Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street
Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:35.
The Department of City Planning (DCP) and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are here at the invitation of the CAG.
February minutes approved.
Beginning in March, the CAG notes are going to try to be turned around faster, if there are any comments or revisions, they will be made, then we will post the minutes as draft minutes and then vote formally at the full CAG.
Natalie Loney, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator, presented the updates.
Two outstanding items the CAG has been concerned about are the potential tunnel project to replace the CSO tanks, and the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for historic preservation at 234 Butler Street. EPA still needs to schedule a meeting with the Region II Administrator, Pete Lopez. In terms of the tunnel project, Christos Tsiamis says there are no new updates. EPA has already signed the MOA. There has been a question about DEP, which will be addressed in their presentation tonight.
EPA & CAG Questions & Answers
CAG: Can you confirm the other parties have signed the MOA? It is an agreement with SHPO, EPA, and others?
EPA: Not sure who the signatories are on the MOA referring to 234 Butler.
CAG: Are there any updates on the Fulton MGP site?
EPA: Some movement on the wall but in terms of other stuff, no.
CAG: In terms of the tunnel, would it be helpful if the CAG put forth opinions to the Regional Administrator?
EPA: Don’t think so; it is not so much a decision point as much as providing technical information about what the project means.
CAG: Can the tunnel be put in under the same Record of Decision (ROD)?
EPA: There is already a ROD on this. Doing the tunnel would require a different ROD.
New York City DCP and DEPC
Jonathan Keller, City Planning:
Over a number of years, there has been a lot of intensive planning work with the Gowanus framework that came out last June – sustainability and resilience at the top outlined with goals and strategies and urban form which created a draft zoning framework in January. There will be an environmental review to assess what needs to be done. DCP has scheduled a scoping meeting on April 25, and is encouraging people to comment individually and as a CAG and also from your organizations. There is a CAG meeting the Tuesday before [4/23]. We extended the scoping to 30 days from the ten (10) required at the request of CB6. That’s where things are right now in the neighborhood planning process.
Angela Licata, Deputy Commissioner, DEP:
Her background is work on planning assignments, EIS work, DEP’s capital investments, thinking deeply about sustainable infrastructure, noise, air and asbestos. She is well aware of the impacts and the potential impacts of everything to do with this. The EIS that supported the site selection and acquisition of the Head End and Owls Head sites. Everything is building on each other.
DEP has invested in the pumping, enriched the water quality, increased dissolved oxygen in Buttermilk Channel, decreased floatables and reduced CSOs by 30% from that project alone. DEP is continuing to provide capital investments. There are a number of high-level storm sewer projects. Rolling them off to contextualize. Flooding reduction to be located on 9th Street within DEP’s budget so that is in construction or about to be in construction.
We are also implementing lots of Green Infrastructure (GI) – it is one of the first places DEP expanded to – able to locate 91 sites and think there could be additional sites as we think about GI and rain gardens. They started with the right-of-way. The second component of GI looks at public sites, including schools, NYCHA, parklands – many of which are up for construction this summer. The third basket is private property – the City can’t reach GI goals with public land alone, so we are incentivizing private owners with a grant program that hasn’t had a lot of success with retrofits – another technique, especially in an area with redevelopment and growth as adopted in 2012 that requires significantly more detention, about 90% of stormwater flow. As you manage stormwater at the source, you allow for more development. DEP wants to sharpen the analysis and look at the successes and other private approaches – that’s an idea of where we’ve been, what’s underway, and what’s in the future.
Questions & Answers
Beginning with the questions submitted by the CAG in January:
CAG: We asked you to come to address the size of the redevelopment, the upzoning. If you live near Gowanus we still have significant homeowners with flooded basements. A few days ago I saw raw sewage floating in front of Lightstone. There seems to be a lot of push for rezoning, an aggressive timeline, to get new residents, but DEP is in no hurry to address the CSOs. Thankful both agencies are here – my question is why wouldn’t the city go ahead to do the tank before any rezoning? It seems like a no-brainer. Seems like your agencies are working at cross purposes. According to both time lines, everyone would have liked to have seen capture earlier.
DEP: The two tanks won’t do anything more for capture. They lead to CSOs into the canal. From the pumping station we got 34% CSO reduction, GI reduction takes it to 44%. With the tank we will have a further benefit at 80% reduction of CSOs in the canal. Let’s not get that confused with sewer capacity. A tunnel has the ability to capture more.
