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Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street


Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:35.

Project Updates

Natalie Loney, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, presented the updates:

There hasn’t been much change since the last report. The 95% design report is due from the City on April 30. The wall design has been finalized. The 4th Street Basin artifacts that were extracted are not going to be disposed of. EPA is in negotiation to store material with a property owner in Red Hook, and those items will stay there safe until final disposition.

Questions & Answers

CAG: Where’s Christos?
EPA: Christos is not here because there aren’t major updates. He sent me instead.

CAG: Was under the impression he would come answer some specific questions at this meeting – sent by email.
EPA: We will work to make sure we have answers.

CAG: Is the EPA going to comment on the Gowanus EIS scoping?
EPA: Yes, it is our intent to comment on the EIS.

CAG: Are you going to testify on Thursday at the Public Scoping meeting?
EPA: We will probably send them in writing – I don’t think we plan to testify.

CAG: One of the questions to Christos was what the process would entail if we needed to amend the ROD (Record of Decision)?
EPA: There have been examples of ROD amendments and things that are a little more involved. I can’t give specifics because it’s speculative. It is determined by the level of complexity around changes to the remedy. A ROD amendment is not necessarily required.

CAG: Some were under the impression that opening the ROD will change things?
EPA: This is a Brian Carr question. We have had Superfund sites before where they had to do an Explanation of Significant Difference (ESD), this does not require reopening the ROD. I don’t know as all of this is still theoretical. EPA is not committing to a path because we have not gotten to that point yet.

CAG: When will work at the north end of the canal begin?
EPA: First section is supposed to begin in the next year or so.

CAG: Including the actual physical work on RTA1?
EPA: I assume it will.

CAG: And the cut-off wall construction?
EPA: I think those things will happen concurrently – if dredging is June 2020, the cut-off wall will be prior to that.

CAG: I know there was a date in the ROD that if the City’s management of sewage wasn’t sufficient, there would be further action, when is that supposed to happen?
EPA: If the bottom of the canal is clean but there is continued CSO, the City has to clean up to the level where it was before the change. It depends on when the tank remedy is implemented. The City would be responsible for cleaning up for the number of years following the monitoring and the EPA will make sure they do that.

Resolutions and Amendments:

There are three proposals from last week that are a combination of Water Quality and Land Use about how we’re going to respond/react to the EIS in general – they are a good opportunity to figure out how we’re going to respond to things that aren’t the cleanup of the canal, necessarily, but impact the canal and are impacted by the canal.

1. Past CAG Resolutions

This first letter identifies the resolutions that the CAG has passed over the past seven years: topics include artifact preservation, bollards in public areas, strict attention to historic buildings, land use to provide safe access and egress, that PRP’s pursue the 1st Street Turning Basin restoration, land use changes are supportive of the marine habitat and advance plans for restoration, and changing the water classification so it fits with recreational uses.

CAG: So we’re saying these are not necessarily Superfund related but can it become Superfund because EPA does require certain knowledge that can suggest to the PRPs the kinds of changes? Does it have to be addressed to Mayor de Blasio?
Doug Sarno: The CAG can make recommendations on whatever it chooses – if you’re taking on something not related to Superfund, then EPA can’t provide resources. I am an EPA resource, so if it has nothing to do with Superfund, I can’t facilitate. I would suggest that all these recommendations are all related to the Superfund process at this point. I think that makes it related. You seem to have succeeded.

CAG: The city-proposed rezoning could have impact on items that we as a group have passed resolutions and formed opinions on.

CAG: We’re stating we as a CAG agree on these things and the resolutions have comments about every resolution we’ve had in the past that has to do with how we’ve responded in the past. These are all items we’ve discussed and passed resolutions on, so they’ve already been part of our Superfund action.

CAG: What if something like this related to EPA Superfund certain regulations – what if EPA can even push this more to the mayor?

CAG: The point is that the City-proposed rezoning could have impact on these things that we as a group have voted on. We’ve already asked the EPA and the PRPs to pay attention to these things, and we’d now be asking the City to pay attention to these issues.

CAG: One change I want to see and I don’t know who Michael Marrella is. Number 6 where it says “advocate,” I think that’s not what we’re asking. Should be changed to petition the state. It is the City that has been petitioning the state to keep the Canal Class D.

Doug Sarno: That change can be made as a friendly amendment, yes.

Doug Sarno: What you are saying is that the CAG is asking the City to be cognizant of these things as they make their zoning decisions because they’re zoning adjacent to a Superfund site.

CAG: The city rezoning could have impact on these items that we all agree on, so we’re asking the City, and Michael Marrella, the City Planning Director of Waterfront Planning, to understand what we want for the Gowanus.

