Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street
CAG Facilitator Doug Sarno opened the meeting at 6:35 p.m. December minutes were approved with no revisions. Average attendance in 2016 was 19 members, which means that a quorum for 2017 will be 10 members, the same as last year (defined as 50% of the average attendance of previous year).
Natalie Loney, EPA Region 2 Community Involvement Coordinator, provided the update. She anticipated that there would be questions about EPA contract freeze that had been announced by the Trump administration, though did not have any additional information from what had been reported.
CAG Member: Will the EPA have to renegotiate contracts with all PRPs?
EPA: The Superfund law was written so that it would not be buffeted by political change. The Record of Decision was created under the CERCLA law and the EPA will move forward with the cleanup. The Gowanus cleanup is funded by PRP dollars and will continue.
CAG Member: What is the gag order that is being reported?
EPA: It’s not unheard of for an incoming administration to prefer that agencies don’t speculate about programs as they get to determine policies moving forward. We don’t comment on policy but we can talk about the work we’re doing already. We’re not tweeting or engaging in policy conversations. However, you as private citizens can discuss all aspects of Gowanus.
CAG Member: Is it possible that Walter Mugdan will be replaced?
EPA: Walter is a career employee, not an appointee. Our regional administrator Judith Enck was a political appointee and resigned on the day of the inauguration. Walter, our deputy regional administrator is now the acting regional administrator until a permanent regional administrator has been appointed.
CAG Member: There was a story in ProPublica that the administration is imposing a freeze on grants and contracts. How will this affect the cleanup?
EPA: The cleanup is not grant-funded. The ROD was signed between the EPA and the PRPs – and that is still operational. Again, it is not unheard of for an incoming administration to freeze spending. In general, operations continue depending on the kind of program.
Proposed Resolution on Thomas Greene Playground:
- This resolution was originally presented at the last CAG meeting and was refined by the Land Use Committee.
- It is addressed to all involved agencies, not just EPA.
Friendly Amendment 1 on three wording changes:
- First line, first paragraph, remove the word “particularly.”
- First line, second paragraph remove words “and complete.”
- Third line, third paragraph, change to “preserve as many London Plane trees as possible in and around the Park.”
Friendly Amendment 1 passed (all in favor, none opposed, 15-0).
Vote on friendly Amendment 2 to add new line
- Add new sentence at end of third paragraph: “Additionally the CAG requests that there will not be an overall loss of trees and new trees will be planted that are better suited to survive the conditions in an environment subject to frequent flooding.”
Friendly Amendment 2 passed (all in favor, none opposed, 15-0).
Discussion and vote on full resolution as amended.
- Suggestion to change ”resolved” to “request” was not moved forward to an amendment
- There is a new Parks Commissioner and we should change name on resolution (agreed)
- Add State Senators if addressing to Jo Anne Simon (Velmanette Montgomery will be added)
Resolution Passed (all in favor, none opposed, all pass 15-0).
CAG Member: Where will this resolution be published?
Facilitator: It will be emailed to the distribution list. All resolutions are posted on the CAG website.
CAG Member: Is National Grid responsible for the landscaping, should they be cc’ed?
Facilitator: National Grid is working with the EPA through the Superfund process. They also attend CAG meetings and are aware of all CAG concerns.
CAG Committee Updates
- Did not meet, conducted their annual review of membership in the fall.
- Was in breach of bylaws because they did not meet quarterly. They are now restored as they attended a tour as part of their meeting last quarter.
Land Use Committee
- Started working on mission statement – will revisit at the next meeting
- Also discussed Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA)
- From the November meeting: would like to reach out to Councilmember Lander’s office & Kevin Clark at NYC DEP about siting for the retention tank – it’s too early to get information about staging areas
According to the Charter, committees should be reviewing their mission once a year.
- Last meeting was not well attended
- Owen Foote (Gowanus Dredgers) talked about problems with how information is disseminated from the CAG, the Committees and the EPA
- Talked about how to have larger meetings and bring in more community members for a Gowanus 101 presentation
- A scheduling survey was distributed and a majority of respondents elected to maintain the current meeting schedule
Water Quality and Technical Committee
- DEC is taking public comments on how to get permits for livable shorelines on existing bulkheads. There’s no explanation for how it works with Superfund. It’s on the DEC website and the deadline is in February. Sean Dixon is working on a general statement that Water Quality might as a CAG resolution.
- The NRDA process generally follows Superfund. We had a meeting with one of the trustees of this process. The CAG needs to get engaged – this is another pot of money that can be spent on restoration. If it’s left until after Superfund happens, there may be no room in the Canal for restoration and the money could go to other areas.
