Friday, October 31, 2014

"Think With Us": EPA Provides Bigger Picture In Regards To Siting One Of Two Gowanus Retention Tanks

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At Tuesday's General Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Committee meeting
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Christos Tsiamis, EPA Region 2 Project Manager for Gowanus Canal Superfund Site
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Two sites proposed by DEP for an 8 million gallon CSO retention tank at the top of the canal near Outfall Number RH-034 . One is Thomas Greene Park, the other is a site consisting of three privately owned lots adjacent to the park at Nevins Street between Butler, De Graw and Sackett Street.
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The Double D Pool at Thomas Greene Park
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Handball court near Nevins Street at Douglass Greene Park
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1928 photo of the former MGP site at Douglass Street, where Thomas Greene Park is now
The park, surrounded by industry, as seen from 4th Avenue looking towards the Gowanus Canal in the 1930s.
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Schematic showing coal tar pollution under the Double D Pool at Thomas Greene Park
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Friends of Douglass Greene Pool
Flyer circulated by Friends Of Thomas Greene Park at a recent public meeting

The discussion at Tuesday night's general meeting of the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG) centered mostly around the siting of one of the two retention tanks the US Environmental Protection Agency is ordering the City of New York to build near two major Combined Sewer Outflows in the polluted waterway.

Last month, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection submitted to EPA two potential locations for each of the two tanks mandated by the Record of Decision (ROD).   For the retention basin at the head of the canal, near Outfall RH-034, DEP has suggested Thomas Greene Park and a second location across from the park, consisting of three blocks between the canal and Nevins Street from Butler Street to Sackett Street.

Thomas Greene Park is publicly owned, so the city would not need to purchase the land. The alternative site across the street, however, is privately owned and would need to be purchased by the City, presumably by means of Eminent Domain. There are currently businesses operating on the three blocks in question, which would have to be relocated. 

Complicating matters further, Thomas Greene Park sits on top of a former Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) and coal tar is currently oozing under the Double D pool area and flowing towards the Gowanus Canal.   New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is currently finalizing an environmental remediation plan under the State Brownfield Program to deal with the contamination.  
The cost for the mandated clean-up will be assumed by the responsible party; National Grid.

The remediation at the site will most probably mean moving heavy equipment in and around the park.  It may also mean that the pool needs to be dug up.  That's why EPA suggested that the City place the retention tank there, since it would save money.

At a recent community meeting hosted by Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, however,  the City made clear that it favors placing the retention tank under the privately owned land across the street. 

At Tuesday's CAG meeting, Christos Tsiamis of EPA wanted to provide some clarity to the community on this particular  subject, especially since Friends Of Thomas Greene Park, a group with representation on the CAG, distributed a flyer that seemed short of information but full of subtext.  
The flyer urged people to sign a petition addressed to Judith Enck, EPA Region 2 administrator , to "save our pool," and to "tell EPA to make the polluters pay!" 
The actual online petition states: "the EPA Superfund clean-up needs to be an investment in our community, and not theft of our public land."

Tsiamis' response was clear: "The site needs to be remediated. If you don't remove the pool, the park will not be remediated." He pointed out that  "this means the potential polluter does not need to pay. So when you send this [flier] out, you make the polluter NOT pay. "
He also pointed out that the only theft of land would involve the City taking the privately owned land by eminent domain if the owners refuse to sell. "That would be closer to theft than closing the park for two years."  He added: "The [EPA] does not like taking land if there is an alternative."
"If Thomas Greene Park is used for the retention basin, it would be temporarily taken.  You need to take the land in order to improve the land. Then you return it.  This is usually called 'Capital Improvements'.

As for reconstructing the pool if it needs to be removed,  Tsiamis suggested that the community work towards a better future for the facility as well as for a better clean-up of Thomas Greene Park.  
He pointed at Riverbank State Park, a park with a pool built on the top of a sewage treatment facility on the Hudson River as an example of what is possible.
Indeed, if the City is prepared to pay millions for the privately owned land across the street, perhaps the money would better spent rebuilding the pool.  Perhaps we could even get an indoor facility, which could be open during the entire year, instead of only 2 months. "Look at the better investment for the community," Christos told the CAG. "You need all the information to make an informed decision."

