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Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street


CAG Facilitator Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:42 p.m.

Approval of minutes from the March meeting was postponed.

Project Updates

Christos Tsiamis, Remedial Project Manager for EPA, presented the updates.

The 4th Street Basin Pilot Project

After the concerns about noise and vibration damage resulting from the initial pile-driving activities, EPA directed the team to conduct future pile-driving using a Giken Silent Piler, which produces fewer vibrations and disturbances on land and buildings. Use of this new technology has been going very successfully, so contractors are finishing the piling this week in preparation of support for dredging and capping. Should be re-starting activities next week.

CAG: So you’ve been driving sheet piles?
EPA: Yes, it is very quiet – you can’t even hear it, only the engines.

Beginning in November, there was a recommendation to get this technology and we did. We will be dredging, and then capping, in this pilot.  We anticipate those activities will last through the end of the summer. The goal is still to begin dredging of the main canal sometime in late 2020. This is still within reach, even with the bulkhead delay.

Moving north, the design of the First Street basin continues. Further north, the cutoff wall for the Fulton Manufacturing gas plant will be in place from top of the canal to Union Street; the design began when National Grid was working with New York State, so EPA made some fixes and created a 50% design. Once there is agreement on all the elements, we don’t have to divide stages; the 95% design should be completed by May 2018. EPA expects a finalized order to be signed, based on the schedule, by December 2019 or early 2020.

The new bulkhead is being installed in front of existing bulkheads – the top of the new wall sticks above the water. The design was done for two reasons:  too much encroachment, and deciding to use the Giken Press at the 4th Street basin.

CAG: How tall is the bulkhead?
EPA: About 50 to60 feet total; this is part of the remediation to prevent tar from coming in.

CAG: Will that wall be vulnerable to something hitting it?
EPA: Yes, it is a thick, steel bulkhead.

There is usually a two-foot offset from existing barrier besides water.

Finishing up with designs for the First Street basin by 2019. The 95% design should be complete in a month. Regarding 4th Street – just readjusted the design, anticipate both the wall and construction will be done by 2018 and completed by 2020.

Resolution Process Issues

A number of the resolutions were not emailed to EPA in a reasonable time frame. Also, resolutions were dated much earlier than they were actually delivered, and this can cause problems in ensuring internal responsiveness. It is important that resolutions are delivered to all recipients at the same time. It is important to keep the protocol of dating things when they are sent.

Resolution regarding the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA).

John Vetter is working on the draft of the MOA and it will be presented to the CAG by May 22.

Resolution regarding the Fishing Signs.

CAG comments were consolidated, and EPA passed them to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health. They are working on them, but have not yet seen the new version. The DEC is working with Scarlett and the task force to see what is allowed and approved, and hoping to have a draft back to the CAG by the next meeting.

CAG: Why wasn’t the Newtown Creek group required to deal with NYSDEC? Why is the state taking on our signs?
EPA: The Health Department wanted to get involved – they were working on signs, so we can accelerate the process.

If the CAG provides an addendum to the EPA with recommended sign locations, EPA will put them in place as soon as EPA and DOH approve and the CAG is in agreement.

CAG: If the signs give permission to eat the crabs, we don’t want to put those everywhere. Took a photo of the Lightstone signs that say don’t do this, don’t do that; one says no fishing in this area, only in designated areas for fishing – where are the designated areas?
EPA: Those signs are on private property.

CAG: Somebody might want to have DOH or DEC give advice to the Lightstone Group with the fishing sign to get rid of the impression that fishing there is acceptable or accessible.

EPA: The CAG wants something that looks like the image they gave to EPA and DEC and is looking to get them installed soon.

CAG: Isn’t the 4th Street Basin supposed to be an archaeological site? There is also an interest in professionals who want to record what the findings are on the archaeological site.
EPA: The 4th Street Basin will be treated with the same approach as everything else.

CAG: What is the status on the land acquisition? Is there a suit?
EPA: City Council has voted on a resolution. As a result, they will start the process of acquiring the property, and that will involve appraisals of the property, then they have two years to acquire that land.

CAG: The cut-off wall – will it have an impact on the current edge? What is the design height? Is it continuous?
EPA: No, the wall will be about the height of what it is now. It will be the same height the whole way around – bulkheads are the same height.