CAG: Can we add his title and to ask him and to specifically come in prepared to discuss the items?
CAG: Absolutely that’s what we want.
Doug Sarno: Friendly amendment to add “to address these specific issue areas”; add Michael Marrella’s title.

CAG: The CAG may be overreaching – I understand these have all been passed already. As I’ve sat on the CAG for three years, we have some things we’re smarter about and other things we’re not quite as smart about. There are other organizations here that are better equipped to deal with some issues. We’re part of a coalition of groups. I took out the thing about soft edges and green habitats. Item 2 is sort of the same thing. Whatever we decide here, we’ll decide, but we have to be clear about what our mission is. We are also a conduit to other organizations. CB6 will have to vote on a ULURP process at some point. We shouldn’t just take a shotgun approach and hope they land in the right place. Some of these are things the EPA can help with, and some of them they can’t. That’s not going to happen if some of the resolutions are half EPA supported and half not.

CAG: These were all passed as resolutions.
CAG: I understand that. I don’t think they should have been. It’s just my opinion.

CAG: Are you saying address it to the CB6 Manager, as well?
CAG: That’s one thing to do. I’d be more likely to support it and then change the audience for it.

CAG: Does make it more involved to the people in the community as well. So maybe that is a great a suggestion.

CAG: What’s the CAG’s mission? To comment on everything?
Doug Sarno: This is a conversation to tee up when we have a bit more time. We don’t vet our resolutions well before we go over/vote on them. Most CAGs start with an issue and then the CAG discusses if that is an issue the CAG wants to take on and if yes, they charge the committee and talk about as a group what they’d like to see and charge a committee to come up with a draft and then that draft comes back. It is a more deliberate and more laborious process that usually ends up in more thoughtful and better-written documents in keeping with a strong CAG.

CAG: You voted for them [the resolutions].

CAG: Voted for some of them and then there were comments – they were good points and I rethought my position which I think all of us should do once in a while. When I thought through about the purpose and the CAG mission, I thought they were flawed. I’m not above admitting I made a mistake and so if that was a critique, that’s fine, I accept that. I think the resolution would be better if we said “we want the city to take seriously the zoning’s impact – the superfund remedy over the last nine years, whatever it has been, that is a more global statement that gets to the core of why we’re here. We don’t want the remedy compromised. All the language may actually limit it. We want the city to know we don’t want the remedy compromised. We want a zoning that does not compromise the integrity of the remedy. Heard from another CAG member, why is the zoning happening before the remedy is in place? We don’t even have a solution yet of whether we want a tunnel or a tank. We’re getting specific on these items in the resolution. We’re getting ahead of ourselves. A much better resolution would be targeted. We don’t want a BQE triple cantilever situation 10 years from now. Zoning goes in: don’t want EPA or DEP fighting about tank or tunnel and meanwhile more stormwater. It’s kind of silly when you step way back and look at this. I just think these are way too detailed.

CAG: I actually agree – our mission is to protect the Superfund remedy. I think our only comment in the EIS process should be: you cannot compromise the integrity of the remedy of the Superfund in this rezoning.

CAG: I do agree about protecting the remedy of Superfund. I heard he said we didn’t have a solution to whether it is going to be tunnels or tanks.

CAG: Our primary focus, to me the means to that are what we should be discussing a little more – I feel very strongly that one of the primary means of that is getting the water reclassified to require controls on the amount of sewage that is released. The EPA has a certain amount of restriction on sewage release-borne contaminants because of the CERCLA law. We all know when EPA came in to do their benthic study after Army Corps we discovered “we’re getting six inches of sewage a year.” This is what’s going to happen if these tanks aren’t in place after we dredge. That means, something we should be spending a little more time on – the imposition of reclassifying the water with the rezoning is the only means we have in this whole process to hold them accountable – clean water law along with CERCLA law.

CAG: Nobody objects, but DCP can’t reclassify the water.

CAG: The stakeholder group convened by DEP in 2002 met monthly for two years, all about the Clean Water Act. In terms of protecting the remedy, this is the only way to make sure what they do with the rezoning is actually going to be controlled.

Action on this resolution was postponed.

2. Comments on Combined Sewage Overflow

In the EIS, the city is only looking at wastewater treatment plants, not outfall points. This resolution is a way for them to measure volume coming out of outputs and outfall points. Then, the city would identify measurements to change water quality. Last – implement a clear procedure to ensure the ROD will be a tool to make sure we examine mitigation, oversight, and monitoring.

CAG: Fishable and swimmable is not a classification. If we’re going to state the classification, it should be according to the state numbers. I don’t know what the number classification would be – would be fine with the ocean entry number.

