Saturday, October 17, 2020

PMFA Is Back In Brooklyn

For those who have been missing PMFA, I apologize for the long silence. A few days ago, I returned to Brooklyn after a trip to France and Germany, which had originally been planned for this past May, but had to be postponed because of Covid.

My husband and I  spend most of the time away in my family's country house in a remote section of the Auvergne in France. There, as in the United States, the pandemic has brought about many changes, but
we felt so lucky to have made it there at all.

The trip was bittersweet. My father was supposed to spend some time here with us this summer, but 2020 had other plans. He passed away unexpectedly in June, so walking into the stone farmhouse he bought in 1971 without him was hard. It holds so many memories.

The weather in early September was spectacular. One day was lovelier than the next.
Most days, we were able to eat outside and I spent countless hours working in the garden. Our neighbors had taken good care of the house during our absence, but the weeds had spent the long summer invading the flowerbeds. 
Though the bigger improvements on the house will have to wait, some smaller projects were completed. My husband continued some stonework and expanded the pebble walk from the shed to the house.
It looked quite nice when it was all finished and I love the crunch of pebbles under my shoes.
It was not all work, though. 
Occasionally, we had time for a round of p├ętanque in the evening.
On Saturdays, we drove to Issoire, a nearby town, for market day. 
It remains one of my favorite things to do while here.
I always look for this older gentlemen and his little cart.
Most of the produce at the market is picked that day and food prices are rather reasonable 
compared to New York.
The taste and smell of these sun-ripened strawberries was amazing
We mostly buy our saucissons from this vendor.
This being 2020, there were quite a few vendors selling masks.
As the weeks passed, summer started to fade and the leaves were slowly changing their color
The fields were veiled in fog in the mornings. Nights became colder
Blue skies made ways for dark clouds and rain.
and more and more rain. A whole week of it.
The temperatures dipped and we made fires to stay warm in the house. 
We knew that it was time to leave before it got even colder.
So, we closed the house with a heavy heart, drove away, hoping that we can return again next year.

Back in Brooklyn, the suitcases are unpacked.  the pile of mail which arrived in our absence has been looked through, and the passports safely put away till next time.

Please join me here again as I resume posting about Carroll Gardens. I am looking forward to covering  news of our neighborhood.

Read more

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Is The Reef Kitchen Pod On Union And Smith Street Unfair Competition For Carroll Gardens' Brick And Mortar Eateries?

***See Update Below***
You may have noticed that a rather large "pod" has been moved into the empty fenced off lot at the corner of Smith and Union Street in Carroll Gardens.
We did not know what to make of it until we received an email from local resident Barbara Dahl, who made us aware that Reef Kitchen places these pods in underutilized urban spaces to lease to either start up restaurants, or established eateries looking to open in new neighborhood. Reef Kitchen takes care of the electric and gas hook up, and the food business can break into a neighborhood without the need for capital investment.
Sort of like a food truck, but much bigger and more permanent.

Perhaps this idea would be welcomed in Carroll Gardens at any other time, but we share Barbara Dahl's concern that this is unnecessary competition for our brick and mortar restaurants during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Barbara reached out to several of our politicians to make them aware of this situation. below is her letter:


The other day, a company jumped the curb and parked a “virtual restaurant” next to my house. The name of this company is: Reef Kitchen. They operate out of Miami, Florida and advertise that they allow restaurants to expand their footprint.

They plan on bringing in cooking staff and launching a food delivery service out of the site to serve this vicinity.

During the pandemic, our local restaurants have been relying on delivery service and outdoor dining. This company will make their survival even more difficult as this is also their target audience. When our local restaurants can’t stay afloat, it isn’t just that restaurant that suffers, it is also the landlords that rely on rents from these businesses and all their employees.

Having this company, that is not a local company come in, puts all of us at risk financially. This company isn’t invested or investing in our neighborhood and it doesn’t have the overhead of a “bricks and mortar” footprint giving them an unfair financial advantage.

Once they have made their profits, they will move on. Unless we can stop them.

That is why I’m writing to you. Is there anything  you can do to help us protect our local restaurants here in Carroll Gardens?

