Friday, May 27, 2016

Dear EPA Region 2 Administrator Enck: Public Comments Regarding Settlement Agreement Between EPA And The City On Siting Of CSO Tank In Gowanus

As mentioned in previous PMFA posts, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently accepting comments from the public in regards to a proposed Gowanus Canal Administrative Settlement Agreement with New York City. The agreement would allow the City to site one of the two retention tanks mandated in the Record of Decision at the head of the Canal rather than at the EPA suggested site which is under the pool in Thomas Greene Park.

The City's plan relies on the taking of two privately owned sites, 234 Butler Street and 242 Nevins Street, by eminent domain. A third site, 270 Nevins Street will most likely also be seized by the City, which plans to use it for staging purposes during the construction project.

This would displace several businesses, including Eastern Effects, a successful film and television studio, where many commercials, movies and television shows like FX's "The Americans" are filmed.

The public comment period will end on May 31. 
I send my own comment to EPA this past Tuesday and thought I would post it here, together with the statement of Carroll Gardens Coalition for Respectful Development  and of reader Becky, who was kind enough to sent hers to us.
Read on.

Gowanus Canal Administrative Settlement Agreement And Order For Remedial Design, Removal Action and Cost Recovery

Dear Administrator Enck,

I would like to express my absolute dismay over the proposed agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the City of New York to situate one of the two retention tanks mandated in the Record of Decision at the head of the Canal rather than at the EPA suggested site which is under the pool in the Thomas Greene Park.

As a member of the Carroll Gardens/ Gowanus Community and a founding member of the Gowanus Canal Superfund Community Advisory Group, I am at a loss to explain why you and your Agency would enter into an agreement with the City, a Potentially Responsible Party, that:

- will cost tax and rate payers hundreds of millions of dollars more than if the tank were to be placed under Thomas Greene Park. (In her 2016-2019 budget, NYC DEP Commissioner Lloyd set aside $510 million to cover "the cost to secure land, design two CSO tanks and construct ONE of the two planned CSO tanks adjacent to the Gowanus Canal". EPA estimated the entire clean-up of the Gowanus Superfund Site at $500 million.)

- relies on the taking of two privately owned sites, 234 Butler Street and 242 Nevins Street, by eminent domain. A third site, 270 Nevins Street, may also be seized by the City. This would displace Eastern Effects, a successful film and television studio, which employs anywhere from 350 to 450 employees, and contributes, by their estimate, approximately, four million dollars ($4,000,000) per year to the local economy.
Somehow, one cannot shake the suspicion that this is all a huge land grab by the city and more tied to the imminent rezoning of the Gowanus corridor than to an honest willingness to assume responsibility for polluting the canal.

- would grant the City more than four years to negotiate the unnecessary legal wrangling associated with condemnation and ULURP certification.

- would allow the City to re-contaminate the canal with CSO after it has been dredged and capped. (Walter Mugdan, at a public meeting, mentioned that 2-8 years could pass between dredging and the completion of the tank.)

I fail to see any benefits for the community in this agreement. I do not believe, as EPA implies, that a 'covenant not to sue' by the City is worth paying twice as much for the remedy, years of additional CSO contamination, and additional cleaning AFTER remediation.
Surely, the threat of a law suit by a PRP is business as usual for the EPA. One would expect nothing less from a polluter. Why then, in this case, does it seem as if the Federal Government is bending backwards to placate the City, which has done precious little to address its environmental responsibility in Gowanus.

It would also appear that the EPA administration was blinded by the City's assertion that using Douglass Greene Park for the siting of the retention tank constituted 'park alienation'. I believe that the City used the shortage of green space and the temporary loss of an amenity like the Double D Pool as a diversion. The real environmental justice issue has always been the fact that the City chose to build a park and pool on a heavily polluted former MGP site, thereby exposing generations of children to possible harm.
It seems ironic that the City continues to use our 1.8 mile long canal as an open sewer, thereby preventing the community from enjoying the roughly 12 acres of recreational public space the Gowanus could provide if cleaned.

I strongly believe that the EPA should NOT sign the agreement and not allow a PRP to renegotiate the timeline set forth in the Record of Decision. The EPA should compel the City to work with National Grid to site the tank under the Double D pool in Thomas Greene Park. If the DEP insists on building a head house and wants to increase park land, it should purchase either 233-239 Nevins Street or 537 Sackett Street, both currently for sale and located directly adjacent to the lots the City plans on seizing.
This would be a win-win-win situation for the community, the DEP and the EPA since it would address all concerns and needs at once.