CAG: Hope to hear more about a how the 16 million gallon tunnel is with 22 story buildings. Why would you go ahead and plan when there’s not enough capability to hold CSOs? Why not build the tank first and then see what the area can hold?
CAG: Why is the rezoning going forward before a tunnel is in place?
DCP: There still needs to be a disclosure document that says what DCP needs to do – i.e., could be let’s build a tank and then do five years of community outreach about it – not everyone agrees with the shared values. That’s exactly what we’re doing at this time – thinking forward.
CAG: Following up on the CAG resolution in November asking DCP that the water be reclassified to one that is no longer an industrial waterway, and that you make that a priority of the rezoning. Wondering if there is any news back whether that will be included?
DCP: We got that, though in January, that is something in coordination with the state — in the purview of the state.
CAG: But DCP has a responsibility to ensure the water quality has institutional controls that meet the use for residential uses adjacent to it.
DCP: We received that resolution but haven’t gotten to place where we can respond to that. DCP would like to confer with colleagues and agencies not present. DCP will have to get back to the CAG on this.
CAG: The data gives favorable numbers. Do other agencies including the EPA trust these numbers from DEP? The live sewage needs to be considered. The upzoning seems to be going fast. Is this a consensus?
DEP: The Clean Water Act has been delegated to NYSDEC under the Clean Water Act. DEP works with them on the majority of this because they’re undergoing long-term control plans. They work with this on the model and the control plans, high-level storm sewers, and the upgrade that rolls up to the 44% or so is under the oversight and authority of DEC. They haven’t seen us plug in the numbers in respect to the tank and these numbers are pretty conservative. We have shown those figures to EPA but do not know the interpretation.
CAG: We sent questions ahead of time – we had very specific questions and we expected more specific answers. For instance, “to what extent will the rezoning expand CSOs?” It is understandable that may go through the EIS. DCP/DEP said to look at the process.
DCP: There are many of you who are technical and folks who don’t have technical backgrounds. You tell us what you’re concerned about, and we’ll come back with something more concrete – we’re getting there and that is exciting. We talked about this in the 2017 working group. Concrete and immediate next steps, and it will be better the more we get comments from you.
CAG: What are those next steps?
DCP: Friday we put out a draft scope from the CEQR Technical Manual used to analyze items including sewer and infrastructure and it outlined what we’re proposing to analyze.
CAG: Appreciate all the investment but all of that is required under Superfund, so we can’t allow that to be counted as investment. I would like to start at a different baseline – the city hasn’t invested anything. Are we going to require investment from new developers?
DEP: DCP’s job is to do Environmental Review – just looked at their worst-case numbers – haven’t looked at the draft scope yet because it just came out Friday. The scalability of the tunnel is an important benefit to why we’re making this push.
CAG: In that are you presenting what the expansion would be?
DEP: While we’re stuck doing parallel tanks and tunnels we can’t do that, once we decide we’ll be able to. Tanks are required under CERCLA for polycarbons, however as a result of the tanks we are greatly improved – this is great news, one of the few areas achieving New York State standards – the 200 chloroform/100 ml.
CAG: That’s not a swimmable standard. We are concerned about not reaching a swimmable standard. I was at a public meeting on Atlantic Avenue 15 years ago, and we’ve been asking the city to do something that would enable this water to be swimmable
DEP: Good news, in the past two years, the state reduced fecal chloroform from 2000 to 200 and that is the standard we want to meet. We don’t know the modeling for sure, but it looks like we could meet an often swimmable body. We are reaching a new standard as it relates to clean water.
CAG: If you walk across the Carroll Street Bridge – it is ancient infrastructure – there is ancient infrastructure.
DEP: Tunnels and Sewers couldn’t be here tonight.
CAG: I’m a taxpayer in this neighborhood – I feel like it is very condescending to treat this neighborhood as you have – we are exposed to raw sewage and we are still exposed and have been for 10+ years. Don’t have bio-engineering backgrounds but we’ve put all our background into this. On one hand you’re telling us the tank is only going to deal with some parts – green infrastructure what an unbelievable joke – at the corner of 3rd there’s a tiny bone-dry pit. I expected these agencies to come to address how to bring this to the community, and legitimate solutions. We’re talking about floating raw sewage and there is still white stuff at the head of the canal. In 2030 you’re going to have new residents sitting next to a cesspool.
