Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street
Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:35.
Natalie Loney, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, presented the updates.
Fourth Street Turning Basin: the mats are currently being placed, and that should be done by the end of the month.
At the November CAG meeting, the Regional Administrator will be here, so this meeting is partially about capturing questions for Regional Administrator Lopez. Let Natalie know if there are questions for him.
Questions & Answers
CAG: DEP presented to CB6 about the retention tank site – why haven’t they presented to the CAG?
EPA: That’s a question for the CAG to pose to the DEP.
Doug Sarno: We have invited DEP to address the CAG. They could not come tonight. When asked whether or not they will still need to build the electrical substation work with the head house at the same time, the answer was yes.
CAG: Seems like there is new information at DEP, so that’s what I’d want to know.
CAG: EPA Regional Administrator Lopez casually mentioned something that could have a huge impact – a potential tunnel. Are we going to hear anything about that and when?
EPA: I’ll make note of it – I don’t know too much about the tunnel project.
CAG: If that’s going forward at the same time as Superfund and the overflow tanks, we need to know.
CAG: Riverkeeper and others are curious about progress on the proposals and substantive information.
CAG: We’d like an update and to be part of whatever design happens. This marks the second meeting (EPA Remedial Project Manager) Christos Tsiamis isn’t here, and that’s disconcerting. Part of what’s magic about these meetings is that we get to ask really technical questions and he answers those right away, and his presence is important in order for this CAG to stay informed.
CAG: What kind of tunnel are we talking about?
CAG: Storage tunnel for combined sewer overflow?
CAG: As an alternate or what?
EPA: Sounds like in addition to [the combined sewer overflow tunnel]. The Regional Administrator had a press event in July as part of the Superfund Task Force talking about success stories held at the Gowanus. Chrissy Remein was the rep for the CAG at that meeting. There was some mention of a tunnel then but haven’t heard anything since, not from DEP at least.
CAG: Through the North Gowanus visioning committee there is a link to the DEP presentation that will be sent to the CAG.
CAG: This process is moving at such a rate that they’ll be able to make it to design commission soon and then everything will be in stone. We need to make sure that the person here from DEP tonight (April Weeks) should report back that this is unacceptable.
CAG: If folks want to give Peter Reich some feedback comments about the DEP presentation he will make sure they get to the revisioning committee.
CAG: Is there any way that the CAG has any pull or push to force DEP to respond to us because what I’m hearing with that schedule and I’m saying this openly – given DEP’s overall lack of cooperation since 2010, I hope that there is some way of saying this is unacceptable and show a record of not listening to the CAG or community.
CAG: The conversation about head house and park was taken out and is now in the hands of a few – I think that was a huge, huge mistake – would plead with the North Gowanus Visioning to bring it back here – think those presentations should be with the overall CAG instead of with a small group.
Doug Sarno: Just to be clear, the conversation about the head house and park has absolutely been happening with the CAG over time. Not having Christos and not having DEP at the past few CAG meetings – that’s what we’re talking about here and that is a change for the CAG. If you’re talking specifically about the head house design, that’s a different conversation and the CAG has provided a lot of input to that process.
CAG: CB6 does have reps on the North Gowanus Visioning group – they said it was only 30% design complete and thought it was a longer timeline. The important thing we at CB6 talked about is that the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) hasn’t really been addressed. Is it possible Administrator Lopez would be willing to talk about that to see what the MOA asked for and the design phase and timeline?
EPA: It is still in progress – we will make a note that this is a real concern.
CAG: Has the EPA taken or made any input about the Union Street Bridge to the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), or DEC?
EPA: Quite a while ago, yes; have we had recent conversations? Don’t believe so. With RTA-1 there’s going to be a continued dialogue with DOT and DEC.
CAG: As to the North Gowanus Visioning process – 1) remember we have a CAG liaison to the process in Peter Reich – 2) those representatives of the City don’t have to come here (to the CAG or visioning group) the way they would with the Community Board. So let’s make a point of reporting back and let’s invite them.