The residents living near the Gowanus Canal put their trust in EPA when they overwhelmingy supported the listing of their polluted waterway as a Superfund site. Please don't forsake the interests of the community to accommodate a PRP.

Katia Kelly

Here is Carroll Gardens Coalition for Respectful Development's comment to EPA

Dear Administrator Enck and Director Mugdan,

It is with deeply conflicting emotions and heavy hearts that we write to you regarding the pending agreement between the EPA and the City of New York.

Our organization, CORD, is a completely volunteer group. We are local residents,home owners, business owners, parents, children and grandparents. We do not have nor have we ever sought not for profit status. We receive funds from no one and we do not seek or accept donations. We devote our time to our community simply because we care.

Once the Gowanus Canal was nominated to the NPL, we spent a great deal of time advocating for it. We celebrated its listing. We championed your presence in our neighborhood and we listened very carefully to you.

We immediately applied for and became members of the Community Advisory Group and carried back all of the information we received there to our members.

We established a relationship with our EPA "team". We rejoiced in the accessibility and transparency they provided. We grew fond of them and still believe that they represent the finest example of how any government agency and its employees should conduct themselves.

When the ROD was issued, because we were listening carefully, we understood that the only "negotiable" part of the ROD was the inclusion of a containment facility in Red Hook. The Red Hook community said 'NO' and it was dropped.

But, in spite of the fact that EPA often spoke of how they do not get involved in land use--and that only the containment facility was negotiable, the retention tank sitings were suddenly up in the air.

We were certain that common sense, a sense of purpose and fiscal responsibility would prevail, but unfortunately, a grandiose Gowanus land use plan somewhat disguised as a crusade to save a swimming pool situated beneath contaminated earth, is going to delay the cleanup by a number of years, cost private property owners their land, businesses their livelihood, many employees their jobs and taxpayers a big hit to their pockets.

Add to the above the most painful cost of all--a recontamination of the expensive Canal cleanup before anyone gets to enjoy the fully realized benefits of this costly and complicated remediation.

We understand that EPA gets an assurance that NYC will not pursue litigation regarding the necessity of the retention tanks. Ok. That is a good thing, we suppose, but it comes at an extremely high price to the community and seems pitifully inequitable.

So, although we understand that the EPA has tried to make a deal with NYC that appeases some, eliminates the possibility of (even more) lengthy litigation, and eventually gets the job, "sort of" done, we so hoped and believed that "sort of" would never be good enough for our heroes at the EPA.

Finally, we cannot help but wonder what kind of precedent this will set with the other major PRP, National Grid as well as for other future Superfund sites.

We were the first ever Superfund site in NYC.

The plan and subsequent ROD was as big, bold, encompassing and complicated as the Gowanus is contaminated.

The cost analysis was calculated, thoughtful and responsible.

The rewards were to be enormous- a healthier environment, an urban waterway with drastically reduced toxins AND pathogens surrounded by many acres of open green space along its banks.

We loved it. We believed in it. We counted on it.

How tragic that this historic project will not be remembered in this way. Instead, it's legacy will be the Superfund site where the EPA did, indeed, get involved in land use.

It will be the site where a great deal of taxpayers' monies were spent on a job that was only "sort of" successful.

It's quasi clean condition necessitating further remediation post cleaning and capping will certainly appear wasteful--a black eye to the Superfund program since after all, you were supposed to be the final word.

And worst of all, the Superfund site where the Record of Decision became the Record of Indecision and Genuflection to Political Pressure brought to us by the Grand Puppeteers--the Development Gods of NYC.

It is all so terribly disheartening and sad.


Lucy DeCarlo, Rita Miller, Triada Samaras
Co-Founders, CG CORD/Carroll Gardens-Gowanus Coalition for Respectful Development

And here is the statement by Becky X.

Gowanus Canal: Comment on on Proposed Settlement Agreement for Siting, Design and Site Prep for RH-034 CSO Retention Tank
Dear Mr. Mugdan,

Something stinks in Gowanus – and I'm not talking about the canal.

The proposed use of eminent domain for the siting of the necessary retention tanks could not possibly be a worse decision, designed to set up the project for complete failure.