CAG: 225 million and now upped to 500 million; there’s some playing of figures that seem to have nothing to do with actual sewer measurements. RH-35, the overflow at the end of Bond Street that supposedly has no overflows, but in 2012 I brought up that it is a 26-inch sewer main because the wider pipe runs into a bottleneck. Has the Bond Street bottleneck been fixed from 56 inches to 72 inches? I’ve never seen proof that it was done, because we’re still seeing overflows in an area that is officially fixed.
DEP: There are still 5 million gallons per year, which would continue tank or tunnel – that bottleneck restriction is still there.
CAG: Basic, illegal sewer issue.
DEP: Not illegal, and it is on private property. We’re aware of it. The reason for the significant drops are associated with the wastewater force main through the flushing tunnel that gets 30 million gallons per day and takes it to Columbia Street, and that’s why we see such a significant drop.
CAG: If you can’t fix a basic sewer why should the community trust you to maintain a sophisticated underground tunnel to the tune of $1.2 billion?
DEP: We can take that question to the Bureau of Water and Sewer Operations. We’re investing $110 million in the neighborhood.
CAG: Let’s compare the rezoning map and the Canal map. The alignment of the higher density. A lot of this stuff was put there to deal with the Atlantic Yards aftermath. You know in your own reports Bond Street has bad drainage, half filled with stuff that smells. You’re putting nice stuff in this park and then this part has been backed up once as I’ve seen it when the flushing tunnel work was delayed – where the development work is going and where the tunnels are at capacity.
DCP: There’s a limit to where the city can go. Yes, we’re talking about higher density, what are the existing issues and we can acknowledge it was being talked about today. It was in our first chapter of goals and framework trying to reduce these – through capital planning, neighborhood development fund, the EIS, this whole process has been set up to do this instead of what has been done in the past.
CAG: They’ve determined this is where the growth will go, shouldn’t one drive another?
DCP: We got this question at the DCP CB6 meeting – what if we did the infrastructure and then went back to the community, lots of disagreement. This neighborhood has been thinking about growth and where it’s going for decades. Thinking about where it would be and what it should look like in terms of schools and transit – it sounds like doing a spreadsheet and backing into it would work but that’s not quite gaining consensus.
CAG: The current projects like Sponge Park are all pilots, right? We haven’t seen results of monitoring these techniques, can you make sure we get this monitoring?
DEP: Unfortunately, there were some contract issues, so we changed it and now we have high-level sewer vortex things to look at – catch basins and performance and how much of an impact there is on the canal and that will begin in April – we estimate it will take 6 months – each storm that counts toward an event.
CAG: Can you come back and present on the results of the monitoring of sponge park?
DEP: Yes, will start monitoring soon and report back.
CAG: Still not sure about this planning process. Been here for 25 years – it’s not a NIMBY thing – the question is how much live sewage can we handle? There was so much stuff and smelled so bad no one was in the public space at Lightstone. I don’t see how, when it is public health as an issue, why we can’t start at the end. I would like to see where we’re going long-term with this CSO stuff. The developers are all going to say the same thing: summer is smelly, a lot of times people pick on the exceptions.
DEP: I hear you, I hear your emotion. We have a combined sewer system and you will always have CSOs in a combined system. Last Thursday to Friday the rainfall was a two-inch event, that is larger than the average storm sewer. The city stopped building combined sewers in the 1970s, I think (don’t quote me on that). Is there capacity in the streets for two pipes – about 66% of the city is combined – we have to be mindful of the rates and our ratepayers.
CAG: Let’s talk about volume of poo. We have a CSO and we don’t know about how many people, it seems crazy, it doesn’t compute in my brain.
DCP: We struggle with this – when we propose density, it isn’t just sewage, it is transit and schools, we have to talk about the tradeoffs – an affordability crisis and 60,000 people who are homeless. The process is not done, we need to disclose what is going to be needed to occur – elected officials and folks will have a discussion about how it will be approved.
CAG: Do you live here?
DCP: No, Astoria
CAG: I know the argument about growth and affordability, that doesn’t mean that Gowanus is the place to put people. One doesn’t drive the other in that way – health and human waste.
CAG: 99% of the people in Gowanus are not for the kind of development that has been proposed – we don’t have the infrastructure, we don’t have the money, the city doesn’t have the money to make or invent the way to deal with CSOs and now you want to overdevelop. I would like to know who put forward this idea of rezoning, the name or agency, $500 million given to Carroll – but nothing CSO wise has changed. How is that?
