Gowanus Canal CAG General Meeting
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street
Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:35.
A few things to plan for moving forward, along with a couple committee reports, and an update from the EPA.
Brian Carr, EPA, presented the updates.
Things are status quo. There is work starting on the Fulton barrier wall. Public Place work also starting. Half a dozen or so designs and negotiations with property owners for them to replace bulkheads, and we’re trying to coordinate all of these things so they fit together. We’re hopeful that’s going to work out. It will be a challenge for staging area and barges in the canal and things like that. Before I went away there was an order issued to the PRP group to install bulkheads where Flushing Tunnel is, and the property next to the head of the canal at 479 Degraw – those are the only two we don’t expect property owners to do – the property owner at 479 Degraw can do it themselves and it will be easier than what happened at Whole Foods.
For those with a history, it is part of Eastern Effects where the “poonami” video was filmed in 2010. Just next to that is the Bayside property; we have an agreement in principal for them to do their design of the bulkhead once done in September. At 450 Union, where Pig Beach is, they’re in the NYS Brownfields program, and we’re in discussion for them to do a bulkhead. A block from there, Lavender Lake and then Powerhouse are in process. Next to Whole Foods we have a bulkhead design, and then next to Carroll Street we’ve been reviewing that.
This is an incredible amount of work, and people have special sheet piles coming from Luxembourg and places like that. In the meantime, we’re doing lower bulkheads. Smith Street properties down in Red Hook. The number of things we’re doing that are close to fruition is fairly incredible. These walls can cost $5,000 to $10,000 per linear foot and the canal is 1.8 miles long, so we’re talking about quite a lot of money, and a lot of sheet piling. Various parties are anticipating future rezoning requirements, so we’re talking to them about soft edges, and the GCC and DCP, and we are going to start seeing more Sponge Park-type of edges, and hopefully we can begin transforming the way things are done.
We have approved the design for the 1st Street Basin, and we’ll work with PRPs later in the year about how to move forward on that. With regard to the tunnel proposal, for the moment our Regional Administrator is very carefully reviewing this, and we had an excellent meeting with him earlier today and are meeting again next week. There are so many complex issues with it, and it will take a while. The mandate we’ve been given is to make sure we do the best we can for the community. With any luck we will complete the various steps we need to take so we can begin dredging a year from now.
Working with National Grid on the Fulton barrier wall. Some of the barges are so large, it would prevent other barges from entering. We have to work toward that so the Flushing Tunnel outlet can be installed; this is one of the most challenging processes we are facing.
We could work 24 hours a day and still not keep up – the things we have to do to not interrupt business, such as get access, assess before and after conditions.
CAG: Is there an overall schedule so we can get the word out about bulkhead timing?
EPA: We are kind of working backwards from June 2020, and saying we want everyone to be finished by then. Each one of the private groups has to do their own. Have to confess we should have a tighter schedule than we have had. We have to get them in place once the designs come in, and we’re adjusting as we go. I worked on the Hudson River cleanup and that was fairly simple compared to this. We have a decent schedule of what Fulton is going to take – to drive in the tie-backs from the water side. Some of the properties can be done from land, like Bayside, but others like Flushing will be done from the water. There’s so much sediment in the upper canal that the outfall is partially blocked at the head of the canal, so there has to be access for drilling/dredging so they can take that out to put in the sheet piles there. We’re still waiting to get reports about how each is going to be dredged. June 2020 is the target. If things go well, we’ll access dredging – they want to take out 10,000 gallons of excess material, but Fulton doesn’t need that. Since 1983, NYC has been required to reduce CSO balance – we think this will be done in the next nine months or so – with the state we need to work out things that went with the pilot dredging.
CAG: It would be great if you could make a concerted effort, so we know as soon as you know.