Thank you for your attention,

Barbara Dahl

If you, too, find that this is unfair competition for local restaurants that are barely hanging on, you may consider writing your own letter to the offices below.

Community Board 6:
JoAnne Simon:
Brad Lander: Dept of Buildings:
Better Business Bureau: go to: and hit “contact us”
New York Restaurant Association:
Health Department:

The City of New York issued two violations against the owner of the parking lot last week, one for illegal parking and one for illegal electric work.

October 6th, 2020 Update:
From Barbara via email to PMFA:

Tonight, at roughly 10 p.m., two men came and cut the boot off the portable kitchen: Reef Kitchen. They cut the chains on the gates and began hooking the kitchen up to a pickup truck. The police came to check on things and must have been satisfied with what was going on. They left and the guys finished hitching the kitchen onto the truck. After a bit of maneuvering they removed it from the lot on Smith and Union.

They had received over $3,000 in fines for various violations during their tenure.

I don’t know any more details but I would like to thank you and everyone else that called the various city agencies to report these “interlopers”. The neighborhood really came together to help protect our local businesses. Carroll Gardens has proven, once again, that we are a community that looks out for one another.

Perhaps now the rats will not find our backyards so attractive.

Read more

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Can Gowanus Be Both A White, Rich Neighborhood And A Low-Income Opportunity Zone? Why It Matters In Regards To The Proposed Rezoning

Of Shifting Neighborhood Lines Between Carroll Gardens And Gowanus, 
And Diverging Narratives About The Neighborhood's Income Level In Regards To The Proposed Gowanus Rezoning

For decades, the area between New York Harbor and the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn was strictly known as "Red Hook" to locals. It was only in the 1960's that real estate agents began calling the area from Degraw Street/ Warren Street to 9th Street and from Hicks Street to the West side of Bond Street "Carroll Gardens."

It was an attempt to elevate and differentiate the brownstone enclave from Gowanus and Red Hook.

The rebranding of Carroll Gardens, a mostly working class neighborhood in the 60's into a more genteel sounding one was obviously a success. Carroll Gardens is now ranked as one of Brooklyn's most expensive neighborhoods.

Though some of the boundaries of Carroll Gardens sometimes shift depending on who you talk to, New York City officially rezoned the neighborhood in 2009 and set the boundaries mentioned above.

New York City Planning map of Carroll Gardens

So imagine our surprise when we recently googled Carroll Gardens on Trulia and saw that the real estate site defined the eastern border of Carroll Gardens at Smith Street, not Bond Street. The site included everything from Smith Street to Bond Street as Gowanus.

That seemed odd, especially since it would place the Carroll Gardens Historic District in Gowanus.
We cannot say for sure but it seems to us that the site's boundary shift is recent.

Why would this matter?  For one, it may have affected the dialog regarding the proposed rezoning of the Gowanus neighborhood.  As we all know, Carroll Gardens is rather affluent.  Gowanus, on the other hand, is mostly still industrial, though speculation by developers pushing for the rezoning have increased prices in the past few years.

However, shifting the border between Carroll Gardens and Gowanus from Bond to Smith Street would certainly raise median house prices and the median income level of Gowanus by quite a bit.

It is also important to note that the Gowanus Canal Rezoning Framework left out the Gowanus Houses and Wycoff Gardens NYCHA housing, though according to Community Board 6, the majority of Gowanus residents live there. Leaving NYCHA housing out of the framework thereby further skewing the median income in the area.

This has allowed pro development groups like Open New York to claim that Gowanus is "the only affluent, majority-white, high-opportunity neighborhood that the de Blasio administration has proposed rezoning for greater densities."

Councilmember Brad Lander, who is in full support of the Gowanus rezoning, claimed on his City Council page that "Gowanus would be the first “mandatory inclusionary housing” (MIH) neighborhood re-zoning proposed for a whiter, wealthier neighborhood, where there’s relatively little risk of displacement. So we have the opportunity to create a real model for an integrated neighborhood, with diverse schools, and a vibrant community life, right here in the middle of Brownstone Brooklyn."