DCP: Council Member Lander’s office led a series of meetings from 2013 to 2016, and that work formed the basis that DCP and other agencies are taking, I think you are aware of that.
CAG: Wanted the answer from DCP or DEP.
DEP: The mayor is supportive.
DCP: CB6 wrote letters about studying this neighborhood; there’s been a lot of people who wanted this to happen and asked for things – to the other point, neighborhoods across the city don’t have a 100-foot canal but have similar issues – when I go outside in Astoria after it rains it smells like popcorn, not a great smell. We are all grappling with growth and looking for places to grow. There are a number of reasons we’ve looked at Gowanus.
CAG: Has DEP studied the tunnel in relation to the excavation of landfill millpond? Why is this proposal going to be more expensive? Butler is hollow – there is a 16-foot wide round tunnel from Butler to 4th Avenue – called the Green Avenue Sewer Main.
CAG: This was built in 1889, the City didn’t follow engineer’s plan.
DEP: Can’t use this tunnel because of the slope. You’d never be able to use it as storage – the gravity math doesn’t make sense as you’re describe it – let’s chat.
CAG: Wanted to understand in regard to the scoping given the uncertainty of the tunnel proposal and the tanks, how is it that you’re going to scope if we don’t know which remedy will be selected. What is the EPA’s role in regard to Superfund and maintaining compliance as it relates to rezoning? Originally, the initial 2007 rezoning was tabled because of Superfund and not having a clear path and timeline – now we’re in 2019 and we still don’t have a clear path for our infrastructure or CSOs.
DCP: Sounds like a good comment for scoping – right now we only have the tank form – if we want to look at the tunnel, we would discuss it.
DEP: There are two distinct options; so neither is pie in the sky.
CAG: The EPA will decide eventually between the potential tunnel or tanks – how is the EPA going to be considered in regard to compliance because this is also a Superfund site that might impact our remedy? In the ROD there is a stipulation that redevelopment needs to meet mitigation targets, so is the city responsible for mitigating for development, or will the developers be responsible for meeting the development mitigation targets?
DCP: Getting back to you on that.
CAG: How is EPA involved in the decisions that are going to be made now regarding the scoping to see if it will meet the Superfund mitigation?
EPA: Whenever a remedy is selected for Superfund, one of the criteria is permanency, so it doesn’t have to be revisited every 5-10 years. The idea of loading into or out of the canal – we want to make sure people don’t violate what the remedy might be. Lightstone incorporated runoff in order to maintain.
CAG: Does NYC have a deeper responsibility or does the onus fall on the private property owner/developer?
EPA: That is a question for Brian Carr.
CAG: Why are we putting GI only at the bottom of the canal? I live at the top, when it rains, it rains at the top of the hill – why are we putting it at the bottom to capture that?
DEP: We started at the tributary areas and now we are putting it in all the areas – I hear you, source control.
CAG: Grief with people who have water in the basement.
DEP: We targeted those outfalls because they weren’t handled by the pumping-station upgrades. I agree with your principles, we want to prevent it from coming downhill.
CAG: I know DEP does extensive planning and honor the work you do. DCP isn’t and I don’t see them working together. Environmental planning needs to go at the beginning of this, and go with the rezoning planning. One of the things we discuss is sanitary design – separating gray water from black water. You have the idea of requiring that kind of construction in new development and you have the ability to do that – can you commit to considering that?
DCP: Zoning is not the appropriate place to bring it.
CAG: I’m challenging it to be.
DEP: We are collaborating with DCP.
CAG: If not in zoning, where should sewage separation discussion happen?
DCP: Building codes, health codes?
CAG: Lightstone example again because specifically to mitigate – there DEP’s double-counting. When trying to get Green Infrastructure in a neighborhood, how do you make sure you’re calculating properly, is that EPA or DEP?
DEP: EPA’s requirements preceded DEP’s. Lightstone is different because of what goes in and what goes out. Also a difference because the Sponge Park isn’t CSO abatement, it is just treating stormwater coming off the street. Lightstone is to treat their direct wastewater.
CAG: No, they’re directly treating their own storm water and the bio-swales are poorly constructed. Also Sponge Park isn’t there because of Lightstone, and does the same thing that Lightstone was required to do for development.
