The Gowanus CAG’s Outreach Committee held a Zoom meeting on Monday, October 25th, at 12:30 p.m.
Outreach Committee members present:
Other CAG members present: Michelle de la Uz
EPA: Natalie Loney
Guest: Dan Wiley (District Director for Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez)
• Review past Superfund Town Hall scopes and purpose (Nov 2017, May 2019)
• What are the questions Land Use has? What is within CAG scope?
• Discuss CAG capacity for planning and executing an event
• Considerations for event timing/scheduling
• Next Steps & Meeting Schedule
Today’s Outreach Committee meeting is taking place at a special time and day to accommodate a meeting prior to the October CAG General Meeting. Outreach will return to a regular morning meeting schedule.
The CAG has held two prior town hall meetings, focused on status of and information about the cleanup. Intended to build awareness of the work.
Linda: We want residents to hear from FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers about issues a bit outside of the Superfund remedy. Broader in scope than the past events we’ve had.
George: Running a newspaper, I’m cognizant of the fact that the majority of people don’t pay attention until it affects them. It’s helpful to have some retrospective view.
Natalie: Land Use was proposing early November, which seems undoable. The past town halls have taken months to plan. A lot depends on the scope of the meeting, and we need to wrap our heads around what the meeting will cover. The broader the scope, the more moving parts, and the more time necessary to pull it together. If you’re looking for FEMA and the Army Corps and other agencies, it will take more.
Dan: The more agencies participating, it might be a case of each of them having less to do, and perhaps easier in that sense. It might not be too hard to get FEMA, since they have disaster response for Hurricane Ida.
Michelle: I do think it’s a good time to update the Superfund work. It’s probably multiple sessions: Superfund update, flooding issues. They might attract different audiences.
Linda: Land Use is really concerned about flooding. Especially in the context of the rezoning. That’s what the Land Use committee is asking for.
Louis: Are we going to allow an open forum for all Gowanus issues, or narrow it down to Superfund issues?
Natalie: I don’t think that Michelle is disagreeing with you. I think she’s saying that having a Superfund update requires a good deal of planning. The issue of FEMA and flooding also requires a lot of time and effort. It doesn’t appear all of that can happen in the same meeting.
Michelle: Yes, plan a series.
Natalie: Exactly. A lot of this falls outside my role with Superfund. There is not an Environmental Justice division at EPA; we try to integrate it into everything that we do.
Christine: I agree that holding a series of events makes a lot of sense, especially given the need to educate the community. In the past, we’ve invited agencies like DEP and DEC; that has been helpful to have officials on hand to answer questions.
An important question is what does the CAG plan, and what do other entities plan, like the Community Board and elected officials. These town halls require a lot of planning and coordination. Even with a Zoom meeting, and much of this is done on a volunteer basis.
I would propose that the CAG work on planning a Superfund-focused town hall, and have other entities plan the other sessions.
Linda: The initial one should include FEMA. There are a lot of climate-change issues, there’s flooding. I would prefer to do it with Congresswoman Velázquez’s office rather than CB6.
Louis: Can we agree that we support doing a series?
Dan: I can try to put together the first one, involving FEMA. I think that’s easier to do if we don’t have to worry about including and explaining Superfund.
CAG should have representation on it; EPA can come, but it doesn’t have to be their show.
Natalie: We’re looking at a series of town hall meetings. The first one would be more focused on flooding issues. Is the CAG hosting?
Dan: I’m happy to have the Congresswoman host the meeting, invite FEMA, the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency.
Hildegaard: There’s actually a bunch of flooding measurement going on right this minute. A number of entities have flood meters in the Gowanus right now. We do have data. There’s no reason why we need to put up with assertions that there’s no flooding now. If we need to use it with engaging the Department of City Planning, we can.
Christine: Any particulars that have to do with the FEMA meeting should be discussed separately. Let’s focus on the Superfund meeting.
Louis: Because this is a CAG event, I strongly feel the first meeting should be focused on the Superfund process itself, and the CAG and CAG’s role.
