Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street
Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:35 p.m.
Christos Tsiamis, Remedial Project Manager for EPA, presented the updates.
The 4th Street Basin Pilot Project
Planning on starting the dredging pilot by end of March. The new equipment for driving sheet piles was going to be available for a limited time. When vibratory hammers were initially used there were problems like cracks in the pavement and issues caused by the vibrations of the hammer. In the canal, near where we operate, the EPA wanted to use a piece of equipment that is a silent press. It has an arm and with sheer power pushes the sheet pile through the soil into the subsurface. There’s a small auger next to the sheet pile that softens the ground as it goes and creates minimal vibration. EPA was not able to use this equipment until the equipment became available. Began dredging Thursday and Friday of last week.
EPA learned that the equipment could come via barge and they suspended the dredging work and now they’re going to use the silent press. A 50-foot portion will be tried. A segment of sheet piles on the Whole Foods side had not been driven into depth yet and will be completed with the silent press approach. 350 cubic yards of sediment was dredged before suspending work for trials with the silent press. On Wednesday, March 28, we will start using the new equipment to become familiar with it. If possible, will conduct concurrent operations to dredge and install sheet pile simultaneously. It is a little complicated, but we like complicated. The pilot study started with some modifications. Began by working with National Grid to install the wall at the top of canal on the eastern side. EPA took over once sheet pile issues became clear and asked National Grid to use the silent press and that’s what is happening there. It is important for EPA to try this equipment at the 4th Street Basin, as this is the pilot study for the remainder of the dredging process.
Historical Preservation Analysis for Building at Nevins & Butler Street
EPA distributed the letter from the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) in response to the last CAG meeting with an assessment of the City’s EIS. The SHPO letter stated that whatever is created, it has to be in the context of the historic district. In the last meeting with the city, EPA expressed vocally that they are not in agreement. Mainly, the height of the proposed building is too tall. Trying to find ways with NYC to reduce that height to fit with the surroundings in the area. EPA has asked for comments and then will at some point make a decision.
EPA is working with New York State regarding fish-consumption signs, and they have a sign prepared that will be circulated. Once EPA gets feedback, they will decide where the signs should be placed. There are also pamphlets from the New York State Department of Health about public health aspects of handling fish and wildlife.
Questions and Answers
CAG: The silent press, is that used on all types of soil? Is it very expensive? Why don’t more people use it?
EPA: Have not seen it used before except in video. It is a new technology, not every company has the ability. It is suitable for all soil subsurfaces including cobble. Sometimes with depth, it might not be possible and then it will use a small auger or water-jet to get deeper. It is suitable for areas that have buildings, congestion. In looking at data especially related to noise, they produce only 45 to 50 decibels in 35-50 feet. Within two feet of water, you don’t see the water moving. The reviews say it is good.
CAG: Is there any value in looking at the soil for what might be displaced from this sheet-pile driving?
EPA: Anything dredged will be examined for archaeological artifacts 60 feet down.
CAG: Before the signs are made, will the CAG have input?
EPA: The signs have pictures of a fish and age groups. Will be shared with the CAG.
CAG: Also the locations, will you seek input as to where people are actually fishing?
EPA: We have never seen fishing where we work – maybe a guy with a cigar in Red Hook. We can’t put the signs on private property.
CAG: Why does the sheet-piling container stop 50 or so feet before the bridge? Who is going to dredge that remaining part?
EPA: That part is going to end up being more like 20 feet, but the EPA is going to end up dredging it all. During the pilot, we’ll determine how safe it is to be so close to the bridge, or not. Most likely, from what we know, the bridge is on pylons, so we might have to build support structures first. Once we feel comfortable we will go back. The wall is being installed so sediment doesn’t flow. Ultimately, EPA will move it all.
CAG: How’s the dewatering process going for the 350 cubic yards of dredged material?
EPA: Part of the sediment will be mixed here at Public Place, part of it in the facility in New Jersey, so we can compare.
CAG: Will the fishing warning signs be in English and Spanish?
NYSDEC: If necessary, yes.
Letter requesting the EPA install Fish-Consumption Warning Signage
Originally proposed six months ago – the sample sign is from another Superfund site. The ones posted at Newtown Creek are not ADA-compliant. We have asked for signs in English and Spanish. To be put places where people have most access to the canal, not on private land. Just asking generally if we can get signs, not specifically stating where, seeking about 12 signs total.
Resolution passed as written. 19 in favor, none opposed.
Resolution to Support NYS Proposed Ban on single-use plastic bags
Initiated after Christos’s comment to address excess waste following the cleanup of the canal. There is an ask to organizations to also encourage groups to advise against single-use water bottles. Asking that we make a personal commitment to not serve single-use plastic bottles – the other is preventative for the community and canal.
Discussion on the scope of the resolution resulted in an amendment to remove the paragraph regarding water bottles, to be put into a separate future resolution, to also include plastic straws if desired. Also noted the Facilitation Committee would have authority to ensure common formatting of all resolutions and clean up grammatical issues.
