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Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street


Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:35.

The May meeting summary was approved with no revisions.

Project Updates

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

The Fourth Street Basin pilot study at the top of the canal is being conducted under order with National Grid for dredging of sediments and reconstruction of the cut-off wall in the study area.  Approximately 12 feet of sediment was removed at an efficient pace. Some additional areas still need to be addressed, which have enough tar with potential to move upward and overwhelm the cap to be placed there. We studied this aspect at the 7th Street Basin pilot three years ago, and because this is also a pilot study, we did not feel like it makes sense to bring back the equipment and go after these materials at this time. We will do that when we begin the actual cleanup project. Surprisingly, the native sediment is very compact. We cannot use the buckets that dig up the soft-sediment to remove this native sediment, so as a result the process is going slower.  This lesson informs us how to approach the middle/main part of the canal. Because of the compacting, the way we’re approaching it with sand now, the process is going slower but moving nevertheless.

The engineers used new techniques to estimate contamination in the native sediment with a potential to migrate. From what we can see visually of the material, the conclusions from indirect measures proves to be that we are correct. We are learning a lot of lessons, and the pace changes according to difficulties we encounter. EPA has done a couple of excavations,  and once we’re done with that we will begin the cap, targeting the end of summer now, not June, because of the need to excavate different material. One thing we will be trying there is two ways of laying the cap – a mixture of sand and clay, then sand and activated carbon and then sand.

We will also explore how to install the cap, what is the proper technique, so this process will take time. There are two methods, 1) hydraulic, placing material out of a pipe like a sprinkler that moves back and forth, and 2) mechanical cappingusing a barge and bucket (like ones used during dredging) and placeing deposits of cap material into the water

We will try both methods side by side to decide which one to use during the full installation. This is the work remaining on the pilot; there are still lots of problems to be solved, but we’re engineers and we like problems.

The EPA has been in discussion with the PRP engineers and have recommended a different approach to meet the timeline for a February 2019 design completion date. They are allowed to submit designs a little later in April 2019, but they must hire a construction engineer up front instead of waiting until the end of the design and going to bids. So this new option means having a construction group onboard, accepted, and ready to go as soon as the design is complete, and will bring results in how quickly we can begin construction. We should start in early 2020 rather than later in the year. Dredging at the top of canal should start by 2020.

CAG Member: What is the structure logic of making the cap flat opposed to how sediments are historically wavy?
EPA: To control the cap from an engineering standpoint.

CAG Member: Mixing the native soils with what? Concrete?
EPA: When contaminated with tar and the potential to move up, in the field we mix it with concrete, but we did not do it in this study, we removed it – in the main canal, we’re going to solidify it. Only for dredging and capping.

CAG Member: Which PRPs have to submit by April for design phase?
EPA: All the PRPs have a trust and have hired companies to handle the technical aspects. National Grid is the group under obligation for the design

CAG Member: What about the cutoff wall?
EPA: The cutoff wall is a different order.

CAG Member: How do we establish access for the community to use and see the relics from what is pulled out of the Basin?
EPA: The items that the archaeologist deems to maybe have significance will be able to be seen until there is a final word on that. What happens is that different organizations, different interests are custodians of those items – like the McGinty truck or carriage wheels – and the items will eventually have to be disposed of or given to an interested group. The community might want some of the items and EPA will let people know what is available.

CAG: Would like to suggest Brooklyn Historical Society as a great repository.
EPA: There will be word on how to find homes for and break down these items. We are overwhelmed by the work to be done and this is one of them. Suggestions are welcome and you can tell groups to make a connection and EPA will figure out how to move forward.

CAG Member: [About the MOA on historical preservation] Are you waiting to see what happened with the canal before making more decisions?
EPA: You might remember that the MOA was circulated to the CAG between EPA and SHPO in consultation with other parties. Brad Vogel (CAG member) and others sent comments, some are good and being looked into to see what is appropriate and are able to be incorporated. NYC had MOA comments and we received a letter from the DEP. The Regional EPA administration had reached out to DEP. The comment letter from the commissioner to EPA, there are three to four options the city has presented. The city proposed that during demolition the contractor save as much of the old bricks and elements as possible and then try to reconstruct the two walls on the Nevins and Butler Street sides. The letter proposed 30-50 feet but the 20 feet comes from EPA (DEP did not propose that amount). What we have in the MOA is 30-50 feet on the other side and 20 feet of salvage.