CAG: The information you are putting on the site is from the North Gowanus Visioning – last week we said that was inappropriate – is that what you put on the site?
Peter (CAG Liaison to Visioning process): The form we tallied from was distributed.
CAG: Is that information that you have as original – is that number right or is it being updated/corrected, or are you sticking with what you tallied?
Peter: No one is sticking with anything, we continue to seek input. Regardless of who sends it in, it gets added to the tally. What DEP presented is public and on the web and we will distribute the link. It is mostly diagrams and pictures – takes about half an hour to absorb it, if you feel anything about any of it, send in comments. This was the DEP second take – they listened to what they heard people say, and they have modified it and they’ve started listening to what people say, albeit, slowly, but they are listening. Look at the presentation and provide DEP feedback on it.
CAG: With the north region, last meeting we felt that that information was so limited that NYC took whatever limited information it was based on, but did you tell the City it was complete?
CAG: They knew it was preliminary, there was a tally and notes from facilitators, they were told it was not complete, fill out the survey and get it back. This group (the North Gowanus Visioning group) was formed because the CAG is not necessarily representative of the people who use the pool, the community.
Doug Sarno: We don’t gain anything from pointing fingers. Think of this group as part of the community. How this comes across is that everyone is in a competition. The role of the CAG is to connect to and coordinate with the whole community, not to necessarily be in charge of every activity.
CAG: A lot of people didn’t want the Gowanus Station torn down at all – in the summary it said that was an option. If it was misinformation, we’re losing out. They look at prestigious groups as a reliable group and there are more voices out here that did not agree to that.
Doug Sarno: When Peter asked for input from CAG, not one person responded or filled out the survey. This group is participating in an additive process; the more we can do that, the better we’ll be. This is a complicated process; a lot of people are struggling at all levels of the community, all levels of government to consider the interests and concerns from the whole community. The CAG has always been a place to come to have thoughtful conversation. How does the CAG encourage DEP and EPA to be back at the table with a specific request? We will resend the participation survey link to the CAG.
CAG: Is there something we need to know about if the EPA cannot come out as much as they used to be able to?
EPA: We have a commitment to share information with this community. Christos’s presence is clearly missed. Once we get to another decision point, i.e., the MOA, as we have more technical information, clearly the CAG is looking for more participation particularly regarding next steps – notice we left Brian out, but he and Christos will return when they have information to share.
EPA: Wanted to reiterate what Doug said – the acting Superfund division director and I (Natalie) participated in the visioning session and there were a lot of faces I hadn’t seen, and perspectives I hadn’t heard, and historic context about where the pools used to be, and what I’ve said from the beginning is the CAG is the expert on the community, and the EPA is the technical expert. We want to make sure that we are always open to the larger community apart from people within these walls. We want to encourage as many perspectives as possible because we want the project to be supported by everyone.
CAG: Everything is happening at unpredictable paces. Three weeks ago, DEP hadn’t changed so we weren’t able to do anything, and then they went to CB6, and then this morning, I got a link and now we’re all on the same page and have the same information. Before anything is finalized, the next community meeting probably won’t be until early 2019. Come to that meeting. No one is trying to withhold or decide anything before anyone else.
Fish Warning Signs
The New York State Department of Health (DOH presented the revised sign design, ;they reviewed the proposed CAG changes and don’t think there is a problem with any of them. Is there anything anyone wants to discuss?
The different languages currently present are placeholder until we do a formal translation, but those are the languages that will be used.
Questions & Answers
CAG: Change the Spanish “sin” because that means without.
CAG: Was the point no fishing or was the point do not consume fish?
CAG: Yes, there’s a focus on do not consume.
CAG: As a committee we worked to compromise to bring it forward so DOH would be able to finalize these signs.
CAG: The fishing part is a concern.
DOH: I know this consumption vs. no fishing and lack of data has been something that we’ve been concerned about. We talked about the public health assessment – having a specific-to-Gowanus fish advisory. Currently there isn’t enough data, so one of the things we were hoping was to get more data and help from the CAG. In the past there had been some talk from the CAG of making a specific request. If the CAG makes a specific request, we would like to have the information, but we need the data. If we have the request, we can make that information available.