Why, when there are multiple other viable options, all less expensive and more time-efficient than the eminent domain "solution," has this agreement been allowed to go forward? Is this a deliberate sabotage? Does someone have photographs of EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck with a goat? I begin to think so.

I have lived in the area for over 14 years, supported the Superfund designation and have been following the proceedings closely, looking forward to a day when we can safely enjoy the clean canal waterway the neighborhood deserves, and has worked so hard to attain.

When the Superfund designation finally went through, over the strenuous objections and all the dirty tricks NYC could throw at the process in an effort to weasel out of any responsibility, we were so relieved. We were prepared to live through the inconvenience of the cleanup work that we knew would need to be done, and realistically would take years to complete. The result would be worth it.

But before we've even started, the process has left the community stripped of agency and trust. We feel angered and betrayed as the people and government agents supposed to be advocating for us, have caved to pressure and given us this completely unworkable plan.

The obvious site for the retention tanks is the Thomas Greene Park. The "Save the Park" petition going around has thrown up a smokescreen around the real issues of this space.

The Park sits on polluted soil and requires remediation in order to be safe – a project which could be folded into the Superfund cleanup, saving time and money. The NYC Parks Department has called the Park "underutilized" as it is, and at present the pool is only open two months out of the year. Impact on the community would therefore be minimized. I believe this option WOULD in fact be saving the Park. It's currently oozing liquid coal tar, for goodness sake! We should be jumping at this opportunity to get it remediated and clean for public use!

This win-win scenario has been rejected.

As an alternative, local developer Alloy has taken the unprecedented step of offering to donate a nearby parcel to City expressly for siting of the retention tanks, in return for certain considerations given to their proposed new office building project in the area.
I understand this solution would also result in additional parkland at the end of the project.

This, too, has been rejected with no explanation.

Eastern Effects at 242 Nevins Street, one of the properties under eminent domain threat by the City, has just put out a very moving letter outlining the devastation this thuggish move would have on their thriving local business and their investment in the area, impacting the local economy significantly. This is a thriving local business that our elected officials are supposed to be trying to protect!

As a well-known and successful film/TV production company, ejecting Easter Effects would be mud in the City's eye and terrible PR if nothing else. NYC likes to describe itself as supportive to the film and TV industry; hard to believe at this point.

Eastern Effects included an overhead diagram showing three alternate sites nearby that would be better choices for the siting of the retention tanks. I have yet to hear any reasoning for why these sites have not been considered viable options.

Please, do not bow to the crooked demands of one of the main responsible parties for the polluted state of the canal in the first place, to the great detriment of the community you are supposedly trying to improve. Don't waste our time, our money, and our goodwill on a process that purports to be transparent, yet so blatantly rejects community input for obvious selfish gain. Be the force for good that we believed you to be, the reason why we expended so much energy and overcame so many seemingly impossible obstacles to bring our polluted canal to national attention.

Do the right thing and reject this agreement.

Thank you,

Becky X

I hope that others will be inspired to write to EPA as well. As I mentioned, the comment period ends on May 31st, so time is of the essence.

Please address your comments to:
Walter Mugdan, U.S. EPA Superfund Director
290 Broadway, 19th Flr.,
New York, NY 10007


Carole Gardens said...

Katia, Thank you so much for your thorough and intelligent work as a community blogger and as a community activist in Carroll Gardens/Gowanus. These are complex and vital issues that need complete explanation and you have consistently featured comprehensive coverage on the Gowanus Canal clean-up that is both thought-provoking and outrage producing!

We so need more people like you! Have you perhaps seen this? "A Moving Tribute and Letter from a Carroll Gardens/Gowanus Community Member to the EPA About Its Potential "Deal' with the City of New York" ? It will warm your heart.

Katia said...

Yes, I did see it and Maryann is a dear, dear friend who tirelessly fights the good fight here in the neighborhood.
It is people like her, my friends at CORD and FROGG who inspire me and keep me going.

Anonymous said...

There have been at least three instances when Brad Lander tried to interfere with owners' property rights by bullying them: the removal of the Kentile, so that the owner could make necessary repairs, the lease (and property improvements) to Department of Corrections for the parole office, and the relocation of artists from the building on 9th Street. Now, we have silence from him regarding Eastern Effects and I have to wonder why. I'm sure it's not because he lost his megaphone.