CAG: In the City Council hearing on the resolution, Council Member Levin asked three questions about it being a $1.2 billion project, and no one else brought that up. Other Council Members said it was raising the cost to meet EPA’s expectations. It is concerning that the water will be somewhat treated, what is the apparatus that is guiding this? Would like a further cost breakdown.
EPA: The EPA disagreed with those numbers; Christos was tempted by the City Council hearing about it, didn’t agree with those cost figures because they left $750 million for the smaller tank. He doesn’t think they are the right estimates for a tank with many compartments for water to move through. Before water goes through the tank, imagine there are screens, which are supposed to remove larger debris so it doesn’t destroy the plant.

CAG: That is the definition of a primary treatment – we are getting a sewage treatment facility and no one is owning up to what it is.
EPA: Once water goes through the tank, the solids settle, the solids expand. I don’t believe flocculation is happening, EPA had asked for this, DEP said no. The solids are going to settle down the line and that is the case with everything they had until now. There is a relief valve and excess water goes through the relief valve into the canal – the idea is for the water to go back through the treatment plant.

CAG: The Flushing Tunnel foam lowering weir – is there any monitoring of that?
EPA: It hasn’t been corrected and EPA has not been following it.

CAG: Why has there been so much waste in the canal lately even though it is dry?
CAG: No one has the answer – CAG members encourage sending to others to take pictures and share with group.

CAG: Is there a requirement to protect the historic parts of the Canal, like the Carroll Street Bridge?
EPA: Yes, we consulted with the Department of Transportation; the PRP group may not be able to protect everything, though.

CAG: When you describe a tank to stop the overflow and then sit there for a few days and get flushed out, it isn’t becoming a sewage treatment plant – because they built such a huge retention tank – does the whole of Gowanus community need to know about this?
EPA: To be frank, the technical part of the decision was to have a holding tank with some ventilation that would capture the water during the storm, and after the storm passes, to release it. When we get to design, the city expressed this version of the tank whether EPA can use certain type of equipment. New York City chose to spend more money; when EPA devised the plan, they looked to the places owned by the City.  EPA has not operated a CSO in the city, but NYC came and said, this is how we are going to build it. NYC and EPA had talks about how to do it best and came to different conclusions. EPA can’t keep them from spending more money than is necessary.

CAG: Who is Emily Lloyd? When something was going to cost some amount and EPA threatened some costly amount of damages – it’ll come out of the city funds – that’s the rate payers, everybody in this room is potentially a rate payer, do they want this rezoning to go through? Is this all a connected way to get money from us for something we don’t want?

CAG: It’s going to rain an inch or two tonight and there will be a CSO and that plant it will go into is the canal – it is easy for us to forget – understanding this tank is going to do what it says it is going to do. When water is still, the dirt settles like a river delta, we know what is in the water. In a few hours in the tank it will settle, we can’t just pump it out again.
EPA: Sewage will end up at the Red Hook treatment plant, except the solids that settle, particles that have oils, we try to keep those from settling in the canal. When EPA gave NYCDEP the figures, it added up to a five-million-gallon tank, and now it is an eight-million-gallon tank proposed.

CAG: Council Member Levin should be invited to the CAG. It is highly unusual that $1.2 billion was given to such a small part of the city, and why is it so expensive? On behalf of my organization, many member organizations on the CAG are able to lobby on behalf of CAG, but they seem to surround themselves always with the same two or three groups that knew about it and lobbied for their own interests. They could’ve said hey, if you want to speak, do it. We cannot have just the two or three organizations to speak on their behalf.  People in those groups were at the CAG committee meeting I was at the day before and didn’t mention it. We need to share information with each other.

CAG: With an inch of rain in an hour, the city uses that for rainwater, not solvents, but if we have heavy rain for 2-3 hours, how long until is it at capacity and at what point does it overflow during a heavy rain and what happens to the overflow?
EPA: 47-48 overflow events estimated in a year; the tank would capture all but six or seven events in a typical year. Right now you see waste on top of the canal 47-48 times. After this, you should only see six or seven overflows a year. In that case, we’re going to capture 10 million gallons.

CAG: The rain makes it a mixture of sewage and particles and rain.

CAG: EPA has come up with something better than in the past but it seems like things are going to change more and have different groundwater flows and that should also be included in this plan so that it isn’t insufficient 50 years from now.

