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Gowanus Canal CAG General Meeting
Tuesday, September 24, 2019
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street


Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:35. 

Minutes from June approved. 

Project Updates

Christos Tsiamis, EPA Remedial Project Manager for the Gowanus Canal cleanup, presented the EPA updates. 

EPA has the “no fishing” signs ready, thanks to the State and National Grid. We have the locations the CAG agreed upon, and National Grid will be instructed to place the signs at those locations. 

We have started the work for the cutoff wall for the former Fulton manufactured gas plant on the east (Park Slope) side of the canal. National Grid contractors have been working there since late August. It is a big job, there will be a sealed bulkhead that will prevent coal tar from leaking through the sides of the canal. There is a staging area being prepared. There is a clearing operation to remove the debris at the bottom of the canal from the top of Union Street along the sides. We anticipate installation of the wall to begin in early February. 

Along with these activities, there was air monitoring, noise and vibration monitoring. There will also be some noise barriers, especially around the Eastern Effects Studio to be responsive of their needs. That work is going well. 

On September 30, EPA expects to have the 90% design from the Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) for Remedial Target Area 1 (RTA-1) from the top of the canal to the 3rd Street Bridge. We expect to have the 90% design for the detention tank at the upper canal on the east side. These are the detention tanks that under the Record of Decision (ROD) the DEP is required to build. This is the bigger of the two. This is for the clean canal. Both are big designs. They will undergo extensive EPA reviews. We will let you know when we will have schedules. 

CAG: Is the First Street Basin part of this design?

EPA: The 100% design is in place for that already. The design of the canal is complex because of different flow rates. A lot of work has gone into that. We’re getting to the end. 

There are a number of bulkheads in RTA-1 that have to be built. Some have to be prepared, some have to be finalized, some are submitted. There’s a lot of work for the EPA in the coming months. What has to be constructed is the bulkhead in front of NYC property, including the front of the Flushing Tunnel and in front of the outfall. The bulkheads on the west side south of Douglass will have to be constructed, designed, and reviewed from Douglass to Union in the coming months. For the bulkhead on the west from Union to Carroll, there are two properties, and we have designs that are in various stages for these properties. Carroll to 3rd Street also have to design and build, this is the entire east side. 

CAG: As we have discussed, it would be great if there was a way for the community to know what is going on (like fact sheets, bullet points), a way for us to know and share the information on progress of the clean up. 

EPA: Natalie [Loney] has started something, in the next week to 10 days or so we will start to get that out. 

CAG: We know there can’t be a precise schedule, but even a map that says private work to be done would be helpful.

CAG: It would be great if we had a map so something was available to circulate at the next meeting, and a sequence of events.

EPA: The sequence is my biggest headache, and we want to bring it up so the community appreciates the difficulty. There will be many things working at the same time in a small area. Those sequences could be altered. I am hesitant to say I’ll give the schedule with the sequence. 

CAG: How will this document and map be distributed and to whom? 

EPA: Multiple ways – generally email to the CAG, posted to Gowanus page, Facebook, and CAG could then link and distribute to its own community networks. 

CAG: We talked in the past about having it as a Google map; GCC would be happy to coordinate that.

EPA: Yes, that would be a CAG product and would be welcome.

Over the past year or so, EPA has been considering a proposal by NYC to replace the proposal EPA included in the Record of Decision (ROD) to manage combined sewer overflows. NYC proposed replacing the detention tanks identified in the ROD with a water storage tunnel from the top of the canal to about the Fourth Street basin. NYC made several presentations to the EPA and I believe also the CAG. The EPA Regional Administrator (RA) was interested in listening to what the City proposed, so he invited the City to make various presentations and this took quite a bit of time. After hearing the presentations and consulting EPA’s teams and hearing the analysis of EPA teams, the RA reached a decision and communicated that decision last Friday (September 20). His letter was shared with the CAG. The RA basically said that the EPA analysis did not support the change from the existing proposed tanks and said we should move forward and if possible accelerate the schedule of construction. 

The RA himself wanted to really delve into the facts. He spent several hours and days discussing both with NYC and EPA technical teams the pros and cons, and his letter summarized the reasons for his decision. The reasons have to do with elements that were not in the jurisdiction of EPA’s Superfund program (such as flood control). The RA believes that the negatives outweigh the benefits in terms of prolonging the cleanup. As we all know we are trying to eliminate CSOs. That is the administrative decision. We are moving on with the implementation of the remedy as is written in the ROD. 