- Would like to get all trustees (NOAA, Fish & Wildlife, etc.) to come to the March meeting and explain the process, which is connected to Superfund but separate.
- Settlement of natural resource damages won’t be resolved for many years but the PRPs can do work now and get credit toward what is assessed in the end.
- May involve purchasing land for restoration
- NRDA will assess loss of fishable and swimmable water in community (priority projects will address this)
- Concern about zoning change and development pressure
- The committee also suggested that a Department of Health representative come talk to the CAG about the final release of the Public Health Assessment for the Gowanus Canal.
CAG Annual Retreat
Doug discussed the various CAG communication and distribution lists that he currently manages.
- Basic email list to CAG Members and cc: to liaison members
This list does not go to the general public. It’s used to transmit information to members, start conversations and so forth. It originates from Doug and he tries to limit how often he uses it. Doug maintains and updates this list.
- Full CAG List to approximately 400 people
This list is used once a month to notify everyone who asks to be on the list about the full CAG meeting. Doug maintains and updates this list.
- Press list (inherited) – 45 names
This list is used when something press-worthy comes up at meetings; it is not being maintained.
- Committee Lists
Doug sends committees names and emails of committee members upon request. Committees maintain their own email lists and send their own emails.
- Agency Officials List
This is a list of all the people the CAG might want to communicate with or distribute resolutions. This list was just put together in the fall with the Facilitation Team.
Doug: Which of these should I continue to monitor and which should be the purview of the Committees? We are doing no regular communications to the community of anything other than CAG meeting announcements and agendas.
CAG Member: This should be part of our communication plan. Press releases should go out every time we pass a resolution. Most people won’t bother to look at the CAG website. We’ve had resolutions fall through the cracks in the past because couldn’t figure out how they would be disseminated. Maybe the press list should go to the Facilitation Team.
CAG Member: When meeting agendas go out to the public, they should also include minutes and resolutions even if they’re in draft form.
CAG Member: Committee meetings are also supposed to be open to the public. Should they also share their minutes?
Doug: When committees communicate, they communicate to the committee members list, not the full email blast.
CAG Member: Committee meetings should also be on the full email blast.
Doug: I will include a link to our meeting calendar in future email blasts.
CAG Member: If we cancel a meeting, we need to notify the public (in the past meetings were canceled and people showed up not knowing). Typically we only email within the Committee. Doug should add a disclaimer i.e. check the website before attending meetings. Likewise, committees will need to cancel meetings on the website.
CAG Member: Can we provide the email of the chair to the public?
Doug: I think we’re best served by using our website as the point of communication.
CAG Member: Press releases should come from one person so that if a newspaper or blog has questions they can direct them.
Doug: The problem is that most CAGs have chairs and this one doesn’t. That makes it difficult to assign these responsibilities.
CAG Member: Before we talk about press releases, we need a communication plan. The Facilitation Team should take this on because they have representatives from each Committee.
CAG Member: The outreach committee has not had a regular group of attendees so we’ve lost momentum. Need to revisit this in a different way because we don’t have enough capacity.
CAG Member: The Outreach Committee makes up half of the Facilitation Team. What if we reach out to all the OC members and ask them to engage in this task?
Doug: Maybe create a subcommittee?
CAG Member: Would it be useful to have participation from the full CAG (e.g. working group session)?
CAG Member: Is there a way to ask the EPA to inform the CAG about construction so that we can communicate on the website? It says 2017 but no specifics. We also don’t know what’s been removed since the pilot study last fall. Can the Outreach Committee do this?
Doug: This information is on the EPA website, but not the CAG website.
CAG Member: Can you distribute the contacts you have on the press list? Some of us have contacts we’d like to add.
Doug: I will share that with the whole CAG.
CAG Member: Can the CAG ask the EPA to present to the Community Board?
CAG Member: The Community Board should be on the CAG list.
CAG Member:We’re trying to get a larger meeting to happen this spring where the EPA will give updates to the entire community.
Facilitation Team List
Doug: I have the current list of Facilitation Team members. Do we want to update this for 2017?
CAG Member: If our admin can’t always attend, can we designate an alternate?
Doug: All committees should choose people who can attend consistently and an alternate is certainly welcome.
CAG Member: It might be better to have regular Facilitation meetings instead of right before CAG meeting.
CAG Member: Maybe the Outreach Committee can invite the Facilitation Team and use our February meeting to get some of this started. We can do it via conference call.