Dug Sarno: Lots of concerns on the fishing advisory limits – this isn’t specific to the Superfund site. That’s not what the advisory says because there’s not specific enough info from the Gowanus. DOH would support the collection of more data if someone else can do it, and then DOH can come out with a different advisory, but DOH does not actually collect the data.
CAG: If there’s no funding, why would we request it?
DOH: We have a few people in DOH – we don’t have people who go into the fish and send it to labs – there are people who can determine levels and test based on other groups’ samples.
CAG: Who made the fishing advisory?
DOH: The Bureau of Toxic Substances Assessment – sometimes we don’t have enough information to determine advisories. We would love to have more and get the information we need in order to see what has contaminants and what doesn’t, as well as which chemicals.
CAG: Why doesn’t DEC electroshock the waterway? Saying you can consume one or two a week is ridiculous.
CAG: So we’re just talking about this sign. Members of my organization would prefer for the fish (with the prohibited symbol) to simply be depicted on a plate.
DOH: Very few images are approved to go on these kinds of signs – there are different ones about touching a fish, if not consuming it but if touching it was dangerous.
CAG: I think it would be great for the water quality to ask the PRPs to test the fish.
CAG: Sometimes you can make a sign – caution fish or crab may be contaminated – no scientific requirements.
Doug Sarno: Some people here are saying they want to provide opportunity for catch and release.
CAG: What does the Heath Department do in terms of an advisory? You have to wait for these things to be tested – I am appalled at this.
DOH: Any fishing analytical data is reported to DOH from DEC Fish and Wildlife. DOH will put requests into the other agencies, but there is no actual collection from DOH for specific waterways to inform a fishing advisory. Limited resources in staff and funding is an issue. When we do get data in, it will be evaluated.
CAG: This is just a warning, right? There’s no consequence if you disregard it right? No actual law?
CAG: We went back and forth around animal rescue and animals in distress – we thought about including the hotline number when we saw animals in distress around the Gowanus in the past.
CAG: Since EPA caught and found the fish, doesn’t EPA have the data?
DOH: We like to see a work plan, because certain data will demonstrate patterns and allow for certain confidence levels.
CAG Approval of the Sign Design
The CAG sign proposal with the appropriate changes to foreign language was put to a vote:
20 for, 2 against – motion passed to finalize design of the signs.
EPA will send a shortened URL to DOH to put on the sign.
Archaeology Recommendation on the Screening Process
It was noted that there are two factual errors in the proposed recommendation as written. Most important says 12-inch screen was used, but it was done through a 6-inch screen, and in the pilot they tried a 4-,inch screen but it proved to be too small. Do we want to put this off until the author is back?
The CAG decided to table both recommendations from the archeology committee.
Land Use Recommendation on Ladder Access for Bulkheads
The CAG desires to make sure that EPA under the Record of D,ecision has the authority to replace bulkheads, and while not forcing anyone to put in access, they should let owners know that when the bulkhead is replaced, they can add a safe exit / access to the canal. There’s been a lot of work on this and it is deliberate. Ladders would work both ways.
This is one of those of those common-sense things – given rezoning, it is important to extend this to the department of city planning.
What do you mean by ramps, and how does it affect because it moves. I don’t think the ramp aspect would work. A ramp wouldn’t have to be sticking out – the bulkhead could be rebuilt so it doesn’t.
This language is included to allow for boat-launch sites, there will hopefully be some ramp sites. It substitutes for the ladder. We aren’t trying to prescribe what landowners can do, but identify some options and ways to broadly solve the problem. Three are already people who own property, and this should apply to them. Can the CAG create a letter to all the property owners?
CAG Approval of the Access Recommendation
24 for, none against, the motion passed
Dan Wiley from Representative Nydia Velazquez’s office noted there was a letter shared about the small business resource event for Superfund-displaced businesses from Wolff-Alport. Two businesses from Gowanus attended. The Army Corps of Engineers provides other support for displaced businesses currently.
