Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Picture Of The Day: Favorite Magnolia


My favorite magnolia tree is almost in full bloom on the corner of Carroll Street and Smith Street 
here in Carroll Gardens. I love spring!
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Friday, April 02, 2021

On The Passing Of Gowanus Activist And Historic Preservationist Linda Mariano

Linda Mariano at Yesterday's News 2018

Dear Readers,

The news that Gowanus resident Linda Mariano has passed last night after a brief illness was shared amongst those who knew her with infinite sorrow.  This morning, it feels as if a huge empty space has opened up in the neighborhood that she called home and loved so dearly.

To have known Linda will forever be one of the greatest privileges of my life. She could brighten the cloudiest day with her huge smile and laugh. She was a fearless activist, and passionate advocate for Gowanus. She always spoke truth to power and taught many that one never gives up fighting for what is right.  Over the years, she became a mentor to many of us and we all aspired to become just like her. She was fiercely loyal to her friends and her house was always open for a glass of wine, some food and stimulating discussions. 

Most neighborhood residents might remember her from Yesterday's News, the Court Street vintage store, where she worked on week-ends for many years.

Linda moved to Gowanus with her husband Joseph Mariano and daughter Rachel over 40 years ago from Manhattan. They bought a dilapidated house on President Street in the 1970's, which they lovingly restored into a welcoming home. They displayed a black and white photo of what the building had looked like when they first laid eyes on it, as a reminder of how they had saved this piece of neighborhood history.  In the spring, Linda would plant her window boxes with the brightest fuchsia geraniums, making the house the prettiest on the block.

Linda was one of the founding members of Friends Of Greater Gowanus (F.R.O.G.G.), a group that was founded in 2002 to safe the Green Building on Union Street near the canal when the old brick building was slated for demolition to make way for a high rise.
Together with F.R.O.G.G., Linda became a very vocal supporter of the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund designation of the Gowanus Canal and was a founding member of the Gowanus Superfund Community Advisory Group after the designation in 2010.

However, as passionate as she was about the environment, it was preservation of the neighborhood that was always her main focus. She tirelessly worked with the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the Historic Districts Council (HDC), and the NYS Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), to pursue historic designation of the Gowanus Corridor as an Urban Industrial District.
In 2019, because of her perseverance, five important Gowanus buildings were landmarked by New York City.  But of course, she wanted to save many more. It comes at no surprise that she vehemently opposed the massive rezoning for Gowanus which is currently being discussed.

On a personal note, I cannot express the deep sadness I feel at knowing that I will never sit around her kitchen table with other members of FROGG again,  envisioning a better and more sustainable future for the neighborhood than the plan cooked up by developers.  
She will forever be my role model, and I will try, in my way, to continue to makeii her Gowanus dreams a reality.

My deepest sympathy goes to her daughter, son in law and granddaughters, whom she loved passionately.
We share your sorrow.

To hear Linda tell her own story, please visit the Preservation Archive Project

Joseph and Linda Mariano at their home in 2009
With Marlene Donnelly and Bette Stoltz, receiving a Preservation League grant
A very happy moment with FROGGS in 2019.
from left to right, Margaret Maugenest,  Marlene Donnelly, Linda Mariano and me.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

EPA Issues Administrative Order Requiring City to Construct Sewage Retention Tanks for Gowanus Canal Superfund Site Cleanup

The Environmental Protection Agency just issued the press release below,  stating that the Federal Agency has issued an important Administrative Order requiring New York City to construct two sewage retention tanks as part of the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site Cleanup.
This is great news for the Gowanus community, which has long demanded that the City of New York cease the use of the Gowanus Canal as an open sewer.

As part of the EPA Record of Decision for the Gowanus Canal Superfund clean-up, the EPA had mandated that the NYC Department of Environmental Protection construct two retention tanks to control untreated sewage from entering the canal during heavy downpours.

NYC DEP has tried to delay the tank's construction for the past few years. Just recently,  DEP's Commissioner Vincent Sapienza told EPA Region 2 that the completion date for the larger of the two tanks at the head of the canal would have to be pushed back to 2032, citing "the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the city's finances and water revenues."