CAG: There’s been a disagreement in the CAG. There are people who say they want it absolutely swimmable. I think there should be a level so that we can control pathogens. There’s been a debate in the past. We want to see if we can nail down.
CAG: The Clean Water Act says it has to be swimmable.

CAG: There are only two class D waterways: Newtown and Gowanus. More than 10 years ago, DEC said they no longer support that classification. In 2007 they told DEP they were trying to get rid of this classification. It is an industrial waterway that only requires a certain amount of dissolved oxygen so the only thing DEP measures is whether or not there’s enough of that, and there is.

CAG: The issue of pathogens is why we struggle. CSO does contain human pathogens, there’s no solution for CSOs anyone has proposed for “swimming.” DEC classifies water based on best uses. If it is a classification best use is fishing, shellfish, wildlife survival, then shall also be suitable for primary and secondary-contact recreation, although factors may limit use for these purposes to those waters because natural or manmade conditions may not meet those requirements.

Doug Sarno: So the question is do we want to get this through tonight, or sit on it and comment more before end of scoping?
CAG: Nothing stops anyone from commenting on the scoping.

CAG: Push us to try to figure out whether we’ll have some version read aloud in front of the community.

CAG: I think we should do both [written and spoken at scoping]

CAG: The other big reason to testify/write comments early is to make sure the Regional Administrator knows we care.
Doug Sarno: Let me test this supposition – I trust people do feel strongly that this is a Superfund site and that the CAG cares. Let’s continue the CSO resolution (not wrapped around water classification), but see if we can get harmonious agreement around the context of this piece.

CAG: Bifurcation – complying with but not meeting – is there a way for us to get them to meet that? What is the actual goal we want?
CAG: In the EIS assessment they do situations where they show the impact if the canal is polluted X amount [different quantities]. Build vs. no build. If we ask for a certain scenario, very specifically, what is the impact if it is classified as I?

Doug Sarno: In terms of who you’re asking, it seems like you’re asking the city at arge. You’re basically telling the city this is what they need to think about.

CAG: Whoever speaks for the CAG should not be someone who is part of an organization – someone who is an individual. Personal preference is to have the newest members present this.

CAG: Riverkeeper could facilitate conversation online about what water quality standard we want to get to.

CAG: Right now in the EIS the city requires the impact of the zoning at Owl’s Head or Red Hook – they don’t look at the CSO shed. It is really important that they look at each of the sheds alone.

CAG: Deputy Commissioner Licata thinks they’re doing way more than they have to do – we already deserve these upgrades, these new things did not think about or incorporate future growth (section H).

CAG: DEP is alright with the sewage now that they foamed the top of the canal, they meet the DO levels.

CAG: Don’t doubt there are that kind of flow diversion, certainly can ask for more. We can ask for these things because they’ll tell us where the hydraulic constriction. Will the infrastructure be able to handle dry build out and then one-year storms, five-year storms, etc.

CAG: We need them to get to say there must not be a net increase in CSO. We don’t want them to have a non-mitigable result in the EIS. What happens is what happens through the impact and infrastructure that is non-mitigable, like the subway.

CAG: Notwithstanding CAG point about what might happen, are we all comfortable with the ask?

CAG: Evaluate a model as if the canal was classified #2

CAG: It’s not abiding by any law – but if you have impacts violating the Clean Water Act, that has to legally be addressed.

CAG: Wastewater generated must include residential development already approved but not constructed in Downtown Brooklyn/Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park.

CAG: Each new development is going to manage 90% of their stormwater. It assumes it all goes into the storm system now – this is the only EIS these developments are going to go through.

CAG: They’re subtracting what they’re not putting in.

CAG: The Lightstone EIS, part of it was drainage.

CAG: Sections D&E: making sure we’re accurately measuring local canal surface water quality levels – making sure EIS is taking real measurements to create a baseline. It might be that section E is enough and nix D.

CAG: Add in adjacent to CSOs.

CAG: Are you talking about dry water discharge at Bond Street? I have had people report that they’ve noticed Nevins Street dry weather discharge. If there’s a discharge when it isn’t raining…

CAG: Talk to Eymund Diegel about dry water discharge at Bond. I’ve heard from several people. Peter’s been taking daily videos. It’ll be like four days after a rainfall event.

CAG: Effects of the incremental demands should be assessed to see if the net increase during a two-inch rainfall event would result in more CSO; once that is realized, this should say that isn’t okay and proposed actions must be mitigable.

CAG: Existing work plans section could go somewhere else.

CAG: As part of the EIS – if they do find there will be adverse impacts, there will be a more detailed analysis and the concern there is they need to realize this before ULURP starts because the Draft EIS is completed before ULURP starts, so mitigation can be addressed in ULURP.