On the same page, however, Lander writes: "I love the neighborhoods of Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. But they are not integrated or affordable. According to City Planning’s analysis, the Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning would likely lead, over time, to an estimated 8,200 new housing units, 3,000 (or 37%) of which would be permanently affordable to low- and moderate-income families."
So, which is it? If Gowanus is a white, wealthy neighborhood and needs to be integrated, why allow 63% of the new units to be market rate or luxury housings? Why not push for more affordability?

Complicating Lander's argument even more is the fact that under President Trump, the Gowanus area has been designated as an Opportunity Zone. The Opportunity Zone program offers tax incentives for investors to place their capital gains into low-income communities.

The Gowanus area slated for rezoning overlaps almost exactly with the Gowanus Opportunity Zone.

So, is Gowanus a rich, white neighborhood, as Councilman Lander claims?  Is it a low income area, as per the Opportunity Zone program? Will the rezoning diversify the neighborhood by adding low income housing to a high priced area, or will it displace poorer residents by gentrifying a lower-than-average poverty community.

Is Brad Lander using his narrative to claim that the rezoning will not displace current residents, knowing fully well that developers and investors will profit from huge tax incentives by claiming the opposite?

One thing is for sure: Gowanus can't be both rich and poor at the same time. As a community, we need to make sure we deal with real data and facts while engaging with Lander and New York City when discussing the rezoning.  The truth always matters.

Additional reading:
Bond Street at Carroll Street
Smith Street

Read more

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

On the Hudson River To Red Hook: Schooner Apollonia Brings Carbon Neutral Sail Freight To New York City

This past Friday, something quite extraordinary happened. Captain Sam Merrett sailed into New York Harbor from Hudson, New York on his Schooner Apollonia. On board was cargo destined for area businesses, including Van Brunt Stillhouse and Strong Rope Brewery.  The freight was delivered and unloaded in Red Hook, which seems fitting, since Red Hook was once one of the busiest ports in the country.
Apollonia's voyage was entirely wind-powered and proves that sometimes, looking towards a green future means looking back to the past for solutions.

Here is more information on Apollonia and her cargo from a press release:

Sail freight returns to the Hudson- vessel lands maiden voyage in Brooklyn at GBX terminal
Schooner Apollonia Charts New Course for Green, Wind-Powered Shipping

RED HOOK, BROOKLYN – The schooner Apollonia, a new sail freight venture operating out of Hudson, New York, successfully delivered its first cargo of Hudson Valley goods to New York City on Friday.

“We’re thrilled, after years of effort, to put Apollonia to work,” said Sam Merrett, captain of the Apollonia. “We did it. Sail freight is running on the Hudson once again.”

Apollonia delivered hundreds of pounds of brewer’s malt and corn, along with wooden barrels, alpaca wool, petroleum-free pillows, and CBD products to Gowanus Bay Terminal in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In coordination with the climate-focused nonprofit RETI Center, the cargo was unloaded from the vessel at GBX and delivered to end customers, like Brooklyn’s Strong Rope Brewing (receiving malt from Hudson Valley Malt) and Van Brunt Stillhouse (receiving malt, corn, and barrels from Quercus Cooperage), via electric cargo tricycles from Upcycles of Brooklyn - ensuring the products made a truly carbon neutral voyage.

The voyage also included a few novel cargo handoffs: the Inwood Canoe Club and Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club split a bag of sail freight malt for homebrewing. The Inwood crew paddled a canoe catamaran out to receive their half of the shipment in the Hudson River. The Dredgers managed to capture a bag swinging from Apollonia’s main boom off the Battery in New York Harbor.

Merrett credits the Hudson River Maritime Museum’s RiverWise program with catalyzing the inaugural run this month, alongside the Museum’s solar-powered vessel Solaris:

“So many people have poured themselves into this effort to build a better, greener logistics chain for the future,” Merrett said. “We cannot thank them enough. But we thank Lisa Cline and the crew at the Hudson River Maritime Museum in particular for going above and beyond to make this maiden cargo voyage happen in such uncertain times.”

