA: EPA has not received a letter from the Brooklyn Borough President or Council Member Levin. EPA requires a letter saying what is required from Superfund law. If the building is excluded from the Superfund site, it would not matter to the EPA, but as of right now it is. SHPO advised EPA that Superfund does not require preservation, but does require mitigation and recordation. EPA has heard that the City wants to bring the building down, but EPA has suggested preserving the façade of the building. It is EPA’s job to respond to what the footprint will look like so design plans can go through.
CAG: Question for DEP – why is it so important to change the sewer at a permanent loss of neighborhood culture, parking?
DEP: Cannot answer officially, perhaps the cost associated with it.
CAG: For clarification, what are you proposing to preserve or save? Which parts?
EPA: Makes sense with architects and SHPO to try to preserve the pediment – not reconstruct it – it might not be well received by others, but that is EPA’s recommendation.
CAG: Section 106 requires that all the stakeholders and agencies sit down together – the Navy Yard took a year of meetings to learn about what mitigations there are – seems like a real Section 106 process would include all the agency admins, any stakeholders, to discuss what can be done.
EPA: This can take many years – we have followed all the proper processes. This is for one building. The conversations across experts and agencies have taken place. I am the bearer of news for a lot of people who don’t want to hear. This is a head’s up.
Facilitator: The CAG can look to facilitate a process to get all the right people together, perhaps at the next CAG meeting.
CAG: Section 106 requires community input – can’t we have a meeting to have the process explained and my voice heard?
EPA: This works as that. Write letters. Depends on the process. The community has to make a case. SHPO in the letter talks about the historical nature of the building. It so happens that the final recommendation is recordation and not preservation. EPA has given the head’s up – if the CAG thinks it is worth meeting with other organizations, it can be set up. The 106 process is continuous consultation. Then we ask the experts, is this a building that has to be preserved? EPA heard no from SHPO and some worst-case scenario that the building would come down. EPA asked advice and based on that advice, it doesn’t necessarily need to be preserved. EPA can suggest that a mitigation of impact is to preserve the wall with the pediment. If anybody here has the political power to prevent building demolition, EPA is on board.
CAG: Amendment to this, can we include John Vetter, the archaeologist, with the idea of parameters in mind, to shape the process and what can be done?
EPA: I have talked to Vetter. According to him the process has taken place.
CAG: This doesn’t seem adequate with regard to Section 106. A different 106 would put together its own group.
EPA: The City is going to do whatever it wants to do.
CAG: At the Brooklyn Navy Yard/Admirals Row, the City was going to demolish it and then all the people sat together, but the process creates a better outcome.
EPA: With one building the outcomes are fewer. One wall, two walls, three walls, or no building.
CAG: For clarification – the community’s chance of keeping the façade has more strength on a piece of paper from the EPA than if we put trust in the City Council or Borough President or Landmarks or SHPO, correct? If it makes it into an agreement between EPA and the city?
EPA: If people of power hear you all that you want the building preserved, this is beginning to sound like the best-case scenario. Put it on the agenda for next meeting, full blown plan for meeting.
CAG: Is it likely that community opinions to higher powers, is that likely to result in preservation?
EPA: Based on all the consultation between agencies, EPA has heard the building does not have to be preserved. If there is political will there, so be it.
CAG: Want to thank EPA team for being on the community side.
CAG: Needs the support on this from as many governments as possible.
CAG: Was at a meeting for DEIS which is taking comments about the facade until January 29, 2018.
CAG: Maybe we should draft a letter to all parties.
Membership report from Admin committee: At the beginning of December they received the full attendance sheet for 2017. Of the 40 CAG members, 11 attended less than half the meetings as required by the charter. Some of those 11 did not attend a single meeting. They were sent an email by Rita saying they had attended 4 or fewer meetings. Some reached out saying they’ll work to attend more meetings and 3 did not respond at all.
Admin’s recommendation to the full board of those for removal: Erica Stolz, Ute Zimmerman, Joseph Alexei, Margaret Maugenest, Maria Pagano (founding organization member), Ed Tyree, Paul Basile. Admin’s recommendation is that if a member could not attend, they should take a break and reapply when they are in a positon to engage. Last year members who did not attend any meetings were removed
CAG: Motion to remove
CAG: Some clarification – those who showed an interest can stay, those who did not respond to email should be removed.
Paul Basile and Margaret Maugenest, both in attendance, will stay active members. Founding Organization Members who have not actively attended will be placed on the inactive list, and will be reinstated once an available member is identified.
The 2018 calendar has been distributed. Several changes were identified due to holidays, but there are still a few meeting dates that need to be. One committee meeting (water quality) had to be moved because of Labor Day and then Rosh Hashanah. Committees please look at all the dates to confirm.
EPA was sent a list of questions that the CAG received from The Dredgers following the town hall meeting, is it possible to get those back before the facilitation/outreach meeting February 8th?
The EPA’s repeal of carbon rule – comment period is extended to April 26, 2018.
The meeting adjourned at 8:25
New Member: Susan worked under Mayor Lindsay and created flowcharts, moved into Gowanus the day after Hurricane Sandy. Chinatown activist in 1972 advocating to have Asians in the construction business. Now is a freelance artist.
CAG Members and Active Alternates Present
Rafael Gomez de Luna
Adam Khedouri (alternate for Brad Vogel)
Stephen Kondaks (alternate for John McGettrick)
Sue Wolfe (alternate for Sabine Aronowsky)
Other Alternates Present
Doug Sarno, Facilitator
Christos Tsiamis, EPA
Natalie Loney, EPA
Shereen Kandil, EPA