Doug: I will reach out to the Facilitation Team and propose a conference call arrangement. Each committee needs to designate a person who will participate so that we have a consistent voice that helps us move through these things.
CAG Member: Why are some committees overrepresented on the Facilitation Team? It’s not a focused group. (Doug: The Charter says one person from each standing committee, a maximum of 9 and there can be members at large).
CAG Member: We have this weird morning/evening meeting structure. We wanted several people from the Outreach Committee on the Facilitation Team to ensure that people would attend.
Overall, it was decided to have the facilitation team take on the responsibility of finishing the communication plan that was started by the outreach committee.
Report from Admin Committee on Annual Membership
- In 2016, our average attendance was 19 (over 10 meetings), the same as in 2015
- Attendance at five meetings meets the requirement for membership
- We are still waiting for a CB6 representative
- CAG Member comment: Make sure alternates get counted
- CAG Member comment: Anyone who doesn’t attend at least 50% of the meetings should not be a member (charter exception) or they can attend as a member of the community. We should cut down on the requirements for voting.
- CAG Member comment: We should remind members that they are expected to join Committees
- Individuals at organizations have been emailed to ask if the organizations want to continue to be members and to designate an alternate if they can’t attend.
- The Admin Committee needs to sort out organizational membership issues. Who are the founding members? What is expected of them? What are the procedures for removing organizations who do not attend or bringing back those who want to be active?
- Motion: Remove (4) members who attended 0 meetings in 2016
- All in favor: 11, opposed: 2 This motioned passed.
Doug: The CAG needs to be more consistent about writing, producing and distributing resolutions on time. We need a process. Who should ultimately be responsible? What tone and approach should we use? It makes sense to give this to the Facilitation Team but we also just gave them the Communication Plan.
CAG Member: Resolutions should use a formal template consistent with the CAG’s standing as a body in the community.
Doug: That can be part of the Communication Plan.
CAG Member: This should apply to when we submit comments, not just resolutions.
Summary of Key Decisions Made as Part of the Annual Retreat
Membership. The CAG voted to remove the members who attended no CAG meetings in 2016. CAG members who attended less than half of the 10 meetings held as noted in the Charter will be reminded to please work to improve attendance. Admin Committee will send these messages.
Sign-in. All CAG members and alternates are reminded to please sign in so that they are counted.
Committee Memberships. All members are requested to update their committee memberships based on the information shared last week. Members are reminded that all members must belong to a committee and expectations are that they will attend at least half of the meetings.
Communication Plan. It was noted that much of the challenges of creating more robust and consistent communication could be addressed in the need to finalize a communication plan for the CAG. It was decided that the Facilitation Committee would take on this task. The facilitation committee will meet on a conference call to discuss how to move forward in the development of the communication plan using the outline that has already been created by the outreach committee. Any other members who are interested in working on the communication plan are welcome to join in.
Resolutions Guidance. It was decided that it would be a good idea to create some guidance to help create a consistent format, tone and approach to resolutions and other CAG formal communication. This will be created as part of the communication plan.
Facilitation Team. The facilitation team will likely change its meeting time to conference calls or in conjunction with a committee meeting night. Meeting before regular CAG meetings is not working for most people. All committees are asked to confirm or update their facilitation team members.
Founding Organizations. The Admin Committee was asked to clarify the rules regarding founding organizations as this issue is not addressed in the Charter, to include identifying which organizations are founding members and how to handle founding organizations who do not currently have an active representative on the CAG. It was also requested that we clarify or update rules for newer organizations. It was noted that founding organizations still have to maintain attendance expectations.
Announcement on US Army Corps of Engineers Presentation to the February CAG Meeting
Dan Wiley: Congressperson Velazquez met with the USACE NY District representative last Wednesday and communicated the CAG’s desire to have USACE return to Gowanus and do restoration efforts at the back of the cleanup. Next Month, USACE is publishing its Hudson Restoration Study. Gowanus is featured but not listed as a priority (they can’t do anything until cleanup is done but they can inform the design process). USACE agreed to send someone to the February CAG meeting. They are launching a Harbor Tributaries Coastal Risk Management Study and will also look at the Gowanus Gates study. They will start stakeholder and community meetings next month.
CAG Member: Can we have USACE come in March in tandem with the NRDA?
Dan Wiley: We will have them attend in February as they are all set, but if it makes sense for them to come back in March, we can ask.
CAG Members Present
Jen Benson (alternate for Sean Dixon)
Justin Collins (alternate for David Meade)
Maryann Young (alternate for Rita Miller)
EPA, Staff and Presenters
Doug Sarno, Facilitator
Natalie Loney, EPA