EPA: We’ve been creating materials internally for the tunnel information – preliminary work has started on Fulton – as soon as we get to some major stuff in the coming weeks and months, we should have a handout for that. Federal budgets and things like that are also issues; there are only so many hours in the day. The Whole Foods esplanade work is going to start the week of July 4, checking on supports before their bulkhead. In a way we think of this work as being fairly minor/tangential, so we’re not doing press releases because we’re not bragging about minor, preliminary stuff.
CAG: Doesn’t need to be a release, just something on the website that says this.
EPA: We are working on a self-guided website tour of the canal – explains history and city role, state role, about eight pages but you can walk around and see the different sites. We haven’t posted it on the website yet because we don’t have all the necessary permissions.
CAG: The Outreach Committee really feels like we need more information for people.
EPA: Send us a request and we will see what is possible.
CAG: Reading real estate news, development at 3rd St and 3rd Avenue, won’t that conflict with the clean up?
EPA: In the Record of Decision (ROD) in 2013, we expected there would be redevelopment. The City has to take measures to ensure the canal won’t be re-contaminated. We commented on the City’s EIS scoping and that was distributed by the CAG. We took a position that the Agency had to take a position. We suspected that it would not be viewed well if we were silent. The Regional Administrator agreed, and it is agency position that the remedy must not be endangered. With the tunnel conversation, we need to make sure it all lines up.
CAG: Can there be a moratorium on development?
EPA: The cleanup was intended to account for future development. We ultimately suspect the cleanup will succeed. We need to take a position on that (tunnel) and that hasn’t been completed yet. The question of CSOs came up early on, and said there’s not going to be a CSO remedy – that’s the Clean Water Act, and Christos said we’re taking it up. The people that wanted that cleanup was the team and you guys and now we’re thinking about if that cleanup needs to be bigger. Now it looks like the people who said you don’t need that are asking, well, does it need to be even bigger? Someone had some foresight. From EPA’s perspective, it’s going to work. There’s an entirely different question, which is what does the City wish to do with land use, and that’s not our decision, but whatever decision they make it has to be neutral with regard to the cleanup of the Canal.
CAG: I’m imagining traffic with the cleanup.
EPA: You’re going to get 20,000 new neighbors and before you get those new neighbors, you’re going to get sheet piles and the excavations that need to be done for the tank or the tunnel, and for the Brownfields cleanups. I think we’re looking at 20 years of constant construction. That is the role of the community to fight about that. That doesn’t have anything to do with whether that is dangerous to the canal. You guys have to figure out how you’re going to do this. You could also ask the question, there’s a need for resiliency here, why are you trying to bring another 20,000 people here if the infrastructure is this bad? That’s not within EPA’s job.
EPA: This whole process has taken off with the remedy, but we also have orders that, separately from their own EIS process, the City needs to submit information to EPA under the EPA’s Superfund authority. If they were generating something for their own use, the standard is low. For the documents they have to submit to the EPA, it has to be assessed in a better way. All that technical information will come back to you.
CAG: Tunnel vs. tank like a DC Comic – the whole process of building more is political – the community has to go to elected and the mayor. #1 Tanks – are all the engineering studies in, or when do you anticipate them?
EPA: Should have been done by now but there’s sort of been a headwind. Required property – the City has not completed parallel design.
CAG: Thought it was a requirement .
EPA: Lots of things are requirements; the 2nd tank has not happened as quickly as it should. Part of it is because the City has additional property acquisition; it only advanced the first part for the property at the head of the canal, so they should be in parallel, but the second tank should arguably be moving faster. We have not been in a position to fight this out on a day-to-day basis. We’ve been arguing at length and it is still up in the air, including how we’re taking down 234 Butler – what City says and what EPA says needs to be done – City is discussing whose court the ball is in.
CAG: So is there resolution on final design work date ?
EPA: Basis of design for 1st tank is done; we should have final design in a few months and a lot of that work moves the 2nd tank. The tanks are almost completely designed, and the tunnels are conceptual still.
CAG: Will there be a point in time where you tell the City to stop because of the schedule impact of switching technologies?