As for Friends Of Douglass Greene Park, it is unclear why they would try to protect the pool if it means the pollution underneath will not be fully remediated.  By doing so they are (willingly or unwillingly) creating cover for DEP and National Grid.
The group was told by a representative of the New York City Parks Department back in 2008 that the Double D pool may need to be pulled up if DEC finds contamination underneath it.  I can't imagine why the group is now so outraged after the presence of coal tar was confirmed.

Two additional points to consider are:
1) DEP did not consider cost when it suggested the two sites for the tank in the upper portion of the canal.  When this is figured in, there is no doubt that purchasing the three blocks of private land on Nevins Street would be an outrageous waste of our taxpayer money, given the fact that the City already owns the park.
2) DEP appears to have forgotten to tell the private owners of its intention to buy their land.  I spoke to one of the them a few days ago and he seemed surprised. He told me that the City had never approached him.

We all need to make sure that we understand what is at play here.  For decades now, National Grid and the City have failed to assume responsibility for the environmental hazards they have exposed us to in Gowanus.
We are closer than ever to finally getting some resolution.  Let's choose our battles and seize the moment. And most importantly, let's make sure we don't lose sight of the bigger prize: a clean canal, free of toxins and human waste.




Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Photo of The Day: Fall On Hoyt

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The branches of a maple tree reaching over a brick wall on Hoyt Street.
Its leaves were glowing in the afternoon light.



Melitte Buchman's Salt Prints Of The Gowanus Win First Place In Soho Photo Gallery's Alternative Processes Competition

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Photograph © Melitte Buchman
High Bridge, large salt print
Photograph © Melitte Buchman
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Scientist Christie Leece and Melitte Buchman ready to take a canoe ride on the Gowanus
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Melitte Buchman's waterproofed camera
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Melitte Buchman taking photos on the Gowanus

Carroll Gardener and friend Melitte Buchman has been working on a series of salt prints of the Gowanus Canal as part of her 'America the Beautiful'  project. Her images of the canal were taken during two recent canoe rides with scientist Christie Leece.
Of choosing the polluted waterway as a subject, Melitte writes:
"I live two blocks the Gowanus Canal which an EPA superfund site in Brooklyn. It is a place that is both horrifying and magnificent at the same time. My intent in this body of work is to focus on the beauty of the place, one of the only undeveloped sites left in Brooklyn. Nature occurs here, Bitterns fish the waters, Pawlonia trees wedge themselves between embankments. Here sewage overflows and foul smells are balanced by massive trees, birds, and a wild waterway."

The salt prints of Melitte's photographs seem to capture the unique beauty of the Gowanus canal perfectly. Salt printing is an old technique of printing positive images on paper coated in silver salts. The technique was first developed by British photographer William Fox Talbot in 1839.

Several of Melitte's Gowanus salt prints have been selected for Soho Photo Gallery's 10th Annual National Alternative Processes Competition and it was just announced that her work won First Place.

The prints will be exhibited at Soho Photo Gallery from November 5–29, 2014. The opening for the show is on November 4th, 6 pm to 8 pm at 15 White Street.

To see more of Melitte's work, click here.


15 White Street, Manhattan
November 5–29, 2014 
Opening Reception: November 4, 2014 6–8pm                 




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

EPA Gowanus Canal Superfund Community Advisory Group Will Meet Tonight

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The Environmental Protection Agency's Community Advisory Group for the Gowanus Canal (CAG) will be holding its monthly meeting tonight.  On the agenda are updates from EPA Region 2, a discussion on the short list of locations for the CSO retention tanks mandated in the Record Of Decision for the Gowanus Canal, as well as an update on the TAG Grant.
The meeting is open to all in the community.

Gowanus Canal CAG Meeting
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
6:30pm to 9pm
Mary Star of The Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street, Brooklyn



Monday, October 27, 2014

Picture Of The Day: Empties

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Stacked in front of American Beer Distributors on Court Street in Cobble Hill.