This EPA order legally compels the City to complete the smaller retention tank on the Salt Lot near 2nd Avenue in 2028 and the larger 8 million gallon tank by 2029.  If the City fails to comply to the order, it will face stiff fines.

It is important to note that the two tanks only address CSO discharges into the canal under current conditions. This is significant given the fact that NY City is currently pushing for a massive rezone that would bring about 20,000 new residents into the area. However, the EPA has publicly assured the community that will carefully monitor sewage discharge from any future residential development to insure that the City does not recontaminate the Gowanus Canal.

NEW YORK (March 30, 2021) 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered the City of New York (city) to construct and operate two Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) retention tanks to control contaminated solids discharges at the Gowanus Canal Superfund site in Brooklyn, New York, which is a key component of the Gowanus Canal cleanup. The EPA’s order follows previous orders that EPA issued in 2014 and 2016 to require the city to find a location for and design the two tanks. Controls to reduce CSO discharges and prevent other land-based sources of pollution, such as street runoff, from compromising the cleanup are a critical part of the site’s cleanup plan.
“This order will ensure that EPA’s cleanup efforts will not be undermined by uncontrolled combined sewer overflow discharges that have contributed to the chemical contamination of this waterway and impacted this community for the past century and a half,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Walter Mugdan. “To ensure the integrity of the dredging work, the retention tanks will control New York City’s sewer outfalls over the long-term.”

The administrative order, issued on March 29, 2021, requires the city to construct one 8-million-gallon tank, located at the head of the canal, and one 4-million-gallon tank, located at a New York City Department of Sanitation Salt Lot near the middle of the canal.

The order also requires the city to, among other things:
• Ensure that developers comply with municipal stormwater regulations within the Gowanus area to prevent additional sewer volume from impairing the effectiveness of the CSO tanks; • Provide treatment for separated stormwater discharges;

• Perform monitoring of sewer solids discharges to ensure protection of the dredging remedy; • Perform associated maintenance dredging, if determined by EPA to be necessary; • Construct a bulkhead on City-owned property to prepare for the second phase of dredging work; and

• Adhere to an overall schedule for remaining tank design work and construction.

The 2013 cleanup plan for the Gowanus Canal Superfund site includes dredging to remove contaminated sediment from the bottom of the canal, which has accumulated because of industrial activity and CSO discharges. More than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, and heavy metals, including mercury, lead, and copper, are present at high levels in the Gowanus Canal sediments. Dredged sediment that contains high levels of liquid tar will be thermally treated at an off-site facility and disposed. The less contaminated dredged sediment will be processed at an off-site facility to transform it into a beneficial use product, such as landfill cover. Certain areas of the native sediment, below the original canal bottom, that contain mobile liquid tar and are too deep to excavate, will be mixed with cement and solidified to prevent the migration of the tar into the water of the canal. Following dredging and solidification of areas of the native sediment, construction of a multilayer cap in dredged areas will isolate and prevent migration of any dissolved chemicals remaining in the deep native sediments.

To view EPA’s administrative order, as well as other information and documents concerning cleanup activity and EPA’s efforts at the site, please visit www.epa.gov/superfund/gowanus-canal Follow EPA Region 2 on Twitter at http://twitter.com/eparegion2 and visit our Facebook page, http://facebook.com/eparegion2
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Monday, March 29, 2021

National Grid's Own Documents Prove That Contaminants From Public Place In Gowanus Migrated Off-Site

Public Place, the large empty swath of land between Smith Street and the Gowanus Canal in Carroll Gardens, may be one of the most contaminated sites in New York State and there are grave concerns that it may never be fully cleaned up despite current remediation efforts.  How did Public Place get so contaminated?
This is the site of the former Citizens Gas Company's Manufacturing Gas Plant, one of three such MGPs that once operated along the Gowanus Canal.

The Citizens Gas Company began operations in the late 1860's and then passed into the ownership of Brooklyn Union Gas (BUG) in 1895, which demolished the plant in the 1960's, when the MGP ceased operation. In subsequent years, BUG was merged with Keyspan, which was then acquired by National Grid in 2007.