This summer I sent an email to DEP asking to update with progress. We were still evaluating the tunnel vs. tank proposal and the Commissioner asked to postpone any action, but now as the letter concludes, we’re going to push ahead. 

CAG: Did the RA address the issue of scalability?

EPA: We had extensive discussions about the benefits of the future – we addressed everything.

CAG: The top paragraph of page 3 of the RA letter states: “EPA’s current assessment with respect to the contemplated rezoning is that the existing requirement for the 12 million-gallon CSO retention tank volume is adequate, in combination with other appropriate control measures, for the ROD remedy to remain protective.” This surprised me, but then it also mentions that the EPA is comfortable discussing expanding the tanks. I find it difficult to believe the City wants to spend that much more. What new data with the rezoning says it is sufficient? Will you ask the City to provide new data from the Gowanus EIS?

EPA: I want to remind the CAG of the 2013 ROD. While we were negotiating the order of consent finalized in 2016, NYC was making the point that the tanks were too large. But EPA did not confirm this, and we negotiated the tanks to a size that was more than sufficient. At the time EPA had no idea of the extent of rezoning, but anticipated some rezoning. We will have to work with the City and developers so we don’t overload the system. Also we are directing the City to give us info from the EIS. City has provided the EIS. A lot of the info has to do with infrastructure and so forth. We started working with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy and releasing to everybody and staying on top of that issue. The fact that we can’t exceed the load is in the ROD. It is clearly stated and this is something we worked out with Lightstone based on that requirement. Basically that is the grand plan – the incremental impact of the zoning. 

CAG: Incremental growth managed by the City, what do we have to prove that the City or developers will manage their stormwater? 

EPA: The City is building its own infrastructure separate from Superfund, such as the big stormwater pipe and the 9th street pre-treatment units and steamers to hold back contamination in the canal.

CAG: Is EPA going to come back and look at what works?

EPA: Yes, every five years under Superfund we evaluate corrective measures. 

CAG: The design is 90% for first tank? If so, do we have an estimate for the cost – when do we get to see it?

EPA: Only fair to give significant review first, wait until Monday. 

CAG: Is the 12-million gallon tank solution intended to address the current anticipated level of CSOs in the canal, and are any additional CSOs created by the rezoning the city/developers’ responsibility?

EPA: Yes. The EPA will work with developers on a project-by-project basis to assure that proper storm water management strategies are implemented.

CAG: Is the City on schedule?

EPA: Yes, for the upper canal tank everything has been provided on time. There is a little detail here. When we announced the ROD, following that we had all the PRPs under a unilateral order to do the work – NYC had a unilateral order to build two tanks, an upper tank and middle tank. Then many people had a question of where to put the upper tank. EPA allowed the City to put the tank at their preference. So there is an Administrative Order of Consent for the upper tank. The City has met all the obligations for building out the tank at the top of the canal. However, under the unilateral order, the City has fallen behind for the middle tank. It is mentioned in the letter. That is a distinction – designs were due in June for construction design of the middle tank. We will update you on the new schedule for that. 

CAG: The Bond Street sewer starts at 72-inch diameter pipe and narrows down to 56 inches, and that is the Bond Street bottleneck. It is a gross plumbing violation, and DEP has demonstrated no interest in fixing it. 

EPA: Hydraulic control has to do with flooding, this is mentioned in the letter. Superfund has no jurisdiction to get involved in issues of flooding. I have no jurisdiction to do the plumbing work. In our letter there are a lot of words about infrastructure. We agree with many of the community concerns. EPA has offered to coordinate between Clean Water Act, Superfund, Army Corps – we hope those discussions will start. We want to talk to the GCC and FROGG and see what ideas they have, but in terms of the Long Term Control Plan, it deals with the Bond Street sewer dating back to 1983. We agree with the community and other regulators – a plan is in place and getting folks to upgrade the train signals, whatever it may be, these are the challenges for NYC. 

CAG: Am I correct that all new development will require on-site treatment of stormwater? 

EPA: We will follow up on that – problems can be solved on a one-to-one basis – we’re going to work with developers and the City. We cannot re-contaminate the canal. 

CAG: Stormwater or sanitary sewage or both? 

EPA: A combination. 

CAG: A number of developers assume they already will have to construct on-site treatment of stormwater controls. 

CAG: Skeptical in black and white, I don’t believe developers or the City will actually abide by limits. 

CAG: How does Lightstone deal with this?

EPA: Let’s say there’s so much stormwater that goes into the canal – if they can discharge it into the canal by taking out some of the water. If they take out stormwater and they treat it, they can take that out of what they would be discharging. Let’s not confuse the CAG. It’s a material balance. 