CAG: The cost of this thing if it is tax or ratepayers – I was curious about how Sandy changed things, because shouldn’t this experience be about the same amount of water? It is important to address the inequity in the political processes in this room, and doesn’t want opinions represented on their personal behalf as being on the CAG.
EPA: We are the overseer of the project and came up with the action plan and are overseeing it. We can tell you that there are not political pressures being put on EPA by anyone. The EPA weighs CAG comments from anyone equally, judged solely on the arguments made, and will take responsibility. We do not want to lessen the value of your comments, and at the end the decisions will be made by EPA. The Council Members can come and visit the EPA – there are pressures but that is not how they make their decisions. All along, from the advisement of the plan to now, Christos was never asked to change anything. The only aspect EPA did not agree with NYC on was locations; everything else, no one has interfered. Christos as engineer and Project Manager of that design is still in charge.

In response to concerns about who was invited to Levin’s meeting, Doug Sarno noted that rather than point fingers, it is better to have a conversation about how the CAG can organize itself to work as best and collegially as we can. We missed our opportunity to have our annual meeting in January to talk about the organization and any issues that needed to be addressed. It is important to handle this directly. There are plans to cut the public part of the next meeting short and spend an hour or so on these internal issues. The Facilitation Committee has suggested doing this every few meetings until we are comfortable that the issues have been addressed. We will end the formal session and allow time for folks to leave, but it will not be a private session. We will send out a description of the issues that have been raised to the Facilitation and Admin Committees and ask that they collaborate on preparing for this.

A question was raised about the presence of a videographer. It was noted that this is a public meeting, so everyone can be taped. A question was raised about the need for release forms, and the CAG will explore more about this issue and any needed requirements.

Committee Reports

Facilitation/Outreach Committee

Took the five passed resolutions and reformatted them into a common template; the CAG needs to agree on a common template.  We may have a different kind of format for different types of communication.  If it is a letter, we need to have the letterhead, the date, the tagline/mission, summary of what is being recommended. Red font is what gets filled in, with the “To”: that is who the resolution goes to and the CCs are at the bottom

Resolutions shouldn’t be sent out from an individual email.

The Facilitation Committee had to make this work quickly, but we’re going to set up a way to do it with one email.

Once a resolution passes, it is from the CAG, not the specific committee. There had been press inquiries about the fish sign committee, and we needed to have someone who could talk about it and it made sense to have someone like Chrissy from Riverkeeper talk to the press.

Going to send around the template and then Facilitation Committee is going to come up with a solution based on the comments on it. Next meeting we should approve a template.

Archaeology Committee

Peter, Maryanne, Louis, Marlene, and Brad attended. When objects were removed from the 4th Street site, people wanted to see the objects after excavation.

EPA:  If there is something of importance, we will stage it.

Land Use Committee

Short meeting on how to implement the community visioning resolution moving forward – the process needs a strong facilitator – part of it would be deciding some locations for where the pool should go.  We did talk about job opportunities, so regular jobs are built into Superfund.

EPA has a Superfund Jobs Training Initiative and we will be exploring how that might apply here at Gowanus.

Water Quality and Technical Committee

Talked about DEP costs, signs, actually wanted breakdowns from City Council on costs. Safety and safety access in and out of the water.

Other CAG issues and announcements

EPA:  The archaeological process has been going on for some time, and the MOA is coming in May. Christos received many comments about preserving the building – these comments are included in that as part of the consultation. John Vetter is working on it too, and it will be reflected in the MOA.

Red Hook, Monday, April 30, at 6 PM – meeting about ballfields relating to contamination. EPA and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation did a consent order to do a cleanup on those fields, and then the soccer and ballfields got tested and there’s an update meeting on that. Besides lead, there are PAHs present, so it might be worth some CAG members going.

The meeting adjourned at 8:30 PM.

CAG Members and Active Alternates Present

Diane Buxbaum
Marlene Donnelly
Nathan Elbogen
George Fiala
Louis Kleinman
Stephen Kondaks (alternate for John McGettrick)
Hildegard Link
Linda Mariano
Andrea Parker
Peter Reich
Chrissy Remein
Triada Samaras
Buddy Scotto
Brad Vogel
Maryann Young (alternate for Rita Miller)
Susan Yung

Other Alternates Present

Mark Karkowski

Others Present

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

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