What has been left behind is poisoned land. Coal tar, a highly toxic and carcinogenic by-product of the gas manufacturing process, has been allowed to migrate freely throughout the site and into the Gowanus Canal.  On Public Place, the deepest tar observed extended to approximately 153 feet below the ground surface.

Finally, after decades of exposing local residents to this toxicity, three of the four parcels that made up the former MGP site are currently being remediated by National Grid under the supervision of New York State's Department Of Environmental Conservation (DEC) through the state's Brownfield program.

However, the remediation can hardly be called a clean-up. It would be more appropriate to call it a containment, since most of the coal tar will remain in the soil forever.
Just recently, the Carroll Gardens / Gowanus community learned that DEC had allowed National Grid to significantly alter and degrade the remediation, sparking concerns that future residents would be exposed to the remaining contamination.

A look at National Grid's online repository for the Citizen's Gas Site documents reveals exactly how dangerously contaminated the site is.
According to a Remediation Investigation Report from 2005 by environmental consultant firm GEI, "groundwater moving through the areas of tar-saturated soil and residual tar will dissolve the BTEX components and light molecular weight PAHs (e.g., naphthalene). The resultant groundwater plume will migrate in the direction of groundwater flow. "
The study also revealed that in some spots, soil vapor contained elevated levels of benzene, toluene, and xylenes.

The most concerning information, however, can be found in a document entitled 2005 Final Remedial Investigation for Public Place, which can also be found in National Grid's online repository.
The community has known for a while that coal tar from Public Place has migrated into the adjacent Gowanus Canal. Local residents therefore asked if the contamination could have found its way past the other three boundaries of the site.
If one studies the report carefully, the answer, alarmingly, seems to be "YES".

The 2005 report clearly shows that pockets of coal tar have oozed underneath Smith Street, Huntington Street, as well as 4th Street at Hoyt Street, where it was detected underneath a row of buildings.
Yet, neither National Grid, nor NYC DEC admitted this important fact to local residents, though they were asked at numerous occasions at public meetings.

Below, we will guide you through the documents from the 2005 Final Remedial Investigation to reveal that contamination from the former MGP site at Public Place is no longer confined to its boundaries.
The four parcels that make up the former Citizens Gas Site
Arial view of the MGP site  in 1926, showing the various round gas holders. Parcel I with the three 
holders near Smith and 5th Street apparently holds the most pollution.
This diagram is from page 290 Of the 2005 GEI report
This particular map shows the survey of the site boundaries, as well as the cross sections (A-A' to G-G') along which soil borings were taken and ground water monitoring wells were installed by GEI. 
This is page 306 from the report. It shows the results of the soil samplings and ground water analysis from cross sections A-A'  and B-B'. The best way of visualizing this is by imaging cutting a straight line into a cake. The cut piece would reveal the different layers of the cake. In this instance, it shows the soils and contamination found in this cross section.
This speaks for itself, obviously, but notice that the dark blues indicate presence of coal tar.
Let us take a closer look at section B-B', which starts at Smith Street on Parcel I and ends at 6th Street on the other side of the Gowanus Canal.
Here is the level of pollution found deep in the ground on Parcel I along the B-B' section.
Corner of 5th Street and Smith Street, which according to cross section diagram,
 indicates a pocket of contaminated ground water.

This is where it gets interesting. This is the beginning of that B cross section of Parcel 1 at the corner of Smith Street and 5th Street, where the three gas holders that can be seen in the 1929 photo were once located.
If you look at the left hand side of the diagram, you will see a turquoise section in the 'shallow zone' that indicates that "coal tar staining, sheen and odors" were observed in the groundwater at this spot. The upper blue number in the little white box shows that at this spot, the groundwater concentration of BTEX, which refers to the chemicals benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, is 13,300 μg/mL (parts per billion). The lower number indicates PHA (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon) at concentration of 7670 parts per billion.)

NY State regulations state that BTEX should not exceed 5 parts per billion for drinking water but there are no limits for the PHA. While nobody will be drinking the groundwater containing these chemicals, there is continuing exposure through contact with the soil and breathing the air.