CAG Member: Is this an official public comment period?
EPA: There is not anything determined by law but in the spirit of consultation, EPA will take comments until July 3.

CAG: Could you share the city’s comments with the CAG?

CAG Member: Can we have an extension on the EPA comment period?
EPA: We will consider that.

One of the comments is about the Area of Potential Effects. Is the impacted area in this document posted purely on canal side or is it going to be related to the rest of the dredging? The document is a little ambiguous and we need to make a decision on that. We might just decide on the canal-side property and then later deal with dredging impacts. Who would be the signatories, how is it enforceable, agreement between EPA and SHPO memorializing details of how EPA will comply with the National Historic Preservation Act. It doesn’t have to come through the document. The June 2016 agreement with NYC is about how the clean up is carried out / designed so they don’t have to deal with timing out the project and staying on task, etc. SHPO and EPA both signed this agreement. We have a format of this agreement and can have another in same format specific to what we decide. It is not a legal document to dictate what we do but it is a consent order with those groups. The National Grid consent order for construction of the cutoff wall and cleanup of the park, the portion of the property that will not be occupied by the City’s tank.

In the agreement we negotiated in 2016, this was almost more complicated – the summary is in paragraph 2 and takes more than a page and describes what’s being done by whom. Should thank the city, state, and National Grid on working on this and deals with addressing each group’s concerns. It was a real collaborative effort.

There are a few things kicked down the road. There are not many hard deadlines in it because things other than the wall are contingent upon if/when NYC acquires the property. Requires the City to report dates based on that and things will then fall into place. Then the question becomes how the temporary and permanent park gets built, because we don’t know and things aren’t clear. National Grid will give us workplans for it being designed and the siting of the temporary park and once EPA gets consent plan from them on that it will talk about dates, sequencing, size of park, location.  Then we will know about the temporary pools. It doesn’t say a lot yet on those things, it is just a master framework. We’ll be back soon with information on demolishing, shutting it down, etc. It’s going to take a number of years but there is a roadmap.

CAG Member: At what point can we ask the groups involved to present a more comprehensive presentation?
EPA: At this point there has only been a walk-through and no schedule of activities. We want National Grid to begin designing but don’t want them to have to complete that design if the tank is going to go in the park. The contamination in some places means different work. That timing will affect the temporary and permanent park redesigns. In six or eight months we’ll be back telling you.

CAG Member: Did you all look at temporary pool locations?
EPA:Informally, there was a walk-around. We know the Con Ed facility and the open spaces and next to Wyckoff Gardens. Instead of the community going to the pool, bring the pool to the community. There was a proposal to put the pool floating in the canal. We’ve asked everybody to bring in ideas – the time to solicit locations is still running.

CAG: If you were to use the Wyckoff parking lot – would it be above ground or below ground?
EPA: Above, but we haven’t talked to any residents or anything and would establish that first.

CAG Member: In the past few months we have been hearing about NYC DEP meetings at the YWCA and whomever was presenting there was adamant that this is the absolute plan that is definitely going forward – is that the case?
EPA: Have been in discussions about that and told NYC the specific recommendations and that discussion has not ended so there is still flexibility, that DEP plan is not the absolute case.

CAG Member: Would a 2021-2027 timeline seem right for the pool?
EPA: Hoping the park is closed for fairly limited time – after a season, then a demo, then a partial excavation, in-situ stabilization, then back to park platform in 24 months or so and then would be park restoration. We will be in discussion with National Grid on the amount of time it will take to clean up small section by small section; it is less than the amount of time it would take to put a tank there building a very deep hole. So we don’t believe it would have to be there for 6 or 7 years. If the tank goes in the park and it turned out the temporary pool was needed for longer than that, there is a maximum time in the agreement because National Grid didn’t want to commit to endlessly providing a pool if the city was moving slowly. It is not necessary to nail down every contingency plan to put this order into place.

CAG Member: Wyckoff was given up to developers.
EPA: Yes, 3 years ago. It seems likely if NYCHA gives it to developers there could be room because it is fungible and then could be good location for temporary pool.