The Apollonia crew, having returned upriver, looks forward to additional cargo runs up and down the Hudson River this season.  For more information on the project and to arrange for cargo to be shipped via sail freight, see:

***Photos courtesy of Brad Vogel.

Read more

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

FYI! The Citi Bike Docking Station At Carroll And Smith Street In Carroll Gardens Has Been Removed

Well, that is strange! The large Citi Bike docking station next to Carroll Park on Carroll Street at Smith Street here in Carroll Gardens was removed yesterday afternoon. One wonders why, since this location seemed to be well used and located conveniently just half a block from the Carroll Street subway entrance to the F/G train.

The docking station was installed together with others in the fall of 2016, when City Bike expanded into the neighborhood.  

The removal of bikes at a well used location seems odd considering the pandemic, when people might prefer to ride a bike rather than take the subway.
Have other bikes being removed in the area?

If you need to dock a bike nearby, the station on Smith Street near 2nd Place and 3rd Street is still there.

***Update: some readers have informed me that Carroll Street is slated for repaving next week. Hopefully, the station will be reinstalled. Stay tuned.
The Carroll Street docking station on Carroll Street before it was removed.
still there: docking station at Smith Street near 2nd Place and 3rd Street
Read more

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Councilmember Brad Lander’s Damning Developer Donations - Who’s He Trying To Kid?

Councilmember Brad Lander, whose 39th district includes Gowanus, is currently running for New York City Comptroller. On his campaign website he announces that he is not taking money from corporate PACs or lobbyists, or from for-profit real estate developers or landlords.

It was a much different story when he ran unopposed for his district seat for a third term in 2017.
In that year, a study showed that Lander was one of the top council candidates in a district targeted for rezoning, taking the most real estate industry donations.

Perhaps Lander is under the gun to keep promises made to developers in exchange for donations before his current term ends in December 2021.

In May, Lander stated: “If we don’t move forward on it, at some point in the next few months, it won’t be able to be achieved in this term. My term ends in a year and a half and the mayor’s does too. And so if we don’t move forward in the next couple of months that means this will not happen.”

Voice Of Gowanus, a coalition of neighborhood residents and community organizations took a a hard look at Lander's 2017 campaign contributions. Take a look at their amazingly well researched report. What VoG found may make Lander's constituents wonder whose interest Brad Lander is serving.

Lander’s Damning Developer Donations - 
Who’s he trying to kid?

Sometimes, you just have to look at the numbers to understand Brad Lander.

Twenty-one maximum campaign donations from executives at the Related Companies. Six max donations from Two Trees Management (including family members). Five max donations from Silverstein properties (including family members). Two max donations from Abra Construction. Two from Forest City Ratner Companies. BerlinRosen. Capalino and Company.

These are just the most notable developer and lobbyist donations that our District 39 Councilmember Lander received during the 2017 donation cycle, according to an analysis done by the community group Voice of Gowanus based on data retrieved from the New York City Campaign Finance Board.

In total, over $130,000 of Councilmember Lander’s donations in the 2017 cycle came from real estate developers, real estate consultants, real estate lawyers, real estate agents, and architects. This number represents over 20% of his total funding which came in at just over $570K.

Lander’s acceptance of bundled cash from developers, their family members and their consultants raises serious concerns about his motivations for advancing an immense rezone plan in his Gowanus district.

In particular, it casts a harsh light on his urgency to get this very costly rezone certified before his term is up, despite the deep cuts in NYC’s and NY State’s budgets and the fact that new developments built under his plan will contribute no property taxes for at least 25 years.

For his 2021 Comptroller campaign, Lander has sworn off donations from “corporate PACs or lobbyists, or from for-profit real estate developers or landlords” However, will Lander forget the folks who got him to this point? And while he’s recently refunded donations from a few real estate and developer companies who contributed to his 2021 campaign early on, would he be so successful at fundraising if it were not for these early investments in his campaign?

2017 Developer Donors

In 2017, the largest number of donations came from The Related Companies, the developer of Hudson Yards. Twenty-one executives at Related, including Vice Chairman Bruce Warwick, contributed a total $6,250. Since Related does work directly with the city, each executive donated the maximum amount allowable, $250 rather than the unaffiliated maximum of $2,750. These donations were bundled by Jay Kriegel, who has since deceased but was a Senior Advisor to Related and was instrumental in getting Hudson Yards completed. Kriegel was such a central figure in real estate development over the past several decades, he was awarded a posthumously honored with a public service award by Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) at it’s 124th annual gala. A recent analysis of Hudson Yards (“Hudson Yards: Another Crisis, Another Bill?”) highlighted the looming disaster the development presents to the city.