Now look up at the upper left hand side and notice that the contamination at this spot actually starts past the Public Place fence line. This diagram from the 2005 report indicates clearly that the groundwater barely 30 feet (NDA) below the surface has been heavily contaminated and actually extends onto Smith Street.
Now let us look at cross section I-I', which crosses Parcel 3 and Huntington Street, and ends across the Gowanus Canal towards 9th Street.
This is slide 310 of the GEI report from 2005.
Analysis of soil borings taken at this location also indicates the presence of coal tar staining, sheen and odors. The BTEX soil concentration here is 79 parts per million, the PHA concentration is 482 per million.
Once again, notice on the top part of this diagram, that the toxins have been found outside of Parcel 3, underneath Smith Street.
Approximate spot where evidence of coal tar was present on Smith Street on the I-I' cross section 
Mary Star Of The Sea Playground just steps away
The most interesting part of the report concerns cross section G-G', 
which starts on Parcel IV along 4th Street.

It is not currently being remediated by National Grid, though it is part of the former MGP site and is also contaminated. The parcel is occupied by a bus depot at the moment, and the community has been told it will be cleaned at a later time.
However, if you follow the G-G' cross section, you notice that there are actually pockets of toxic material right underneath the buildings between Hoyt Street and Bond Street.
Cross section G-G'. Slide 309 of the 2005 report.
One can clearly see the pockets of contamination in the soil and ground water underneath those buildings, especially the brick building on 4th Street nearest to Bond Street.
Buildings on south side of 4th Street between Hoyt and Bond Street, which show 
evidence of contamination along the G-G' cross section

The 2005 Final Remedial Report for Public Place indicates widespread pockets of coal tar on all four parcels. The remedial work currently being done on Parcel I, II and III by National Grid under NYS DEC supervision only removes 2 feet of soil across those parcels, and only digs down to a maximum depth of 22 feet on Parcel 1, where the remaining subsurface structures of the former gas holders need to be removed anyway.
The report also shows that the contamination has migrated outside the boundaries of all four parcels.

It is important here to indicate that the beginning and the end of each cross section along which the soil and the ground water was tested, was strictly arbitrary. If, for example, line I-I' had extended further across Smith Street and testing had been done closer to Nelson Street, it may have shown contamination under St. Mary's Playground or, one shudders to think, under some of the homes, perhaps.

It may not have been in the interest of National Grid to find out if that is the case. However, as the lead agency overseeing the Public Place remediation, one wonders why NYS DEC did not insist on more testing, more mitigation and more barriers to prevent the contaminants from migrating outside of the site.. After all, the documents referred to above have been available since 2005.

Why is all of this so relevant?
The pollution at Public Place and the gasses they emit are dangerous to human health. Despite this knowledge, Mayor de Blasio and Councilmember Brad Lander envision Gowanus Green, a 29 story development project with 950 affordable housing units and a school on a section of Public Place that is City owned (Parcels 1 and 2). More housing is planned on the privately owned parcel 3.

As a community, we need to insist that independent testing along a wider radius of Public Place is performed. We must insure that the coal tar is not present under other adjacent buildings.
At the very least, we need to insist that no housing be built right on top of the source of the contamination on Public Place.

We are dealing with people's lives and cannot have National Grid nor NYS DEC take any shortcuts. This community has already been exposed to the harmful effects of this contamination for more than a century.
Let's organize and fight together to get the environmental clean-up we deserve and are entitled to by law.

Related reading:
National Grid's online repository for the Citizen's Gas Site documents.

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Monday, March 22, 2021

Voice Of Gowanus Releases New Environmental Baselines For Just And Sustainable Development In Gowanus

Today, members of Voice Of Gowanus gathered next to the Public Place site on 5th Street at Hoyt Street to release their new Environmental Baselines for Just and Sustainable Development in Gowanus. The location was significant since Public Place is a polluted former manufactured gas plant site, which has been proposed for housing under the Gowanus rezoning

From a press release by VoG: 

The group was unequivocal: Before any proposed rezoning in Gowanus may proceed,  five baselines for environmental and human health must be met.  The baselines are built upon new legal and environmental expert analysis commissioned by VOG.