CAG Member: DEP is coming in with another retention / design plan – we have all these things moving along and digging up existing pool, 8 million gallons, dredging, etc. what are we looking at in order to properly comment on it all? When will there be a design for the headhouse for us to look at?
EPA: We don’t have the expertise to look at the architecture of the building – our disagreement is that what we’re trying to do is find a site that is smaller than the site proposed. There are ways to use it for the benefit of the community – when is that going to happen? We had those meetings and weren’t getting anywhere.

CAG: What do we do as a community member?
EPA: We can only rely on legal authority – wait for a month or so and I expect NYC to address those comments – it’s their legal responsibility. If not, I can send them a directive that you either have to remedy or have penalties.

As far as visioning goes, if the community wants to convey how the building should look – bigger, larger, taller, wider, fits in with fabric, etc. would provide direction. EPA wants to carry out the engineering functions and have the least impact to the community and that’s the source of the disagreement, so while EPA works on that and how tall it should be, let them know. Let them know this does or does not meet the community’s concerns.

CAG: Most of us don’t have engineering background needed to figure out what goes in this and the needed size.
EPA: There is flexibility; you can comment on if you want it tall or if you want it low and the looks of it. We believe the size can be decreased – EPA shared that information and wants to follow the schedule based on order and let the city know.

CAG: DEP did come back in May given the SHPO order? When can we expect a new design based on that?
DEP: The MOA has significant impact on the design – it is in flux right now.

CAG: Cost and coordination. $100 million, when will we get a better idea of when we’ll get a better cost estimate.  Friends of Thomas Greene Park thought that was low. If the tank goes in the park, National Grid’s responsibility diminishes and the city would do the tank construction and obligations change. It is a plus/minus 80% price change, and that’s just a baseline cost. From 30 years in Superfund and cost from PRPs those costs are generated by National Grid’s engineers and up to them to share what they pay with the community or not. It is a financial assurance security estimate to make sure they reserve enough money to cover the high end of an estimate.

CAG: How can you share the CSO tank and the park clean up – how is that being coordinated – combine the processes – only one staging area right now?
EPA: Both of the orders require us to coordinate/cooperate, and the reason we do this is so we can decide who does what and penalize them if things don’t work out. As we get in different design plans, the timing and cleanup is TBD but all required and that’s what is important.

CAG: The visioning is determined on eminent domain – has that project started? I live at 280 Nevins, will there be anything done to change the plume – seems to be migrating?
EPA: The direction of water and flow has mapped out the direction and it is generally toward the canal and as it moves toward the canal the plume gets deeper. The state has investigated and knows the extent of it and the sources. NYC filed a preliminary motion in recent weeks that starts the court process for eminent domain.

CAG: DCP released framework surrounding plan – there will be tall buildings – to put the tank in sight of new tall buildings – so if you are looking at rezoning framework that will affect things – should look at opposite side of canal more.

CAG: Engineers often look at functionality – aesthetics are our lives – they go together – don’t you think?
EPA: Agreed.

No Fishing Signs for the Canal

NYSDOH, NYDEC, and EPA have been working on signs in response to the CAG resolution requesting signs similar to those placed at Newtown Creek. EPA communicated the CAG comments with DOH.

NYSDOH: Based on comments, there were concerns about the fish advisory. One of the issues is that there is no DOH data on Gowanus fish, but because of the safety issues, this is a blanket sign that works based on whatever is in there. This is a draft – we want to work with everyone to make something viable. If folks don’t feel like it represents their interests, there is another design we could use as well. If you want a fish advisory sign, here is a copy of the Hudson river sign currently printed on aluminum from Troy to Rockland County.
CAG: General changes – don’t want it restricted only to “during dredging” and eliminate the “no boating.”
EPA: There are people who can work around the dredging schedule for boating so we don’t want to put that burden on the community. The advisory is not because of dredging, it is because of the state of the canal.

CAG: Why don’t you have any condition on the water quality of the canal?
EPA: DEC hasn’t been able to collect fish in this area so EPA has produced the data.
DEC: If that is what was in the report we saw, there weren’t very many data points, so it felt like the current Upper Bay advisory was strict enough.