*move arrow left and right, up and down.

The second name that comes up most often is Two Trees Management, the developer that transformed DUMBO and built the controversial Domino Sugar project. Two Trees contributed a total of $7,750. Donors include founder David Walentas, CEO Jed Walentas (son of David), Director of Special Projects David Lombino, and project manager Bonnie Cambell. Each donated their maximum of $250. However, David’s wife and Jed’s mother, artist Jane Walentas, contributed a total of $3,000 ($250 in 2014 and $2,750 in 2016) while Jed’s wife, Kate Engelbrecht, contributed her maximum of $2,750. Two Trees owns the Lowe’s/Pathmark site along the Gowanus Canal - which has not yet been zoned for residential.

The third most common developer in Lander’s donor’s list is the Silverstein Properties which contributed a total of $5,500. Donors include Executive Vice President Roger Silverstein, founder Larry Silverstein’s son, President Tal Kerret, and Klara Silverstein, the elder Silverstein’s wife. John “Janno” Lieber, currently the Chief Development Officer of the MTA, contributed $250 while he was President of WTC Properties, a Silverstein company. Amy Glosser, Lieber’s wife, contributed a total of $2,000.

William Caleo, founder of The Brooklyn Company, is a developer specializing in boutique luxury condominiums and contributed $2,750. Caleo also hosted the Gowanus Conservancy Spring 2019 Gala along with Marcos Diaz Gonzalez, Senior Vice President of AECOM, one of the world’s largest infrastructure engineering firms with $18B in revenue. Mr. Diaz Gonzalez contributed $200 to the Landers campaign in 2017. As we have shown here previously, the Conservancy has enjoyed privileged access to Gowanus rezoning decision making through its close relationship with Lander.

In addition to the listed above, major groups like Canal Development Partners, Excel Builders, Ascot Properties, Industry City, Ladder Capital Finance, The Mack Company, and Clipper Equity also contributed. The late John Zuccotti, founder of Brookfield Properties, contributed $1000. An executive from Federal Capital Partners, a developer based in Maryland, contributed $2,750.

The family members of two groups also contributed to Lander’s campaign, just as Two Trees and Silverstein had. Antonia Belt, the wife of DBI’s David Belt, and Ayala Barnett, wife of Extell’s John Barnett, both contributed the maximum of $2,750.

2017 Lobbyist Donations

Furthermore, Lander raised nearly $18,000 from public relations firms closely associated with developers interests. These groups often perform activities nearly indistinguishable from lobbying. In particular, he raised $8,650 from PR firms BerlinRosen (including from a managing director’s wife) and $2,700 from Capalina and Company.

BerlinRosen’s cofounder, Jonathan Rosen, has been referred to as “The Most Powerful Man in Politics – Outside City Hall” not just for his close associated with Mayor De Blasio but also for his close alliance with Two Trees Management.

Similarly, Capalino and Company has a reputation for being a bridge between its developer and politician clients. The firm most recently found itself the focus of Greenwich Village preservationists after Capalino and Company were retained by a real estate developer who sought to use the lobby firm’s connections with the De Blasio administration to accelerate a zoning change in the East Village.

The Raw Data
Take a look at the donations spreadsheet yourself. It’s hard to see how Brad Lander could forget his real estate developer pals as he continues to push for his sterile paradise of high rises of glass and steel in Gowanus, in a flood zone along a hurricane evacuation route, while sea levels rise:

Read more

Yet Again, NYC DEP Wants To Delay Construction Of Two Crucial CSO Retention Tanks For The Gowanus Canal

The head of the Gowanus Canal
The Salt lot at 2nd Avenuel
The famous "poo-nami' video showing CSO event on Gowanus Canal