EPA: The schedule is one of the things we’re discussing most. The Regional Administrator is being very thorough and thoughtful and if this was easy, anybody could do it. But National Grid and the City and State have all their experts, and hopefully we get it right
CAG: Has the tank design taken into account the doubling of population and impact [under the proposed Gowanus Rezoning]?
EPA: Yes, and one of the issues is EPA picked a very simple tank and cost based on what they had been building – then the City decided they’re on tank 4.0 where you’re sending tech all over – they were catching the CSOs there, there was so much more stuff. They were sending it to Coney – the thing is this design is so advanced, it does the cleaning so much better than the ROD made it – so if we say they need to do more, what is the basis, and at what extent and what is the impact. We knew development would happen and input and things like Lightstone and others were required to do. The original design was supposed to be so robust it wouldn’t be affected, and the tanks will continue to work, and the way the City designed them they’ll work even better.
CAG: As you redo bulkheads, I know there was discussion of emergency exit points.
EPA: Encroachment mitigation on site with soft edges – historic archaeology of it, require any new outfall to have treatment so we ask them sort of tangentially to provide access, we don’t have authority to do that, but we think over time we will have property owners willing to do that – which will be much nicer than rocks at Lightstone. The rezoning process and conservancy – they’ve been working with the landscaping that is probably nicer than what we thought they’d use. Those types of steps like little step gardens will be things that you’d be able to use as emergency exits.
CAG: Archaeology in May passed a resolution asking EPA to send an independent architect/engineer to check out 234 Butler. Has anything been done on that?
EPA: We’re going to have a discussion with the city – their part does not require preserving the brick, so we think the MOA gives them direction to do that. In the near future, we’re going to get an engineering report from them. However, your thing is an independent assessment – we’ve told the City to do more than they want – so as the City and the façade get to do what they want you’ll get to comment on it – I don’t know that you’re able to.
CAG: We don’t think DEP did a reasonable assessment of that building.
EPA: I understand your request. I’m in favor of saving that building, and yet the powers that be get to decide we’re saving that building. Don’t know that we shared this before the MOA; after we signed it we had to provide it to the council in DC, and they looked at the decision and decided they don’t have anything to comment on. That’s a letter we can share with the CAG. We aren’t sure that we can criticize their work. We looked in accordance with State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). Dedicated preservationist minds could definitely differ, but I don’t think we can do that.
Doug Sarno: So it is perfectly in the rights of the CAG to ask for something, but EPA will probably say no more than they say yes. We can ask for a follow up to the resolution.
CAG: Does the MOA stand up still (Brad Vogel sent a more detailed letter to be read asking this question)?
CAG: When will the head house design go to the Public Design Commission?
EPA: Don’t know what the answer is. How big and how beautiful the head house should look – some people believe in city sovereignty on those issues, so we left it to NYC. When we get a final design it will presumably be a departure point, in order to comply with the MOA, and then we’d go back to the design agencies for rubber-stamping. Many things starting with the CSO remedy that no one wanted except the team and you guys – fighting about this building was removed from our job description – if the City wants to make it taller, we were told that’s not really protected so we’re going to stick to the protected part.
CAG: When is EPA going to share draft MOA or a Programmatic Agreement, how can work start at Public Place without Section 106?
EPA: Not trying to start dredging until June 2020. John Vetter is working on it. Newtown Creek has four remedial project managers, and PRPs have the lead. EPA is spending millions on consultants. Here, there are only the three of us, and we have assistance from the state. John is working on the Programmatic Agreement – Section 106 does not apply – and nothing about a brick foundation 160 year MGP coal tar 40 feet below ground, so that doesn’t really apply. We will get an agreement, we promise. You will have consulting-party status. It is not on the critical path yet. Eventually, you will be satisfied, just at government speed.
CAG: What is DEP doing to help small businesses, when the City forces them out of Gowanus Station building.