CAG: Original reason we wanted these signs was that we wanted community members not to eat the fish. Are you familiar with the Newtown Creek signs? We think that sign is great and we worked with those people.
CAG: The people on Columbia or Valentino pier need more than signs to stop catching and eating fish.
CAG: Representing Red Hook Houses, we won’t fish if we’re educating the residents. It is the responsible parties’ responsibility to get this information to residents and then they’ll see the signs and connect it. When the dredging is going on how is it impacting Buttermilk/Gowanus?
EPA: It’s not the dredging, dredging has no effect and that’s what we have to communicate – we had mentioned the issues of the fisherman in Red Hook five years ago.
CAG: Need to re-integrate the work of the EPA with those in housing because the kids are growing up.

CAG: Is there an unsafe condition hotline number that could go on the sign? Anything unusual that we witness to call in?
DOH: If EPA has that number, we’re happy to put it on the sign.
EPA: Could say report a condition, file complaint, the scan-code has the DOH fish thing which is more informed than any sign.

CAG: Not sure why I never got an answer about why DOH/DEC doesn’t look at Gowanus water?
EPA: DEP regularly tests the water but would require very extensive and expensive study to say how many of each species you can eat and wasn’t part of this investigation.

CAG: The Water Quality Committee identified a set of preliminary locations for the signs. We are looking primarily at street ends. Send an email back to Water Quality if you have any further ideas.

CAG: Who is paying for these signs? Why is DOH’s name on it? Is that necessary?
DOH: It is if you want a fish advisory.
EPA: PRPs will pay for them.

CAG Member: Doesn’t need to say ”during dredging.”
EPA: That’s already gone. Goal is to be as unrestrictive as possible.

CAG Member: It should be in multiple languages
CAG: Get rid of the dredging image.
CAG: DEP CSO signs make it about $5K/sign – if they’re super garish people will steal them and then understand they shouldn’t fish and then they can be sold at the Gowanus Souvenir Shop.
CAG: Could be good to put an image of the canal on the sign.
DOH: Lots more open water on the Red Hook side – there are fewer contaminants in those fish because it is more open than the enclosed canal. It has not seen specific data and has been to that pier. It is likely that the Upper Bay advice is sufficient for that area.
CAG: Not just Valentino, straight down Columbia is also bad – outreach in general is good.
DOH: We have 400 miles of signage to deal with so know how hard it is to maintain and place signs but this cannot be the only communication tool that happens. Should consider other ideas like placemats in a diner, brochures, special languages, whatever it is, more has to happen.

CAG: There’s a group of three women trying to find fish data – can you work with them? There’s no baseline measure for the State Department of Oceans?
DEC: Will look into it.

Sign comments move forward, do not need a motion. No fishing, no crabbing, no swimming, because it is a Superfund site. Remove during dredging. Find a better picture to use. Include additional languages: Spanish, Chinese (Sunset Park dialects), Haitian, French. References/links to EPA and DOH for specific types of questions and comments.


Archaeology: no July meeting, no leadership committee member identified yet.

Land Use: Peter Reich will be the CAG representative/liaison to Gowanus Visioning Process (unanimous from committee) – quorum to vote on that, passes 8 in favor, 3 abstentions – had a meeting July 3. Hildegaard Link is the representative to the leadership committee.

Water Quality/Technical: Covered the sign and the leadership; Marlene will be the representative to the leadership committee with Eymund as the backup.

Outreach: Has not yet re-formed.

The meeting adjourned at 8:45.

CAG Members and Active Alternates Present

Jerry Armer
Sabine Aronowsky
Karen Blondel
Dave Briggs
Eymund Diegel
Marlene Donnelly
Hildegaard Link
Linda Mariano
Margaret Maugenest
Andrea Parker
Peter Reich
Chrissy Remein
Maryann Young (alternate for Rita Miller)

Additional Alternates Present

Mike Dulong
Mark Karkowski

Others Present

Doug Sarno, Facilitator
Christos Tsiamis, EPA
Brian Carr, EPA
Natalie Loney, EPA
Dawn Hettrick, New York State Department of Health
Audrey VanGenochlen, New York State Department of Health

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