CAG: #2 is the one we don’t know yet, that we need to workshop it, is about the water classification.

CAG: When they run their EIS assessment one of the scenarios is if the water was classified as class 1/I (same as the East River).

CAG: We could do 1 – if we want fishable/swimmable, we could do close to the Rockaways.

CAG: This is an evaluation, a measure, for a scenario in their evaluation, and this will be due in the EIS.

CAG: Then let’s add that to Number 1.

CAG: Number 3. The CEQR to monitor the water quality.

CAG: Binding legal agreement with the community for the final rezoning to additional density requires no additional CSO volume.

CAG: The rezoning documentation – zoning text – is there a community benefits agreement? How can we make this legally binding – text amendment might be better. Incorporates binding w/ community into final zoning/text/etc. How are we defining community? Binding legal agreement – no additional CSO.

CAG: Aren’t we here to talk about how the EPA has sovereignty over all of this?

CAG: When EPA had Lightstone that was one building. Is the EPA going to interface with every building to ensure the ROD is not violated?
EPA: Current and future high-rise development at banks shall adhere and guidelines should meet quote from ROD – 1st page. One of the hallmarks is that the remedy is not compromised – it is the responsibility of the responsible parties to ensure the remedy is not compromised. In this case NYC is a PRP. It is their responsibility. In addition, because contamination is remaining in the Canal and there’s not unrestricted use – the Superfund also falls in the five-year review program. Every five years, the EPA comes back and reviews the remedy to make sure it is operating as designed.

CAG: Yes, because DEP is a PRP we want to make it obvious and apparent that they have to be compliant. We want to implement a process as to not damage the remedy so that it can be replicable.

CAG: A lot can happen in five years so we need to know who we can go to at the city level – what do we do if it is three more years? Whom do we hold accountable?

CAG: Because there’s a five-year review, it is in the interest of the PRPs to make sure it isn’t going to compromise their remedy, because they’d be on the hook to correct it. It is hard to think that they have the foresight to do it before they recognize the mistake. Are there examples in other places where PRPs play an enforceable role because they realize they’re on the hook to clean it up?
EPA: Once PRPs have done it, it is in their best interest to maintain the remedy – nobody wants to – didn’t say it wouldn’t happen – it is designed to make sure the remedy continues to work.

CAG: Can we be sure the PRP will stay in parameters of the remedy?
EPA: It has been my observations that they do act within the five years.

CAG: But you’ve never had the City as a PRP before.
EPA: That is true.

Vote for the CSO resolution with identified changes.

15 in favor; resolution passed. Chrissy and Andrea will work with the committee on finishing that resolution.

3. Resolution on Coordination between DCP and DEP to protect the Superfund Remedy

At Water Quality and Land Use we talked about how we were unhappy with DEP and DCP, and it didn’t seem like they were talking to each other. We want 1) monthly updates, 2) written answers to previous questions, 3) new additions (that we should continue working over email), 4) that they listen to the testimony that just passed.

Consensus agreement to bring this resolution back next month in a more streamlined form.

It was agreed that Chrissy will testify for the CAG at the scoping meeting.

NYS Department of Health/DEC on Signs

We have asked people to generate the signs, we have not figured out logistics about how to hang the signs. We would like to CAG to provide us with the final number and locations of signs.

Committee Reports


Did not meet

Admin Committee

Did not meet

Water Quality and Technical Committee

Discussed the application for the Bond Street site, brownfield applications that will come, tax breaks with the developer on the NGIP site.

Archaeology Committee

Still working on that PRPs have granted an extension until the 30th for the artifacts, waiting for John Quadrozzi to see if he’s okay with storing the artifacts.

Land Use Committee

Met with Water Quality committee

Outreach Committee

Congresswoman Velázquez is available Wednesday, May 29; we’ll be at PS 133 for the Town Hall Meeting. Dropped off application at the school for use of the space on Thursday. We won’t get confirmation right away because of spring break, but then we’ll put it out to neighborhood groups. Same or similar form to last town hall, a little focus on where we are with the cleanup now and what to anticipate in the next 12-18 months.

EPA Region 2 hosted all the community involvement managers on a tour of Gowanus, and they were completely enamored, so hat’s off to us.

The meeting adjourned at 8:30 p.m.

CAG Members Present
Janet Atcheson
Dave Briggs
Kelsey Butterworth
Marlene Donnelly
George Fiala
Ben Jones
Louis Kleinman
Richard Lawrence
Hildegaard Link
Eric McClure
Andrea Parker
Peter Reich
Chrissy Gemein
Buddy Scotto
Brad Vogel
Maryann Young (alternate for Rita Miller)
Susan Yung

Others Present
Doug Sarno, Facilitator
Natalie Loney, EPA

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