Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street
Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:35.
Because of the Federal government shutdown, we did not get to conduct our January year in review, so we have put that on tonight’s agenda.
Project Updates: EPA
Christos Tsiamis, EPA Gowanus Canal Project Manager, presented the updates.
The EPA is heading toward these milestones:
- Complete designs for the sheet-pile wall running from Union Street to the top of the Canal
- Design for the excavation and restoration of the 1st Street Basin
- PRPs to submit 90% design for the top of canal cleanup
- To receive NYC’s retention tank plans.
In November, EPA was working on a number of designs toward completion, then the government shutdown hit. Because the designs involve a lot of communication between the teams, the Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs), and the EPA, there is a lot of effort happening now to catch up and get to the completion of the designs. In March and April, the EPA expects to have the complete designs for the sheet-pile wall that runs from Union Street to the top of the Canal on the east side. That sheet-pile wall will prevent the top from coming down the Canal at the Fulton site. EPA and the NYC Department of Design and Construction (DDC) have been working closely on the design for the excavation and restoration of the 1st Street Basin. We expect the design to be completed in the next few weeks (after February 26). By May, EPA expects the design group of the PRPs to submit the 90% design for the cleanup of the upper canal to the top of the canal. According to the 2016 Consent Order, the City of New York is obligated to submit plans for the retention tank at the top of the canal by April, 2019.
Proposal to Use Tunnels instead of Tanks
When Pete Lopez, the Region II Administrator, was at the CAG meeting in November, he spoke about the ,NYC Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) proposal to dig a storage tunnel in lieu of the tanks. The EPA understands DEP presented this idea to the CAG during the shutdown but EPA was not present. EPA is evaluating that proposal in depth. Once EPA’s technical team and EPA’s legal team review the plans, they will bring it to the administrator. After that, the EPA will let you know how the project was evaluated and the decision on the tunnel vs. tanks.
The idea of tunnels was raised by a PRP. The process and design for the tunnels has not stopped. From time to time, after EPA makes a decision, new ideas come up from EPA or PRPs. When this has happened in the past, EPA has tried some of the ideas that didn’t work and the PRPs still paid. The EPA is evaluating the idea. EPA gets to make the decision, not the City; these issues are complex. DEP thinks of going deep and we think deep before we go.
Historic Preservation Decision of 234 Butler Street
The City now owns the lot at 234 Butler. EPA worked with the NY State Historic Preservation Office on the preservation of this building because the community felt it needed to be considered for preservation.
Back in 2017, EPA noted that the building at 234 Butler should be considered for historic preservation. The City’s position was they would preserve certain historical features but the building would be demolished. EPA came up with a way to preserve the entire corner façade – 30 to 50 feet of the Butler Street facing – and there was a draft memo of this in spring of 2018. We received comments from the CAG and lengthy comments from NYC. To preserve in place what EPA wanted would be very costly, and might not keep the building façade safe. The Regional Administrator found a way to satisfy both the City and the EPA, as well as the advisory council for historic preservation. There is a draft decision to preserve those walls. In order to address the City’s concerns about whether it was possible to keep the wall standing, they’re going to dismantle them carefully brick by brick – no wrecking ball – and then restore and rebuild with the pediment and everything and incorporate it in the new head house. What EPA will do is have the responsibility of overseeing the dismantling to make sure it is being done carefully. The time will come when the City will build the head house. Under the agreement, the City has to do it, but how it is integrated involves the community. EPA’s mandate does not include architectural elements. The City is going to have to amend the approval so it aligns with EPA work.
Sponge Park and Runoff Alternatives
EPA has repeatedly asked for data from the City about the success of the Sponge Park, and has not received it. Based on what the monitoring data shows, the EPA can consider it on more sites. To the City agencies here (DEP, DCP), please note different mechanisms for runoff. High Level Sewers at 3rd Street – all the motor oils and runoff mix and run into the canal, so the EPA wondered about the Sponge Park. That may be one option on 2nd Street, and on 1st there is a vortex. EPA asked the City when they install the high-level sewers at Carroll to try different mechanisms – absorbing mats and a vortex to divide oil and water. EPA is following up. EPA is working on a project with the DDC (not Superfund) where the storm pipes are getting enlarged to prevent flooding. We asked DDC to put units on the discharge points, one is a separator and one is a mat. EPA is waiting to receive the O&M manuals from DEP because it isn’t possible to just leave the mats there.