Christine: I think that raises a timing issue. Flooding and resiliency feels like a time-bound issue, so I would leave it up to Dan and team to figure out the timing that makes the most sense. What makes sense for a Superfund-related town hall is a different question. It’s required a fair amount of lead time in the past. When does it make sense to have a Superfund town hall?
Michelle: I think January makes sense for a Superfund town hall.
Dan: My goal for a FEMA/flooding town hall is Tuesday, November 9. If I can get FEMA, I think the Mayor’s Office will come along. I can get Nydia then. But we can always push it back if necessary.
Louis: Assuming we take Dan’s idea of doing the FEMA meeting first, we shouldn’t call it a CAG town hall. Who will be the host? It shouldn’t be the CAG.
Dan: We’ll host it, and invite the CAG and EPA and some other agencies. We’ll do the outreach on it. The CAG can share it with whomever it wants.
Natalie: What role will EPA play?
Dan: I think you can be there to answer questions that come up.
Natalie: I know my management will want a clear understanding of roles. Tehcnical staff? Water division? You don’t have to answer now.
Dan: Walter Mugdan, and whomever he wants to bring. Or a new Regional Administrator, if one is named by then.
Natalie: So it’s a November 9th meeting, with FEMA getting top billing. The Mayor’s Office of Resiliency. EPA would attend to handle Superfund or Clean Water Act-related questions, and the CAG would be invited.
Christine: Let’s talk about the CAG-hosted town hall, focused on Superfund. Does January feel feasible? It feels a little soon. I want to throw out event timing and logistics, and availability of key people.
Natalie: In terms of the actual presentation, we have tried and true materials. The challenging part about the Gowanus site is that it’s an epic story. If you enter in Season 3, it’s like Game of Thrones, you’ll be lost. If the objective is to bring the community up to speed with where we are, EPA is well versed on it, and prepared with some tweaking, to do that presentation.
It’s helpful for us to lay out the basic information, and we can frame the presentation that way. There are obviously more complicated issues, like upland sites, which we can talk about. But we’re ready to do a basic presentation.
Christine: What about EPA personnel availability? I can’t speak to Walter’s participation, but he’s done it in the past. There’s Pat Evangelista, head of Superfund. The region would make the decision on who would make the presentation.
It would be a CAG event, with Nydia as a special guest.
Natalie: I need to identify people and their availabilities. January seems daunting, but possibly doable.
Dan: We won’t have the January schedule for Congress until December.
Natalie: We can knock out some dates, like Fridays and holidays.
Christine: January seems like a challenge.
Natalie: Email chatter I’ve been receiving has been generally about the bridges. Parents frustrated with bridge closures to get their kids to school.
Dan: MLK Day falls on the third week of January, and Congress has traditionally been in recess then. That week might be good.
Louis: We might want to consider replacing the January CAG meeting with the town hall.
Eric: We typically do the CAG retreat in January.
Louis: Do you think November 9th is too soon, given the work that needs to be done?
Dan: If we wait, we run into Thanksgiving.
Natalie: Two quick questions. So we’re looking at the 9th of November, with potential to move into December if that doesn’t work? When is the mid-winter break for NYC schools?
Michelle: Typically in mid-February.
Natalie: I think parents of school kids are an important audience, so we should try to make sure it’s a time when parents could attend.
And on the issue of environmental justice, we should make sure we do outreach to EJ communities in Gowanus, and should strive to have translation.
Michelle: Is there a budget for that?
Natalie: Let me look into that. If we’re doing it for Superfund, we need to make sure that’s the focus.
The logistics can be a bit complicated, especially in this new online universe. I also don’t know how much of the target audience is online, especially in EJ communities. We might need to consider a hybrid meeting.
Christine: That might affect our timing and capacity. Outreach needs to discuss target groups, and that will have repercussions. We need to refine that at our next meeting in November.
Michelle: FAC has been hosting hybrid meetings with NYCHA residents for more than a year now. We have experience doing that.
Dan: We’ve worked to be able to have people join our meetings with their phones. We’ve met with all the tenant leaders, and we’ve made sure people could call in by phone.
Christine: Next steps – Michelle will report back to the full CAG tomorrow. Outreach will convene in November to discuss target audience, meeting logistics, etc.