EPA: It’s been a while since we discussed city/state/federal government relocation laws – we directed them 8-10 months ago that they need to comply with all the rules. Depending on status as a resident or small business, there are a lot of rules. We have not asked the City lately, but on the other hand have not had anyone say there had not been a good relationship there. National Grid & Eastern Effects are working together and Eastern Effects has not been displaced yet, and there’s noise mitigation and things like that are being planned for. If anyone from Gowanus Station comes forward and says they’re not being treated in accordance with the law, we will work with them.
CAG: Is there a deadline by which tunnel vs. tank has to be determined?
EPA: Has to be determined before we start building anything. The process to make a remedy change would be a lengthy process, public comment, EPA approval from 2011, 2012, 2013, so we’re not even sort of close to thinking about those things. It is does this make sense, is it better for the environment, does it suit the community, those things. In the meanwhile, we have a ROD and are moving full steam ahead. The cleanup is not slowing down. If the cleanup overtakes that decision, okay.
CAG: I want to live to see the Canal clean. I’m not sure if we have to change.
EPA: My goal is to see Buddy [Scotto, (CAG Member)] see the Canal clean.
CAG: Will there be a battle between the City and the EPA on tank vs. tunnel?
EPA: You all have to decide what your opinions are on this, so you need to not just ask me questions, who you need to write to. This is not the forum where the influence starts and ends. If you need to, get on Twitter or call the mayor.
Public: The EPA has jurisdiction over the City’s EIS scoping?
EPA: The EIS process is how the City determines things, and we just gave them a response that said you can’t impact the remedy. We said the information they’re developing on how rezoning will affect the EIS, you have to give that to us. If we have question about that work, say about rainfall year/amount, they have to submit it to us so it can be changed for tank purposes. Our preliminary opinion is that the tanks work well enough, that they’ll work so well.
CAG: They’re so good to hit what performance metric?
EPA: Our ROD says 58-74% of the contaminated sewage – most of the time that happens at the beginning. The tanks are good enough that the tanks will catch all of that from two CSO points. Getting to 100 is not the goal, because Carroll St and 9th Street will have discharge. There’s a limit on how much, because at the end of it, there are no health impacts.
CAG: But so the density is going to add to CSO outfalls where there’s not currently.
EPA: Our remedy is related to controlling those things. Took that CSO out of the system. It is incredibly complicated – how does this actually work, debate with the city. We think the tanks provide all the human health and environmental protection, you can always say there’s a value in more. Is it better to get that somewhere else where you aren’t capturing anything, Jamaica Bay, Flushing Bay? In Sunset Park there’s an outfall that’s bigger than any along the canal.
Public: June 2020 – is there a start date for bulkhead work?
EPA: Literally within days – at Public Place there’s some excavation work, and then they’ll start on the bulkhead. Aaron (from NYSDEC) can give more info.
DEC: This is a question for John Miller .
EPA: Pig Beach will do it when the restaurant closes November – February, probably. It’s a theoretical schedule. Four National Grid properties, and then 8 or 10 other blocks of stuff. I wish I could tell you. As we get closer we’ll update more.
CAG: The May town hall took place during a major rain event, with CSOs in the canal, and we had about 75 attendees. Got through all the public questions, a lot of information, some new people who hadn’t participated at these events in the past, and kudos to those who came out and helped.
Posted it on Facebook Live, on Congresswoman’s Velazquez’s page – should share / post to Gowanus CAG’s page, too.
CAG: Yes, wanted to thank Nydia.
National Grid MGP site – DEC and NYS Department of Health, attended by 20-25 people; someone did ask if they would come back and do the presentation for the CAG.
Dan Wiley & Catherine Zinnel met with 15 neighbors who had no clue about the site – they laughed it off.
Doug Sarno: We’ll schedule having NYS DEC and NYSDOH come to a CAG meeting.