Questions & Answers
CAG: There’s an underground flushing tunnel in London and that’s how they keep it clean – I think that’s a good idea [referring to January’s meeting and DEP’s tunnel plan]
EPA: We are looking into the specifics – we will come back and discuss soon.
CAG: With these mats, are we creating another solid waste product?
EPA: The Army Corps of Engineers has to have approval from us before they start putting the mats in. We had many comments on the mat manual – once we get responses, the City will know.
CAG: The energy requirements of a tunnel – while there is scarcity of resources, will that be affected?
EPA: Yes, pumping the same volume of water from 120 feet down will change energy requirements.
CAG: Will you review the minutes from DEP’s presentation for accuracy?
EPA: Yes, we are looking at everything.
CAG: I’m asking EPA and DEP to reconsider 234 Butler Street – it is such a dynamic architectural, Gowanus-related building. I feel like the CAG is supposed to legally be a signing party on the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), and our voices were not 100% heard or even questioned. We asked for another engineer to look at it.
EPA: We’re trying to have a balanced approach; at the same time, we want to protect the community from the environmental plight facing a polluted canal. We received very sophisticated responses, including from Brad Vogel of the CAG. I told you personally, EPA was leaning towards preserving the Nevins façade with everything there, and ended up offering something more that gives more of a presence of the building. Under the circumstances we listened to you. Finally, after considering all the information, the Regional Administrator made a decision that is the final decision.
CAG: At the worst, if the Regional Administrator goes with the tunnel, do we have to go back to the Record of Decision? And what kind of a delay does that mean for the process?
EPA: The Agency has not endorsed the tunnel. We understand the City made their advocacy at the last meeting. I read through these questions and they were many of our questions, too. Other PRPs are not on board with this yet, and the State isn’t either. There are many parties that need to be brought into this conversation. EPA was clear it was going to be tanks. There is a thing called a Record of Decision amendment. Right now we have a remedy and we’re going to go with it – if we think there is reason for something else, we are going to explain those reasons.
CAG: If at some point the tunnel becomes more appealing, will that delay the process even longer?
EPA: Yes, it may take a couple of years for the amendment, if you remember the process from the last Record of Decision.
CAG: For what it is worth, we’d like to see it all sooner rather than later.
EPA: Yes, one of the things the EPA is going to clearly talk about with the City is the timeline. By 2027 for tanks sounds good so that’s 3 years. We’re going to come up with our own analysis.
CAG: When looking at the comparison between the tanks and the tunnel – there will be a cost analysis of one item vs. another, how much will the cost-benefit analysis be considered? After you look at everything, and you decide one is better than another, will the cost-benefit analysis have anything to do with that decision?
EPA: It is all being considered – we will bring back to the CAG how we make the decision.
CAG: Between the Figliolia Plumbing on Carroll – it looks like someone has sliding bulkheads.
EPA: Langan is working on the design of the bulkhead there. We met with the property owners before the shutdown, and we expect to have progress there. It is one of the properties where people are looking to have more sustainable/environmental bulkheads and more integration to the canal.
CAG: Can you tell us the owner? Are there more than Figliolia?
EPA: Almost every property has changed hands in the past few years. Look at ACRIS. Part of the cleanup activity is done by the EPA, some of it is work for property owners. Langan is doing that work for most of the owners. In some cases, we coordinate with the state and the property owner so all three parties are working together.
CAG: When will you talk to the Administrator? What are you considering?
EPA: Everything. When Administrator Lopez was here, he expressed two concerns. First, whether there are any environmental benefits (are we gaining a lot). Second, schedule (how long will this take). Other things to be considered are construction, amount of material, constructability, given the subsurface how easy is the project, environmental concerns. We will make a list when we come back about what was considered. There will likely be a briefing at the end of March. We will be ready to give an update at the next meeting but probably won’t have a clear answer then.