Despite a pandemic, despite an exodus out of New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Brad Lander are both still pushing for the rezoning of the Gowanus neighborhood from mostly manufacturing to residential.  It is by far the largest proposed New York City upzoning of the de Blasio administration despite the fact that the area still faces serious and dangerous environmental challenges

First, the Gowanus Canal, which runs through the area, was declared  an EPA Superfund site and has not been remediated yet.  Secondly, much of the land in Gowanus is in a FEMA Flood Zone A. Thirdly, there are three former Manufactured Gas Plant  (MGP) sites along the canal's shores that are now and will forever be laden with liquid coal tar at depths of 100 to 150 feet. And fourthly, NYC continues to use the canal as an open sewer, allowing Combined Sewer Overflow to enter the waterway during heavy rain events. That is a clear violation against the Federal Clean Water Act.

It is expected that the Department of City Planning will certify the proposed rezoning, which will trigger the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) very soon.

But....what about the pollution, you may ask? Well...
Just yesterday, PMFA wrote about the fact that shortcuts were being taken on the most polluted MGP site in Gowanus where our Councilman is envisioning 900 units of housing.

In addition, residents learned at the July 28th EPA Community Advisory Group meeting that the City of New York is yet again trying to delay the construction of two CSO control facilities meant to reduce the volume of untreated wastewater entering the Gowanus Canal.

Here is some background. As part of the EPA Superfund clean-up, the Federal Agency has ordered the City to build two retention tanks, one 8 million gallon tank at the head of the canal at Butler and Nevins Streets, and a 4 million gallon tank at the Salt Lot at 2nd Avenue, located in the middle section of the canal.

In the past few years, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection has managed to delay the construction of the tanks by several years by insisting on siting the tanks on land seized by eminent domain and by over-designing the tank facilities. The Agency also managed to more than double the construction cost. In  2018, D.E.P.'s Kevin Clarke testified that the cost for the entire 'program' that includes both tanks is estimated to reach $1.2 Billion. E.P.A. had estimated the cost at $500 million.

So, imagine the community's surprise when it heard that DEP's Commissioner Vincent Sapienza had reached out to EPA Region 2's Administrator Peter Lopez, asking for additional time due to the financial challenges the City is currently facing because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sapienza asked for a one year delay for the completion of the larger tank and an 18 months delay for for the smaller one.

Keep in mind that the tanks are only addressing current CSO discharges and that 0EPA expects a significant increase in CSOs into the canal as part of the area rezoning, this is bad news for current and future residents.

The news prompted Voice Of Gowanus, a coalition of civic organizations and local residents to reach out to Administrator Lopez with the following letter on August 7th:

Gowanus Canal Superfund Required Sewage Detention Tanks 
Vs. DEP Delay Request

Dear Regional Administrator Lopez,

During the recent July Gowanus CAG meeting, the community was made aware that NYC DEP has requested a substantial delay in carrying out its obligations in the EPA Superfund cleanup for the canal, which includes one sewage detention tank at the head the canal and a smaller one on the city’s 2nd Avenue Salt Lot. We have been told that the DEP cites a large coronavirus-related revenue shortfall as a reason to push back this Superfund construction work a year for the larger tank, and a year and a half for the smaller tank.

As a local Gowanus coalition of civic associations and residents, we are reaching out to you with our concerns now, given that the EPA CAG will not be meeting again till late September and we understand this is a very time-sensitive matter.

As members of the Gowanus community many of us are aware of previous times when the DEP had fully funded Gowanus infrastructure work (the 2004 Flushing Tunnel Project) only to have DEP pull the funding for years and delay Gowanus for new infrastructure projects elsewhere.

We have good reason to be concerned with this current excuse for delay especially given that the EPA has already allowed several delays on this DEP work. And that this work will now no longer be completed by the time the dredging work is finished. Further, there was an understanding in the community that funding for Gowanus CSO tanks has been in place. In March 2016, Councilman Lander TWEETED proudly that he was glad to see $510m in the updated capital plan for Gowanus CSO retention tanks.