Amendment passed. 19 in favor, none opposed.
Resolution passed as amended. 19 in favor, none opposed.
Resolution Regarding City of New York Water Supply Distribution Building
Discussion. The last three paragraphs are the meat:
1) we want site analysis to determine if it is structurally sound, then to indicate that the community values the building.
2) ascribes the building as important – we want community voices to say the structure is important.
3) reserves rights of the CAG regardless of DEP, because the CAG will want to speak again.
The third-to-last “whereas” on the first page should change because it’s problematic: cross out the first part so it says “demolition will result in negative cultural part” – first part opens them up to say demolition could happen
“Under no circumstance should DEP be able to demolish before…” – that should move down into the “resolve” part.
EPA: Factual mistake – EPA is not the engineer or designer. The City is doing the engineering and analysis.
A total of four friendly amendments. Amended language was read back to CAG and captured in markup.
Amendments passed. 19 in favor, none opposed.
Discussion continued as to the complexity and length of the resolution, and the fact that the actual ask was not clear. We have run into this before – where one puts so much in, it becomes less succinct or powerful. It was also noted that the CAG is no longer composing resolutions in legalese, with lots of “whereas” clauses. It was ultimately proposed that the facilitation committee be given the authority to reorganize the resolution as amended, retaining the main messages and language for easier reading and stronger impact.
Resolution passed as amended with direction to Facilitation Committee. 14 in favor, 2 opposed, 2 abstaining.
Resolution on Section 106 Memorandum of Agreement
This emerged from the last CAG meeting, in which EPA was coming forward with contracts for demolition; the CAG wants to make sure that the Section 106 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) is prepared before action is taken. The construction will have significant adverse impacts, so this is something that we want to happen to address the adverse impacts. Once demolition occurs, there won’t be opportunity to put this in the MOA to protect the archaeology.
EPA noted that things are happening fast. These locations have been known and addressed for a long time. EPA feels the community is engaged. No more specifics, Christos specifically mentioned what he thought, heard what the CAG thought, the process comes to an end. The only thing Christos sees as viable is an engineering analysis; EPA has been told by the city that the building and the facility cannot be built with the building standing there. Spell it out, explain everything you want concretely, and we will put it in the MOA. We think that parts of this building can be salvaged. We know the maximum, we want to know what the minimum is.
Discussion. MOA should be addressed with all members to discuss how to mitigate the adverse impacts; the concern is if the building is torn down before the demolition contracts, so that this actually has an effect. Everybody gets that, but it is unclear if this resolution says that is the point. Moving forward, we need to get to the point. Want the MOA in place and want the Demolition Contract to address the MOA.
If the whole building is not going to be saved, and we don’t tell EPA that we want X,Y, and Z, it won’t happen. It doesn’t change what the resolution says, but you also benefit by knowing that if you include a list of what under no circumstances should be ruined, and share it with EPA, it might be preserved. This isn’t the forum to address what specific parts you want to save. At minimum saving the façade, and if that isn’t possible, the pediment.
There was confusion regarding the binding nature of Section 106 in regard to Superfund cleanups. The CAG would like to see examples of Superfund cleanups where Section 106 was applied.
We are making something not that complicated really complicated. We are trying to say that the MOA is required and needs to be in place before the demolition, and that we support the preservation of the building. Can we get a short resolution that says that? Can we let the Facilitation Committee rewrite the resolution to say that? We’re acknowledging that the MOA needs to be in place and adhere to Section 106, and construction needs to abide by what the MOA states.
Resolution passed with direction to Facilitation Committee to revise as directed. 15 in favor, none opposed.
Resolution on a Community Visioning Process at the North End of the Gowanus
Brooklyn Community Board 6 just put out recommendations with the Gowanus rezoning, the possibility that land won’t be acquired, and the remediation at Thomas Greene Park. Given that everything is happening in a siloed manner, it is important to create a more coordinated approach.
Discussion: There was extensive conversation about current activities regarding the pool and other aspects of the Park, the many other properties also involved in this overall project, and pointing out the many different groups involved in this process. It was acknowledged that there are many complications and constraints, which just further underscores the need for a visioning process. All this resolution asks for is that a process be put in place.
Resolution passed as written. 14 in favor, 1 abstaining.
At the City Council Meeting vetting Department of Environmental Protection sewage retention tanks, it was noted that proposed costs are now $1.2 billion, and that this seems way out of line with this level of construction and should be monitored.
Facilitation Committee will meet next Tuesday at the Gowanus Canal Conservancy to finalize the resolutions.
The meeting adjourned at 8:30 PM.
CAG Members and Active Alternates Present
Michelle de La Uz
Stephen Kondaks (alternate for John McGettrick)
Sue Wolfe (alternate for Sabine Aronowsky)
Maryann Young (alternate for Rita Miller)
Other Alternates Present
Doug Sarno, Facilitator
Christos Tsiamis, EPA
Natalie Loney, EPA