CAG: When DEP came, they referred to the tunnel several times as a tank – what is the tank and what the tank will be – does that help expedite anything? And along with that, is it possible if you find that it is a viable product, do we have to wait for the design for after the Record of Decision?
EPA: As the City discussed with you in the last meeting, there’s a lot of prep work, the subsurfaces, we have to do geotechnical work – there’s work that needs to take place where we’re doing the cleanup. Our experience doing a lot of drilling and boring and pushing sheet piles that wouldn’t go through – we don’t know how long these tests will really take, so cannot jumpstart a decision. The process will just go right into the worksite.
CAG: I’m delighted that 234 Butler will be reconstructed – is there latitude if everything is designed – part of the beauty is the sky behind it, is there any ability to change the site?
EPA: No, the MOA says that it will be incorporated into the Head House building in place on that corner. Current building plans are 10-12 feet from where that is. Would need to be in a slightly different space regardless. There will be a process, the City will come back to the public before wrecking that building and take an active role.
CAG: One of the things DEP kept saying was more CSO capacity. 16 million gallons vs. 8 million gallons in the Head House tank – is there anything that says they cannot make the tanks bigger at the site?
EPA: In the words of George Santayana, “if we do not remember the past, we are condemned to repeat it.” All agencies including ours were asking for more water capture. The truth of the matter is if I [Christos] had it my way, at the time of the Record of Decision there would have been 16-million-gallon tanks. The exact size can be determined at the time. There are three dimensions – depth means it can go quite deep. There’s more than the 35 feet they’re looking at. 200 feet gets into Bedrock.
CAG: DCP rezoning keeps putting in taller buildings, will that change how much sewage there might be?
EPA: The ROD anticipated rezoning and redevelopment – some lines in there so it says development should take into account the status of the Gowanus and not re-pollute it. The way we did it with Lightstone was a situation where we asked them to remove more stormwater from Bond Street to discharge the sewer in there. Take out more and put less back in. We’re going to have to work on some kind of approach. The Gowanus Canal Conservancy is bringing the developers to the City to say they need to not re-pollute the canal. EPA is looking to see if it can repeat the Lightstone model for treatment of stormwater, separation and retention. If you look at the City proposal, 16MG is more than 12MG, but it is finite. The City says resiliency stops once the tunnels are full, so there needs to be another stop. If the City wants to change anything, it is the City’s job to approach us and tell us why. If they said we need 12MG and 5MG we would accept it, it is a simple change by 15 feet or so to their current tank plan.
CAG: Complete design for shutoff wall from Union Street to the head of canal should be done in March?
EPA: Yes, and that way we can reach the 2020 goal for cleanup of that part. We were hoping slightly earlier, but the shutdown has put us off the schedule. After it’s built, it will prevent coal tar.
CAG: Is there a reason the CAG didn’t see the draft Memorandum of Agreement?
EPA: Same as with the ROD. We take your comments and consider them as we make the decision, we don’t share our deliberations with the public. Submit a FOIA request and you will see communication between Christos and John Vetter.
CAG: As for 234 Butler Street, there do not appear to be any prudent or feasible options – this is broad, blanket language that doesn’t appear to be accurate. If you give an inch, as we have learned, a mile will be taken, and there’s a chance nothing will be preserved.
EPA: When we did the ROD, what we put there and what came out were two different documents, and there were miles in there so we could keep inches. We are trying as much as possible to satisfy the community. We have to deal with other agencies – SHPO provided comments, CAG provided comments, the document has to fully reflect the sausage-making comments and the person who signed it.
CAG: How did we arrive at the proposal while we were working through another process – is it normal for EPA to allow a PRP to come in and say they have a better solution? It seems like it has taken over the conversation – no longer about the cleanup.
EPA: 30 miles north of Syracuse, at a Superfund site in Fulton, NY, we identified an excavation cleanup and had our Record of Decision and everything already in place. The 50 PRPs came to EPA and proposed an alternative to treat in place. I made an assessment that it was not going to work – you don’t know what you’re going to encounter in the subsurface. I gave them two to three months, if it worked, I would have used it at other sites. They broke several pieces of equipment doing it, and then we went back to the original plan. Nothing precludes the PRPs from proposing other ideas, but we have to really evaluate correctly. I have experienced it and I will come in front of you and share when ready.