We have three new prospective members, one is here tonight for an introduction, two others plan to attend next month.
There was an email about founding organizations; this concept never found its way into the bylaws. As of October 2018, we have created a list of those organizations and some language to clarify this issue:
- CAG Founding Organizations are those which are listed on the very first CAG membership list from October 2010
- CAG Founding Organizations shall maintain their permanent membership status for the foreseeable future, or until such time that it makes sense to modify their status
- CAG Founding Organizations who do not maintain attendance in accordance with CAG membership requirements will be considered inactive until identifying an individual representative who maintains regular attendance.
CAG: After the North Gowanus meeting, we tried to get a lot of NYCHA residents; why don’t we meet at NYCHA once a quarter?
Doug Sarno: This room isn’t great; CAG meetings would work better with everyone facing each other. We might want to think about another meeting place. The problem with this room isn’t the room, it is the furniture. It is really hard with round tables. Square/rectangular tables in a U shape are ideal.
CAG: Wyckoff is in rows.
CAG: When we are discussing things directly related to NYCHA, can we have those meetings take place at NYCHA? Let’s go to them. I’ve worked in CSO for 30 years, but for a lot of folks it is a snooze. Let’s not waste our social and political capital on things that aren’t super-relevant when we try to get NYCHA folks.
Doug Sarno: This is part of the function of a CAG, to figure out who needs the information and get it to them. Not everyone is going to be the same, and not everyone needs to be a member of the CAG to stay informed and be connected to the process.
CAG: Similar to how CB6 rotates – the Gowanus, although not huge, there is a diversity of people, we need to get there.
CAG: The founding member issue focuses on groups; groups can send an alternate but an individual cannot.
Doug Sarno: Anyone can come back to the CAG, but they’d have to reapply. That was baked into the system from the start.
CAG: Looking over the founding list – there’s Red Hook West but not East, there’s Wyckoff spelled “Wycoff.” Is Gowanus supposed to be Gowanus Housing Residents Association? Warren Houses was not an original member, but we’ve discussed putting them on the list – Jo Anne Brown; have been in touch with them lately and they do want to re-engage.
CAG: Our mission is to inform and advise on behalf of the community. Going different places throughout sends the important message that we are inclusive.
CAG: Sierra club is no longer active.
CAG: Sometimes our presence is misunderstood because there hasn’t been enough outreach. The community around us doesn’t always understand – as we should all be ambassadors but please explain why we’re doing that.
CAG: Are the inactive people on the email?
Doug Sarno: Past members are no longer on the member list, but they are on the master list.
CAG: When you know an organization isn’t active anymore, please send an email to Admin.
CAG: Have we ever done deliberate outreach to the artist community?
EPA: Is the Outreach Committee reporting out? Because I was going to recommend we’ve been having the conversation about outreach outside the CAG. With one more CAG meeting in 2018, we should think about a concrete meeting we should set a goal like March or April to have a different kind of meeting, it would be good.
CAG: Are you talking about a Superfund town hall?
EPA: These CAG meetings like the ones we currently have are very inside baseball.
CAG: The town hall was great but we have to continue it beyond once a year.
Nothing to report.
The resolution passed. Nothing else to report.
Going to take up the finding fish data for DOH.
A meeting is scheduled for the morning of November 9 at Fifth Avenue Committee, anybody who wants to come can come.
Eric created a Google form for membership to be put on the web site.
Can we request permission to film the CAG meeting with the Regional Administrator? We would like to put it on the CAG YouTube channel. CAG meetings are filmed all the time, we don’t grant formal permission.
The CAG Charter document linked to from the website has incorrect page numbers. Does anybody have the original so we can fix it?
Still looking for a volunteer from Archaeology to be on the Leadership Committee.
CAG Members Present
Michelle de La Uz
Mark Karkowski (alternate for Marlene Donnelly)
Stephen Kondaks (alternate for John McGettrick)
Doug Sarno, Facilitator
Natalie Loney, EPA