The coalition also demanded that FEMA and the EPA be full co-lead agencies in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Gowanus rezoning given the neighborhood's notorious flooding, sewage, and toxicity problems.  Any EIS without EPA and FEMA as co-lead agencies is insufficient and invalid.

Voice of Gowanus and a panel of experts will further review the health and environmental issues that must be addressed prior to any rezoning at its Fight for Gowanus: Townhall Panel Discussion on March 24 at 6:30 pm (full details and registration here).

Click here for full Baselines Document

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Picture Of The Day: Cameras Rolling on Court Street

Film crew in front of Sal's Pizzeria on Court Street this afternoon.
Loved the white and red checkered tablecloths of the outdoor tables and the crowd gathered to watch.  Does anyone know what film or show was being shot there today?

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Sunday, March 21, 2021

"Fight for Gowanus: Protecting Community Health and Safety from a Massive Rezoning": A Panel Discussion with Zoning and Environmental Experts

The proposed 80 block Gowanus Rezoning is the most consequential issue in our community in the past thirty years. Yet the City of New York seems to be ignoring the many serious environmental issues in Gowanus, as well as trying to restrict local residents' access to a fair and legal Uniform Land Use Review Process.

If you would like to know more about the rezoning and the issues, please join the event below, hosted by Voice of Gowanus.
Read on to learn more, and register for what should be a very informative evening.

Fight for Gowanus: Protecting Community Health and Safety from a Massive Rezoning

A Panel Discussion with Zoning and Environmental Experts hosted by Voice of Gowanus

Wednesday March 24, 2021 6:30 pm


PROFESSOR TOM ANGOTTI is Professor Emeritus of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY where he was the founder and director of the Hunter Center for Community Planning and Development. An activist in NYC community and environmental issues, his books include New York For Sale: Community Planning Confronts Global Real Estate and Zoned Out! Race, Displacement and City Planning in New York City.

ALICIA BOYD is a political activist at the forefront of fighting gentrification and displacement. Ms Boyd was instrumental in protecting the Crown Heights/Flatbush Ave community from a district-wide rezoning, leading the first community of color to stop a district-wide rezoning. She continues to fight a major development targeted at destroying the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Jackie Robinson Playground.

MAUREEN KOETZ, ESQ. is principal of Planet A+ Strategies. Ms Koetz has served as counsel and advisor to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, former Senator Domenici, and the EPA. She has sued to eliminate duplicative real estate LLC donations, has been lead plaintiff in the successful Lefrak/Gateway tenant class action suit, and a strategic advisor in the Two Bridges, Inwood, and South Street Seaport zoning actions.

JASON ZAKAI, ESQ. is a commercial litigator and land-use, zoning and preservation attorney in New York and New Jersey, representing individuals, businesses, and community organizations on a wide range of matters in city, state and federal courts and agencies. Some of Mr Zakai’s representative cases include matters involving the Lucerne Hotel homeless shelter on the UWS, and the Clock Tower Building in Tribeca.
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Voice Of Gowanus' Exclusive Café Rezoné Pops Up In Carroll Park With Three-Eyed Fish, Speculator Stew, And Nothing for NYCHA Nachos

Following the successful of its first outdoor pop-up in February,  Café Rezoné,  Gowanus' newest trendy dining option, returned today with a brand new menu in Carroll Park, Carroll Gardens.

This time, the upper echelon patrons of the exclusive eatery dined on Three-Eyed Fish, Raw Sewage Salad with Black Mayonnaise, Char-grilled lobbying dollars with a manufacturing reduction, and Pan-seared Public Place Toxins.

The event was an opportunity for the community to laugh, but also to learn about the absurdity of New York City's plan to build affordable housing near an EPA Superfund site that the City still uses as an open sewer, in a flood zone. Let's join forces to tell the City and Councilmembers Brad Lander and Stephen Levin that the massive rezone they are proposing is all wrong for Gowanus.

Café Rezone is the newest venture of Voice Of Gowanus, the coalition of community organizations and individual citizens for a healthy and sustainable neighborhood.

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