CAG: Do you have any way to ask about the density metric from the City? Are you looking at any of the soft changes about climate change – heavier rainfall? How far into the future are you looking?
EPA: We will discuss it among ourselves and see if it is necessary to adjust the density. Second – we are looking at green solutions, talking to owners and architects and engineers about making pieces more eco-friendly. Just today, Christos came back from the Army Corps of Engineers harbor-wide project meeting about communities and stormwater – we took a lot of that time to talk about Gowanus. I am personally very happy about what we’re hearing and what we’re doing, such as flood gates and other green and gray solutions. Excited about it, so the answer is yes. With speculative development, we look at Gowanus by Design and what the City put out. EPA was looking at Lightstone, 8 to 12 stories – what remains finite is the parcels of land – if they’re higher, we may adjust something. With regard to sea-level rise, the City recently passed legislation about resiliency for 54 inches of sea level for City Projects based on FEMA and NOAA data. Army Corps estimate is five feet of rise by 2100.
CAG: In terms of CSO related to increased density, will you let the CAG and/or City know about when you determine the volume change? Will that conversation happen behind the scenes?
EPA: There are lots of engineers and I have not had the chance to discuss it with anyone including the administrator. I will not let that happen; it would be unethical to make the change without the CAG. The City has its own deliberations and has not finalized what the rezoning or density will be yet. The EIS has not happened yet.
CAG: Archaeology is having a problem finding a repository for the items found – one person believes it should be John Vetter who finds the repository.
EPA: That is not EPA’s responsibility – we asked the PRPs to hold them – archaeologists made a determination that they’re not of historic value. John is a contractor and does not work for us exclusively. One of the reasons you’re getting it is because the items weren’t of high-level archaeological interest; it prevents us from having a PRP build a museum. We may have some leeway in the future depending on what comes from the Canal – in the meantime we have this amount of material that may move into a broader way and see what we can work out, but there are limits to what we can do. We have to work with limitations and follow the mandates of our program – two archaeologists sign off saying they’re not of importance, as a manager I have to decide to dispose of them or do what I did – one container at the site – 30,000 square feet of area on the basin floor – a lot of materials – we cannot have a ton of containers of these items without archaeological importance. There will be a programmatic agreement that shows what we can do.
CAG: Called Michael Ors – Under the NDA he can’t tell us what decontamination needs to be done to make some of the items reusable – the metal items (non-absorbent) likely just need a power-spray – the wooden wheel – it was in water – there’s no way you’ll know when the chemicals will exit and that presents a problem. The solution is disposal along the lines of if the material is contaminated or able to be decontaminated.
Annual Review of CAG Activities
Doug Sarno led this conversation. What we want to do moving forward is get the leadership team up and running and functional. We had some hiccups here and there – we occasionally had some committees not producing meeting minutes – how do we make sure everything is getting posted and some of the procedures based on resolutions – Going to take 15 minutes to discuss how to spend time and energy moving forward – what worked well, what do you want to correct, etc.
CAG: I opened up a conversation about invitations to other parties. It works well when the committee or person who proposes that follows through, but it will still be sent out by the facilitator. We should get items to you.
CAG: Been concerned about once dredging starts, will we be able to provide the community with details?
Doug: There was a hiccup with the Outreach Committee, but they are now back. There is a fundamental requirement for the CAG to be able to discuss and engage with the community beyond these meetings. There will be visible signs of work throughout the community, so the role of the CAG and how we communicate needs to be clear.
CAG: Want a clear Community Board 6 direct link to the District Manager – something EPA could access? So there’s never figuratively a misstep in communication.
CAG: We need an overhaul of everything about the CAG because nothing posted is accurate – no reference to the leadership committee, members/chairs of committees are not listed, etc.
Doug: We don’t have chairpeople. This CAG has fundamentally resisted chairs – every other CAG has chairs of the whole CAG and chairs of committees. They are not in charge per se, but they try to make things work – that’s why there’s a Leadership Committee. We need something that will help. There’s lack of procedure and there are procedures we have but don’t work. What challenges do you want the leadership team to address first?