CAG: We don’t have the information we’re looking for yet, it will get better in the future. Along that line there’s been unprecedented coordination – most polluted, list goes on and on. It is great that we can weigh in but in order to share the unique knowledge we have can you come more regularly, as in what kinds of incentives should there be for GI for instance, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy has an opinion on that.
DEP: Yes, we’re happy to commit to that, as there’s something new or we need an opinion, happy to come.
DCP: Thank you for your patience with us, and yes, we’re happy to come back with “here’s what we’ve found.”
CAG: Language in the ROD that says redevelopment projects will need to take additional mitigation – if EPA, DEP, and DCP will commit to come to a written protocol that normal people can understand that says these agencies will coordinate and ultimately whichever agency you pick will be the overseer, and the difficulty of doing that. This is a major problem with Superfund and moving parts within moving parts, it is difficult for people to know who is responsible, who can we hold accountable, on just the issue of additional loading, can the three of you come up with a written document about who/how this will be overseen
EPA: It is incumbent on the responsible parties to maintain the remedy once EPA decides the standards of the remedy. It is the PRPs’ responsibility moving forward to make sure that no party requires readdressing the remedy. The EPA is the entity overseeing – there is a legal decision between the parties involved and that is the vehicle.
CAG: Dylan Berger property asked for direct discharge – that was denied – the legal cost of him getting a waiver for the clean water from his roof. Can you create a clause saying directly connecting the downspout from the gutters and roof to the sewers is not required?
DEP: Can’t make commitment on that but am very interested in it.
CAG: There is no GI on the west side of the canal. We all love plants and the roses smell better than the sewer. There is a bioswale that violates the law, it is eight feet high in the summer and that is illegal. People are never looking north – it is in violation on Carroll Street and technically Department of Parks and Recreation property – how do we bring attention to DEP about this?
DEP: People can go through the website to report it.
CAG: I like the request about working together. It is sad that DEP and DCP can’t commit to that. Also have trouble submitting DEP issues online. Why can’t we require every new building to preserve water like on the Battery and separate black and gray water – let’s do it right now.
CAG: Concerned about the ROD and as far as I know that is the law, and with all these adjustments and changes happening can that jeopardize our ROD?
EPA: We already have a signed ROD – if you’re looking at an alternative, you have to go back and create a new one. There was a feasibility study, proposed plan, 90-day comment period, that proposed plan was fully vetted. The community had an opportunity to weigh in, and that’s the process we go through anytime we come to a remedy. I’m not really sure exactly what the city’s plan is – is it a new plan vs. an old one? I don’t want to speculate. The process we went through with the old remedy is the process you’d need to with the new one. I don’t want to speculate because our Regional Administrator hasn’t had the opportunity to look at what the tunnel is. In the general sense, we’d have to go through the process again.
DEP: We believe an explanation of significant difference could be done – the City is claiming that it would not need a different ROD.
Met with Natalie at EPA to discuss the process, and keeping the CAG on the path to success, and then met before the meeting with Doug to streamline processes short of reopening the CAG Charter, which we may want to do at some point. One member from each committee on the leadership committee.
Did not meet – Rita will be back in a week or two and then we’ll meet – there were clarifications in the leadership meeting.
Water Quality and Technical Committee:
NYC water trail is starting the water-quality testing again this year and wants to thank DEP. Viagra can be measured in the canal and the Gowanus milkshake.
There is a volunteer to take some of the items removed from the 4th Street turning basin off the private property, and Brian is setting up a contract for the person responsible and that has to get wrapped up by 4/19. Someone will hold onto the items through the cleanup, and EPA has been notified of this. Not sure if it is a holding or owning entity. Brian is working on it – we will clarify once we figure out the details.
Land Use Committee:
Interagency panel discussion, could be the CAG or CB6. Maybe we could all support having Hildegard and David and maybe Eric attend. David did put in the request.
Can we as a CAG support CB6 to go ahead? An informal straw poll expressed support to go ahead.
Proposing to hold May 29 Superfund Town Hall with Congresswoman Velázquez. Looking at a north end of Canal site, maybe PS 133 or Wyckoff Houses. There is dire need for basic, simple info about the project, and how the CAG can be helpful in doing that.
The meeting adjourned at 8:30 PM.
CAG Members Present
Rafael Gomez de Luna
Maryann Young (alternate for Rita Miller)
Doug Sarno, Facilitator
Natalie Loney, EPA
Jonathan Keller, DCP
Angela Licata, Deputy Commissioner, DEP
Kevin Clarke, DEP