Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Members Of Gowanus Canal CAG Sit Down With DEP Representatives And Ask Agency To Do More

Jim Mueller, Assistant Commissioner DEP,  Angela Licata, Deputy Commissioner,  Kevin Clarke,  environmental engineer.

Testimony of Carter Strickland,Commissioner, New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), March 27, 2012
"At the moment DEP is concerned that EPA is considering a complete cessation of CSOs into the Gowanus Canal as part of the Superfund cleanup, even though the site was put on the National Priorities List because of contaminated sediment from historic industrial processes unconnected to the sewer system. Under the Clean Water Act and the CSO program administered by the State, DEP has considered whether CSOs could be reduced to near zero and concluded that it would be infeasible and that tanks or tunnels could cost billions without a substantial increase in water quality. Needless to say, a billion-dollar construction project in this area of Brooklyn would also create daunting traffic and construction-related impacts for well over a decade. Accordingly, DEP selected our current $136 million Gowanus Facilities Plan, which will reduce CSOs by 34% plus another 10% from High-Level Storm Sewers and green infrastructure. We are in active discussions with the EPA right now, and strongly disagree with the position that an enormous City-funded construction project is a necessary prerequisite to an EPA-led Superfund cleanup."
Last night, members of the EPA Gowanus Canal Superfund Community Advisory Group's Water Quality and Technical Committee met with representatives of the City's Department Of Environmental Protection to engage in a more meaningful dialog with the agency and to advocate for the elimination of Combined Sewer Overflow Discharges that result in the presence of pathogens in the waterway, including coliform and enterococci.
These pathogens present unacceptable health risks from contact with the water and sediments of the Canal.  As long as New York City, which has been named a Potencially Responsible Party (PRP) for its role in contributing to the toxins, allows CSOs to continue to discharge into the Gowanus, there will be ongoing environmental and potential human health risks, as well as a high chance of recontamination even after the Superfund clean-up.

Representing the DEP last night were Angela Licata, Deputy Commissioner, Jim Mueller, Assistant Commissioner, Planning and Capital Projects, Kevin Clarke and Julie Stein.   Members of the CAG did not lose any time to let DEP know that the Community expected the agency to work together with EPA to get the most comprehensive, effective clean-up within the timeframe of the Superfund. "This is great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by investing the necessary money to have the water that goes into the canal be as clean as it can be," stated one CAG member. "Get it done right. Get it done once. Get it done now," another member told the DEP representatives. Yet another added: "We would like to see the same level of engagement from DEP as we see from EPA."
Yes, New York City is currently in the process of implementing upgrades to the Gowanus Canal facilities, which it claims will reduce CSO discharges by about 34% and another 10% from newly installed High-Level Storm Sewers and green infrastructure. That, however, simply is not good enough for many members in the community. "We have a pretty good understanding of what the City is proposing, but frankly, more needs to be done. We want more," member Steven Miller stated.

"We see this as a very opportune time for us to begin anew and to think of the long-term planning for the canal," Angela Licata told the CAG. She was quick to point out that the City's combined sewer system is a legacy system. "When it rains, you are not going to engineer your way out of that. If you never want to have sewer in the canal again, we will have to separate the system." Indeed, the gray infrastructure in the Gowanus area is underserving the community on all fronts even with the current upgrades. In addition, no real planning seems to have gone into providing new infrastructure for all the additional housing that is likely to be built along the canal in the near future.

Licata also spoke of the consent order just negotiated between NYC and Albany. "Our commitments and requirements persuent to that, require that we build out green infrastructure to a certain extend. We have to get 1" of rain over 10% of the impervious areas in the CSO watersheds of the City. And we need to develop these so-called long-term control plans. Those should envision a path forward that will carry us for the next 10 to 20 years."
(This sounds more impressive than it is. Basically, it means that New York State's Department Of Environmental Conservation has once again allowed the City to not meet the Federal clean water standards set decades ago.)

"We have to develop a plan for that waterbody," Licata continued. "We think it is quite appropriate that we start to envision this with you. What we will be looking at is a combination of solutions where we want to evaluate all the possible alternatives We need to do that in a way that achieves certain goals. We have to be able to move some of the dials on water quality and we also have to look at what is going to be cost effective."

CAG member Rita Miller mentioned that the EPA has suggested that a retention basin would solve the problem of toxins being emitted into the Gowanus.  Miller added "At the same time, it would do wonders for the pathogens flowing into the canal and perhaps satisfy some of the Clean Water Act requirements as well. Why does there seem to be resistance to that suggestion?" she asked Licata. "It seems perfectly reasonable to us. It seems like a perfectly do-able plan. You have done it in other places."

Licata's answered: "We have done retention tanks. Its a no-brainer. We have done it at Paerdegat Basin, Alley Creek and Flushing. So why not do it here? One of the things is that at those locations, you had a tremendous amount of volume that was all located at one point, so that the economy of scale was tremendous." She added: "I just want to be clear. Its not that we are discounting it here. I think it's a fair question. We should take another look at it. But I think the cost benefit on that is going to be really, really tough."

Rita Miller responded: "I would like to remind you that this is a very densely populated area. City Planning has a framework that makes it even denser. I don't see any reason why the kind of attention that has been given to other neighborhoods would not be given here, given the fact that this canal is so tiny, so narrow, that the concentration of toxins is just tremendous."

I can only speak for myself, but as a CAG member and a long time resident, I have the feeling that the City is trying to shirk its responsibility towards the Gowanus Canal Community for as long as it can. Rather than to work with the EPA to find a real solution that would address the CSOs in conjunction with the Superfund clean-up, it is trying to stall and kick the problem down the road.

Shame on Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Caswell Halloway and DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland for continuing to ignore the community and for proposing a sorely inadequate plan to deal with a real health problem.
Stop lobbying and do what's right, already!


Anonymous said...

So how many Long Term Control Plans does the DEP need to achieve Clean Water Goals?

Sounds like the currently proposed Long Term Control Plans will be out of date before before it is even written--just like all the others?
In another 10 years will the citizens be listening to an "excited" DEP staff announcing the new-new Long Term Control Planning process?

Anonymous said...

Can't for one moment believe that the City ever thought that under a Superfund cleanup, only old industrial pipes feeding into the canal would be addresses and not the sewer pipes also.

It was obvious, from the first objections the city made about Superfund, that the City was very concerned about their responsibility here as a PRP.

I wonder who the city hires to come up with these contrived talking points for their staff.

Anonymous said...

Can someone please expain to be what the superfund is?