CAG: No minutes from committees – want those to be sent around.
Doug: Yes, it is hard to catch up if there’s no trail. You’re by nature self-policing.
CAG: More Robert’s Rules of Order – often we need to call a vote and not debate for forever – some people express themselves at greater length.
Doug: If you’re going to use Rules, you need a parliamentarian – anybody in the room could say, I think we’ve discussed this enough – I do that sometimes.
CAG: We could consider a courtesy time limit.
Doug: I don’t think this is the worst of our challenges – if we bring more vetted, more edited resolutions, it may limit debate.
CAG: Can we change the minutes approval process? Could be online.
Doug: Yes, worth discussing – Leadership team, bring forth the proposal.
Doug: There’s been room to change the charter for things that require charter revisions, but the CAG has been apprehensive about making those changes.
CAG: Calendar mapping out the increased number of projects / what is going on?
EPA: For instance, we’ll give advanced notice about when the cutoff wall construction will happen.
CAG: Hard to get a grasp of what is going on, and a timeline of past and present and future would help.
EPA: We formed this CAG because the members of the CAG represent community organizations – they are supposed to share this information. There are so many moving parts, generally our approach has been we wouldn’t post 90% design, but we would post pilot and milestones and debris removal. With the help of the PRPs we put together fact sheets. The Gowanus Facebook page is the only CAG page managed by the EPA.
CAG: We want to share major milestones so you could chronologically look at it online – there’s a link on the right of the website – Outreach team is working on updating that.
EPA: The challenge with the timeline is that when we started it was cute and little, but now we have so much more information, and that is increasing, so managing it and putting it into bite-sized pieces for people outside of this room is more difficult. From now to next year is bulkhead construction mostly done by private owners, so not much control on that schedule. You’ll see a lot constructed by individual owners, and they tell us when they do it. We don’t make an announcement about all of them. We will make an announcement about the head of the canal being driven in.
CAG: We need a physical presence along the Canal.
CAG: Another Superfund Townhall for the Spring is being planned. Two weeks of Congressional Recess during the second half of April and end of May might be the time.
Doug: Let’s not attack people or give them motivations they don’t have, fight for what you want but not attack each other – this happens in emails and committee meetings and folks need to be following our ground rules in all activities.
We have to get together. Rita has the bylaws in her head but need to make sure everyone understands. We still haven’t contacted the three or four people who did not meet their attendance requirements. Three or four people on admin is not enough, so if anyone wants to join, please do. We want to give a proposal for how to handle the issue of founding organizations having special status. We need to figure out if we put it in the Charter or come up with a different solution. Going to talk about it at the next meeting.
Doug: That basic conversation should happen at the full CAG before we draft the proposal so people are on the same page.
Water Quality and Technical Committee
Decontamination of the archaeological items.
Land Use Committee
Talked about zoning and impact of the CAG.
Trying to work toward another Superfund Town Hall meeting, the goal is a community update as to where we stand. If EPA said there’s nothing newsworthy, we would consider holding off, but communicating the 4th Street basin clean up success might be good.
EPA: The last one had a big crowd, but wasn’t huge on updates – are you envisioning something of the same sort or an update like what we give here? Not wedded to one or another – we’d love your take, we’re open. Good that there were younger people present, but they didn’t follow up with involvement in the CAG.
EPA: Louis and Natalie were at the Newtown Creek meeting last week, and there’s a fact sheet that works as a primer – and they have an acronym list – the EPA list is super long. George Fiala noted he had put together an overview of information on Superfund a few years back and would share that.
Army Corps of Engineer is having meetings about resiliency.
The meeting adjourned at 8:30 p.m.
CAG Members Present
Mike Dulong (alternate for Chrissy Remein)
Rafael Gomez de Luna
Stephen Kondaks (alternate for John McGettrick)
Amy Motzny (alternate for Andrea Parker)
Maryann Young (alternate for Rita Miller)
Doug Sarno, Facilitator
Christos Tsiamis, EPA
Natalie Loney, EPA
Brian Carr, EPA
John Prince, EPA