CAG: I think that’s why outside analysis is going to be so important.

EPA: We double-check all calculations. 

CAG: I appreciate that you’re focused on more CSOs. What you said about outfall 007 – it sounds like there is a timeline in the unilateral agreement.

EPA: The City proposed something that the Agency never approved. I received instructions from my bosses, and now we’ll resolve it and get back to you.

CAG: Will you be revising the date the 4MG tank design will get to us? 

EPA: I did not agree to that schedule, as soon as we learn, we will get it to you. 

CAG: And the formal response will be a unilateral order or how will it be formalized? 

EPA: It will be a directive. 

CAG: Since you offered that you’re going to try to put the Clean Water Act people together, the EPA standard does call for limits on pathogens for all waterbodies, including Gowanus – is there any way EPA can help move forward on reclassification?

EPA: We are certainly going to involve water people as we look at the rezoning EIS. EPA will comment the same way you guys will comment – we don’t just need to give us this information, you have to give it to us for design purposes and tank capacity (that’s not for pathogens though). It is sort of a long-time thing that has to be addressed. We have a national standard with some discrepancies, but certainly we can voice these concerns. The tanks and other measures we expect to take, we hope, and NYS Department of Health also want to see significant gains regardless of what that is. We can’t speak to the level you want but, can speak to once we have the tanks in place, we can bring the water to a level you want.  

CAG: Can we invite the Clean Water Act folks to a CAG meeting? 

EPA: Clean Water has been delegated to the state but you can certainly invite them.

Public: To quote the last sentence of the September 20 letter, “the careful consideration given to the City’s tunnel proposal has resulted in a significant devotion of resources by both EPA and the City. One impact of this level of effort has been a shift in focus from components of the ROD, in particular the OH-007 CSO retention tank. In light of the urgent pace of the redevelopment and rezoning, I have tasked my staff with looking at adaptive management strategies to keep the overall cleanup on track as we move forward together.” What are the adaptive management strategies?

EPA: We use all the creativity we have to move the project. We are breaking things into small, doable bits – at other sites they do things differently so we’re looking at breaking things up so that things can be done in shorter time periods. RTA1, RTA2, RTA3 was how I cut it – doesn’t mean that’s how it works. We aren’t going to stop once we finish one, they are all together. A big portion was to decide which areas for the cement resolidification. This required lots of work with the PRPs and EPA. While I’m discussing these things, I’ve tasked my team to map out RTA2 and the PRPs will see it soon. We are already moving with design of the 2nd before the 1st one goes in. 

CAG: 2nd page, 1st bullet relies on future flood control outside of CERCLA/CWA order to change the ROD. 

EPA: Flood control we cannot do, but the Administrator pointed out at the town hall that we were discussing flood controls. GCC has been invited to meet to discuss ideas, and we need to do that on a normal basis. This is all outside, but we as engineers and EPA can help where we can but cannot enforce. Army Corps of Engineers handles the flood gate with land controls inside the canal. We do have ideas, and will recommend them such as small wetlands, FEMA flood zone. No one is saying “not my job.” 

CAG: In doing ecological things it would be good to include Army Corps before the end.

EPA: Eco-restoration is going to be different post-Superfund; natural resource damages claim, fishing, NOAA, you’ve heard from some trustees in the past. 

CAG: We want to discuss the decision at 234 Butler.

EPA: I looked at the CAG’s draft resolution, and you know that the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) has been finalized and signed by EPA RA Pete Lopez and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). It has been reviewed by advisory council. It is on our site. You can see that. Since you mentioned it, the letter from the advisory council is not on the site, but we will put it there. It says they had no comment on the matter. They also say if there is further question in the letter by another party or member, to contact them. We’re going to put it on the website. The other thing is we will have a programmatic agreement before we start construction, and it is taking a little longer than we expected. We should have it by the middle of November. We have already done a lot of work under the spirit of Section 106 from the Lightstone bulkhead, the recommendation is in every final report of the bulkhead. This is the way we have done every work plan. Since we started work it has been necessary to report archaeological requirements. The work was done before the programmatic agreement was in place. There were vibrations – none of the work was historical. The artifacts/materials that were moved – we acted in the spirit of Section 106, where we had archaeologists look at different closed loops. They said there was nothing of importance, and National Grid stored them and allowed the community to look at them. In that particular case, we cooperated to your satisfaction and did not come to a solution. There will be a programmatic agreement when we dredge the main portion of the canal. On 234 Butler, the MOA goes way back – someone else signed – where they accepted the plan described to take down the building and use a portion of it in restoring the historical features and using as much brick as possible. That is the final decision on the part of the agency.