CAG: Another request went to DEC to discuss water quality, they will be at the September meeting. Requested a formal outline of questions. Amy and the Water Quality Committee are working on it. Might work to use September for the other meeting, too. We do have one more meeting – July 30. The 5th Tuesday, not the 4th. There’s not a whole lot happening then. The question was “really?” – do we see value in a July 30 meeting? Without Christos, without real topics on hand? (No one disagreed). No July meeting.
CAG: Can we send out a list of contacts, because there will be new work happening in the next few months? Who to call with questions, information about what people can expect to see?
EPA: Natalie is working on this.
CAG: How about a map of the canal with where a bulkhead is planned/approved/in construction – date for construction? Nothing is simple for EPA to produce/post. Would be great if the Outreach Committee could do that.
This committee is made up of liaisons from each of the other committees to focus on bigger-picture stuff, and challenges facing the CAG. Some of the issues raised include getting resolutions passed and distributed in a consistent and timely way, having subcommittees produce minutes, civility at meetings, and meeting at other locations in the community: The idea that Mary Star of the Sea is home base, but there are other community areas, so could be good to occasionally move meetings to be more accessible
There was some deliberation over Mary Star of the Sea and meeting in other locations. It was noted that DEC had very low turnout for their recent public meeting. When we’re not at our home base, we lose CAG members. It was decided that occasionally meeting in other locations made sense, but it should coincide with an issue of interest to that area of the community.
Resolution process: What we’re asking is that committees spend more time fleshing out your resolutions before you bring them to the full CAG. Bring the idea to the full CAG for preliminary discussion, and then work on it at the committee to fill in details. It is a good idea to share drafts by email to help get input from all different perspectives. Once it is ready to be presented for action at a full CAG meeting, it needs to be shared at least seven days prior. We’re asking committees to be more nit-picky and make sure you are paying attention to formatting, grammar, and typos, so those don’t distract from our substantive conversation at the CAG meetings. When they’re passed, Doug Sarno will coordinate distribution and finalizing the version discussed at the meeting.
We’re working with Water Quality to try to get summaries of meetings and send them back for approval.
EPA: One other thing that came up in addition to possibly moving the CAG meeting is that Natalie would participate in a tenant association meeting or two, maybe with a Leadership Committee member to act as an ambassador. We haven’t moved forward with that yet, but we’re looking to do that in the coming year (Hildegaard and Ben Solotaire from Council Member Levin’s office are interested in supporting this idea).
We want to connect with EPA and expand the information outreach to the community.
EPA: In many CAGs, communities respond when there’s an issue that is important to them. You can’t evaluate the effectiveness based on participation. If you remember when Alloy Development came and presented, there were tons of NYCHA residents there, and right now for those of us in the CAG, we know all the details, but generally people are not cognizant until they start seeing things in the canal. When the work started in the 4th Street basin, we starting getting a lot of questions. Would suggest we be prepared for an onslaught of concerns and questions as work really gets ramped up. We do need to have the materials ready.
It is more challenging for the EPA to go through some of these processes; we’re like a cruise ship and the CAG is like a steamboat.
Water Quality and Technical Committee
Not meeting, can see above.
Everyone has signed legal documents regarding the transfer and storage of the Gowanus artifacts.
Land Use Committee
Instead of 1st Tuesday, will meet on the second Tuesday because of July 4th.
Plans to meet in July.
City of Water Day is July 13th.
Dan Wiley met a hydrologist from NOAA who is willing to discuss the information that is out there about the Gowanus, and grants that might be good for the CAG to know about.
Riverkeeper would like to present in the fall about the Army Corps of Engineers, will look for that in October.
The CAG will not be meeting for two months, DEC and National Grid will be presenting at the next CAG meeting on September 24th.
The meeting adjourned at 8:30 PM.
CAG Members Present
Michelle de La Uz
Mark Karwowski (alternate for Marlene Donnelly)
Natalie Loney, EPA
Brian Carr, EPA
Doug Sarno, Facilitator