A Moment In Time: Fearless

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A crew working on St. Paul's façade on Court Street near Congress Street.


A Look At The Newly Remodeled D'Amico Coffee On Court Street

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Joan d'Amico with long time customer Marilyn Oliva
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Great news for all those Carroll Gardeners who have had to wake up without d'Amico coffee for the last two months.  Everyone's favorite neighborhood coffee roaster/ deli at 309 Court street re-opened it's doors this past Wednesday after an extensive renovation.  The store now has a brand new layout and seems so much bigger than before.
The most important part of this make-over is that the brand new Dietrich coffee roaster , which was delivered back in May,  has found a spot in the back of the store. You may remember that d'Amico stopped roasting coffee when their old machine caught fire back in 2012. And of course, there was that pesky neighbor who insisted on calling 311 to complain about the roasting smell.
That's all behind Joan and Frank d'Amico now. The third generation, family-owned business, which has been operating in this space since 1948,  is now ready for the few decades.

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Fifth Annual Halloween "Scary-oke" Karaoke Party In Carroll Park Was A Blast

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This past Friday evening, Friends of Carroll Park hosted their Fifth Annual Halloween "Scary-Oke" Karaoke party. Kids and adults alike took the mike to sing their favorite songs, dance, have fun while sipping hot cider.
Roberto Williams of Lion's Roar Karaoke once again brought out his catalog of over 10,000 songs, so that there was something for everyone and every taste, from Andrew Lloyd Webber to Elvis Presley. May I just say that here are some truly talented singers in Carroll Gardens?

Unfortunately, I missed the Carroll Park Halloween Parade the next day. Apparently, it was a huge success. Where you there with your kid(s)?

Special thanks to Bruce Mc Donald, one of the members of Friends of Carroll Park , who not only organized this Karaoke event, helped put together the Halloween parade, but also showed "The Nightmare before Christmas" on Friday night.

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Bruce McDonald



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Picture Of The Day: Squash

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Display on Douglass Street, off Smith Street.




Notes On Congresswoman Velázquez's Informational Meeting With EPA, DEP And NYCHA At Wyckoff Gardens

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Last Night at the Wyckoff Gardens Community Center
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Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez
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Walter Mugdan, Superfund Division Director, US EPA, Region 2
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Natalie Loney. EPA Region 2 Community Involvement CoordinatorIMG_1521
Councilmember Brad Lander
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Eric Landau, Associate Commissioner, Public Affairs at 
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Luis Ponce, NYCHA Vice President of Operations
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Joe Ann Brown, representative of Warren Street Houses' tenant associationIMG_1540
NYCHA resident asking about a job training institute as part of Superfund clean-up 
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Gowanus NYCHA resident asking for help in getting his car replaced after Hurricane Sandy

Congresswoman Nydia Velézquez hosted an informational meeting at Wyckoff Gardens Community Center last night with representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, New York City Department of Environmental Protection and of New York City Housing Department (NYCHA).

The meeting was meant to engage low-income housing residents in the Gowanus Superfund process, as well as to give residents of Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens, who were particularly hard hit by Hurricane Sandy, the opportunity to address issues of flooding and aging infrastructure. In particular, representatives of both apartment complexes have repeatedly complained of raw sewage in their basement and and gurgling out of their kitchen and bathroom sinks and tubs.

"Since the beginning of this process," the congresswoman told the community,  "one of the top priorities of mine, as well as the other elected officials, has been to assure community involvement and input, and I must say that EPA, under the leadership of Judith Enck, has kept this in mind throughout.  That is why the inclusive process implemented by EPA has resulted in a better strategy. Going forward, we must continue to insure that the public is familiar and comfortable with how the canal is remediated. That is why it is not only important to have the meetings with the Gowanus Superfund Community Advisory Group, but also to bring some of the meetings here. I need and I want to see more participation  from Public Housing residents."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 was represented by Walter Mugdan, Superfund Division Director and by Natalie Loney, Community Involvement Coordinator.