CAG: The community is a consulting party. This is a solution nobody asked for. The community never asked for the building to be rebuilt out of the bricks. 

EPA: The City has recommended saving only the pediment and I had said save the whole façade. What came out was the other side, that was the most that was doable.

CAG: Has the Public Design Commission seen this, because it sounds like a different project? 

EPA: That’s something the City is supposed to do. They’re supposed to enforce. 

CAG: We’ll follow up with the Public Design Commission.

EPA: I’ll follow up with the City, too. Upper management has said that the requirement we have with the brick is a “tough requirement.” I think it is fair to the extent practical. But there is a plan. The City is supposed to follow through with that plan.

CAG: Can we please follow the agenda? The conversation about 234 Butler Street is new business and should be discussed after the committees have presented their reports.

Discussion of CAG Resolutions

A quorum was called, and 20 voting members were present. 

Archaeology Resolution: 

Section 106. Great to hear Christos note there should be a programmatic agreement in place. This asks for a specific list of things to happen so there would be separate meetings solely for serving Section 106 of the National Historical Preservation Act. We recommend having a separate public meeting (at two different times) so that anyone who has an issue with any possible archaeological issue can come and bring it up and then it could be involved. The specific suggestions are based on other Section 106 processes that have been a pretty standard approach in the City. 

The resolution passed unanimously with no alterations.

Water Quality Resolution: 

The CAG has a long history of trying to promote a safe water classification – tonight we are asking DEC to go forward with submitting the petition to reclassify and then work with it. This resolution is trying to move a petition forward. There has been a letter submitted, but as a community group we have to put this action on record. Back in 2012 there was a different timeline. 

The resolution passed unanimously with no alterations.

Committee Reports


Leadership will take up David Briggs’ suggestion that committee reports come earlier in the full CAG meeting so they do not get lost. Any other suggestions for Leadership committee? How do we keep to time limits in the agenda?

Admin Committee

Issues with membership applications. Technical things – in the future if there are issues like that, contact Doug to let him know so that he can help sort it out. Two members resigned from the CAG: Stephen Kondaks (alternate for John McGettrick, who has been inactive) and Janet Atchison, who was a relatively new member and is moving.. 

Water Quality and Technical Committee

DEC has offered to call in for the next committee meeting to discuss the reclassification petition process. 

Still testing Carroll Street Bridge OHO-03 – new stormwater outflow is giving worse bacteria (believe that is resulting from dog poop from streets). MS4 should be enforced by EPA – same issue in Prospect Park and Central Park. 

Archaeology Committee

Artifacts are still sitting on the Public Place site. The individual who agreed to store this material has refused to sign. Brian Carr got involved, and National Grid moved them, still trying to find a solution.

Land Use Committee

Met twice since last CAG meeting – discussed establishing a vision for the north end of the canal; getting a better understanding of why people are serving on the CAG. Maybe over the course of the year, it’d be great if everyone could share their motivations for being on the CAG. We have a lot of groups that are part of the CAG, but not everyone knows what those groups do.

We also want to explore how successful our resolutions been – we are going to go back and look at Land Use Committee resolutions every so often to see what the impact has been. GCC conducted a bio-blitz. About 50 people out at different locations giving us a good idea of the ecology right now in the canal, which will be removed by dredging and capping and the bulkheads of the canal. This could give a good idea of the natural resources, and could help with the argument for reclassification. Also looking to test the temperature so we can identify a baseline. Hildegaard will arrange for thermometers.

Outreach Committee 

Outreach met last week – just Eric, Sabine and Christine.  October is the 10th anniversary of the CAG, and we talked about creating some event. Also discussed redesigning the timeline and helping to coordinate the map.


Doug Sarno will distribute resolutions to all identified parties. 

The meeting adjourned at 8:30 PM.

CAG Members Present 

Jerry Armer
Sabine Aronowsky
Dave Briggs
Kelsey Butterworth
Diane Buxbaum
Michelle de La Uz
Eymund Diegel
Marlene Donnelly
Nathan Elbogen
Katia Kelly
Louis Kleinman
Richard Lawrence
Hildegaard Link
Linda Mariano
Margaret Maugenest
Eric McClure
Andrea Parker
Peter Reich
Buddy Scotto
Brad Vogel
Maryann Young (alternate for Rita Miller)

Others Present

Natalie Loney, EPA
Brian Carr, EPA
Christos Tsimias, EPA
Doug Sarno, Facilitator

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