Posted by & filed under EPA Updates, Frontpage, Remediation Work.

Christos Tsiamis, who as Remedial Project Manager for the Superfund cleanup of the Gowanus Canal has been instrumental in the tremendous progress of the project to date, informed us today that we will be leaving EPA effective June 16th.

Tsiamis has led the engineering of the cleanup effort since the Canal was first designated a Superfund site 13 years ago, and he’s played a vital role in designing and executing the remedy. The importance of his leadership, commitment, and ability to innovate can’t be overstated, and we owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for what his work means for this community.

The healthy future of the Gowanus Canal and the neighborhood surrounding it will serve as an ongoing testament to his work. Thank you, Christos, for all that you’ve done.

We publish Christos’s message to us below, in full.

Dear CAG Members:

I would like to let you know that I will be leaving EPA (but not the workforce altogether).  My last day at work will be Friday, June 16, 2023.  I would have liked to make this announcement in person, but circumstances have prevented me from doing so.

I have truly appreciated your dedication in pursuing the environmental cleanup of the Gowanus Canal and the surrounding areas, your intellectual astuteness, and your rigor in engaging with the governmental agencies.  Also, I am extremely grateful for how supportive you have been to my team and to me personally.  That support has been essential in carrying us through some very difficult times.  I will always cherish it.

It has been a great honor serving your community.  When I spoke to you, immediately after the 2010 listing of the Gowanus Canal as a Superfund site, I made a promise.  I had said that I felt that it was time for me to give back to New York City for all the good things that the City had given me since the time I arrived here to study engineering on a scholarship.  The Gowanus Canal cleanup would be my opportunity to fulfill that promise.  Thirteen years later, I can tell you that, since that time, day after day I gave it all, to the best of my ability, to ensure that your community gets what it deserves, after so many decades of environmental neglect.  My guiding principles have been good and innovative science and engineering; smart, effective management; and, as importantly, respectful, direct, and honest engagement with all of you in the community.

The work at the Canal has been a team effort on a grand scale.  The contributions of my close-knit EPA team have been tremendous.  And so have been the contributions of EPA’s extremely well-staffed team of Jacobs, the EPA consultant.  Along the way, we were able to achieve collaborative relationships with the engineering teams working for the responsible parties for the canal, and their contributions and diligence are greatly appreciated.  Finally, although it took some time and good leadership, we currently have achieved a level of collaboration with the State and the City environmental agencies that, I believe, bodes well for the progress of the environmental cleanup work in your neighborhood.

Here, I would like to list what I consider to be my personal main contributions to this cleanup project:

  1. Making the CSO controls (the retention tanks) part of the canal cleanup plan.
  2. Devising a comprehensive in-canal cleanup plan that included:
  • the removal of all the contaminated soft sediment that had been deposited over the decades.   (Others had advocated for partial removal of soft sediment and covering the remaining bulk of the sediment with a layer of sand.)
  • the novel application, in saline environment, of in-situ stabilization of 5 feet of native sediment to act as a barrier to the upwelling of deep liquid tar.
  • the use of an active cap to absorb dissolved contaminants in the upwelling of groundwater. (The Jacobs team, expertly, worked out the details of that cap.)
  • including the restoration of Turning Basin 1 and portion of Turning Basin 5 in the cleanup plan.
  1. Applying adaptive management procedures that enabled our teams to achieve speed and flexibility that resulted in record time frames for completion of tasks.  Namely we completed:
  • A remedial investigation
  • A feasibility study
  • A proposed cleanup plan
  • A Record of Decision (final cleanup plan)

in 39 months, when in comparable sites it takes several years to complete just one of these tasks.

  1. Insisting and ensuring that the Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) sites, and other upland tar impacted sites, are addressed in a comprehensive manner that protects human health and the environment, and devising, recently, (in collaboration with the new State team and Jacobs) a detailed plan on how to achieve that.

Besides the technical components, crucial to achieving many of the above was the legal component. The attorney in my team, Brian Carr, with his solid expertise, innovative thinking, and tireless engagement with a multitude of parties, was a huge part of whatever successes we can claim in the project. It occurs to me that, in the way that the majority of the Beatles songs are attributed to “Lennon and McCartney” as though they were creating as a unit, in the same manner, what has been achieved in the Canal as a result of our efforts should be attributed to “Carr and Tsiamis”, indistinguishably.

Finally, Natalie Loney made all the difference in finding ways to engage with the community early-on in the process, and that included her invaluable efforts towards the creation of your group. With a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, with professionalism, with her poise and humor, she won my confidence from the get-go.  And she has been a pillar to this effort ever since.  

I am leaving having made sure that I have led the project to crucial milestones. It will only require good stewardship to carry through all the components of the cleanup project that have already been put in place.  Namely,

  • Construction of the remedy of the upper canal is at its latest stage and the means and methods for carrying out the cleanup of the other portions of the canal have to simply be replicated.
  • The design for the middle canal is at its completion. It will simply require unimpeded execution.
  • New York City has adopted the accelerated schedule that we introduced for the completion of the CSO tanks and the work is proceeding with new vigor.
  • New York State has become a partner in the cleanup of the uplands and has agreed to implement our requirements, at a minimum, for a comprehensive cleanup of the MGP-related contamination in the uplands.

I have faith in all of you that you will continue giving your time and energy generously to ensure that this environmental cleanup project is a great success. You have all become part of my life. I am leaving my post at the agency, but I am not going too far. There is a place in my heart for your community and I know that there are many places in your community that I can count on for some good times.

Until soon!


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