Mr. Mugdan reminded the community that it has been exactly one year since the EPA issued its Record of Decision (ROD), which represents the finalized cleanup plan for the Gowanus Canal. He explained that there are two major components to the Superfund clean-up. The first component consists of dredging the heavily contaminated mud at the bottom of the canal and to carefully managed the material and to ship it to authorized, appropriate disposal locations outside of the New York area. In addition, the deeper contaminated soil that can not be removed will be capped to isolate it from the water and from aquatic life.
The second component relates to preventing raw sewage overflow from recontaminating the canal after it is dredged. In the ROD, the EPA is ordering City of New York to site two retention tanks near two major outflows, RH-034 at the top of the canal and  OH-007 near the 5th Street turning basin.
"We have determined in our decision, that there will have to be a significant reduction in the amount of Combined Sewage material that goes into the canal when it rains.  In order to build the tanks that will be necessary to capture the extra sewage rainwater,  the City of New York, which is responsible for doing this, will have to find a location for these tanks."

Natalie Loney gave an in depth presentation on how the Superfund program works and where in the process the Gowanus Canal Superfund stands today. [ You can access a video of Ms. Loney giving a similar presentation at TedX Gowanus here.]

Eric Landau, Associate Commissioner, Public Affairs at NYC Department of Environmental Protection  spoke about the 'many things that are going on in Gowanus.
"There is a lot that DEP is involved in here in Gowanus currently," he said.  DEP is in the process of installing High Level Storm sewers, "which will help with the flooding and will have a CSO benefit."  The City, with New York States Department of Environmental Conservation,  'is working on reducing CSOs in the canal" by putting together a long term control plan.
In addition, DEP is installing Green infrastructure elements like bioswales to capture rain water so that it does not get mixed with sewer water.

Last month, the DEP submitted to EPA two potential locations for each of the two CSO retention tanks mandated by the Record of Decision.  
For the retention basin at the head of the canal, near Outfall RH-034,  DEP has suggested Thomas Greene Park, a public park.  The second proposed location is made up of three privately owned lots across the street on Nevins Street between Butler, De Graw and Sackett Street.

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For Outfall Number OH-007, DEP has identified the  City-owned Salt Lot at Second Avenue at the edge of the canal.  The second location is located between the canal and 5th Street.

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"This is a long process.  From this point to when we get back to EPA and the community with the one site [for each tank] that we think makes the most sense, it is the end of June [2015]. From now till June, there are still a lot of things that need to be looked at, including cost and how the community feels about the various locations.  We are very well aware of how the community feels about the Thomas Greene Playground.  We definitely heard that and we take this very seriously. That is also why it is our second rank site according to our criteria."

What Landau failed to mention is that Thomas Greene Park is publicly owned already,  whereas the alternative site for Outfall RH-034 across the street is privately owned and would need to be purchased, presumably by means of Eminent Domain.  The businesses currently operating on the land would need to be relocated.
All that would cost time. legal expenses and money to purchase the land.  Considering that on its website , DEP states that it "believes that the cost of the tanks would be five to ten times higher than EPA has estimated", it is hard to believe that the agency would rank the privately owned site higher than a site that it already owns.

Landau also failed to mention that Thomas Greene Park sits on top of a former Manufacturing Gas site for which New York DEC is currently finalizing an environmental remediation plan under the State Brownfield Program.  The coal tar that currently sits under the park and the pool will most likely have to be dug up anyway, which means that placing the retention tank there could save additional money.

Finally, Luis Ponce, NYC Housing Authority's Vice President of Operations, was able to address the sewer back up issue that were foremost on the minds of most Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens residents who came out last night.
Ponce explained that since receiving the complaints, NYCHA had determined that the problem was  the result of stoppage within the buildings'  waste pipes, most probably caused by grease being poured into the kitchen drains.  The catch basins had been cleaned out and the situation resolved.
"This is definitely a NYCHA issue, not a Gowanus Canal issue," Ponce stated.


1928 photo of the former MGP site at Douglass Street, where Thomas Greene Park is now