From Councilman Brad Lander's Twitter account, March 2016

The Gowanus community prefers that you DO NOT allow the NYC DEP to delay its portion of the Superfund cleanup any further. If you are inclined to negotiate any delay, we ask that you only agree to delay the work of one tank's construction, not both, and make approval contingent upon NYCDEP agreeing to prioritize design and construction of both retention tank projects over all other new DEP infrastructure projects. We would feel deeply wronged in Gowanus if the EPA granted the requested delays to the DEP only to have the DEP fund new infrastructure works at the expense of finishing the Gowanus tank projects.

As you know, hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage discharging regularly into our waterway continues to be a major environmental and health concern. The problem is about to become even more acute as the City appears poised to certify the massive rezoning of the Gowanus corridor.

Our community needs a hero. Please be ours.

Voice of Gowanus

If you would like to send your own email to Administrator Lopez in support of Voice Of Gowanus, click on the link below. It will open a new page with the email address and letter. So easy.
Click to Write Your Own Email To Administrator Lopez

Read more

Monday, August 10, 2020

NYS DEC Just Degraded The Environmental Clean-Up At Public Place/ Former Citizens Manufactured Gas Plant Site

Public Place Site, the former Citizens Manufactured Gas Plant, at Smith and 5th Street

An arial view of the Citizens Gas Work site in 1926
Rendering of proposed Gowanus Green Development on the City owned Public Place lot

Have you ever received a mundane email that seems like bureaucratic nothingness...but after reading it three realize that your Carroll Gardens/Gowanus community has just been wronged for the umpteenth time in decades?

A few days ago, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. (DEC) sent out two notices about the parcels that make up the heavily polluted Public Place Site, which was once the site of the former Citizens Manufactured Gas Site.

The first notice pertains to Parcels I and II, the 5.8 acre city-owned site at Smith Street and 5th Street.

The second notice is about Parcel III, the privately owned  3.8 acres lot at 459 Smith Street, bounded by Smith Street and Huntinton Street.
The notices are .orders to the environmental clean-up of the very polluted sites that represent "significant changes" to the original one. It's clear, after carefully reading them, that the state has changed course radically: Public Place is now going to get less of a clean up than was originally promised.  Instead of digging up and removing 8 feet of soil across the entire  9.6 acre site as initially planned, the State environmental watchdog decided that they will allow National Grid, the polluter, to only dig up 2 feet of dirt on most of the site and replace that two feet with clean soil, which DEC calls a "cover system".

And...they're planning this reduced cleanup since DEC says the site clean-up will be good enough for "restricted residential" use. 

Why didn't DEC tell the community about this reduction in remediation at the meeting?  A fear that reporters would latch on and dig into this strange change in course?  It's clear EPA was not informed about this change either.

We understand this is a lot to process for the community. What does it all mean? So many questions. Let us examine some facts about Public Place to better understand the significance of DEC's change order. 

From the 1860s to the early 1960s, the Public Place site was the home of the former Citizens Gas Light Company's 12th Ward Gas Work Plant, a Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) where coal and petroleum products were turned into flammable gas. The gas was used for cooking, lighting, heating and commercial purposes in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, one of the by-products of this gasification process is coal tar, a black viscous liquid, which is harmful to humans and the environment. Coal tar attaches itself to native soil, and plumes of this dangerous thick liquid can seep in every direction. At Public Place, coal tar has been found in significant amounts at depths of 153 feet.
The following two major classes of chemical compounds found in coal tar were the focus of the Public Place investigation: MGP-related semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOC) namely polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS), and MGP-related non-aqueous phase liquid (NAPL)

When the Citizens Gas Works plant was decommissioned in the 60s, the site was given to the city 'by condemnation' as public land in 1975. Hence the name "Public Place". Citizens Gas Light Company was later sold to Brooklyn Union Gas, which became Keyspan, which is now National Grid.

The responsibility for the clean-up falls on National Grid. The work will be done under the supervision of NYS Department of Environmental Conservation under the Brownfield Clean-up Program.

Since coal tar and contaminated groundwater have been found to ooze from the site into the Gowanus Canal for decades, the US Environmental Protection Agency, which declared the canal a Superfund site in 2010, is also involved.

For the past few months, National Grid's contractors have been working on the site. implementing the remedial design from 2007, which was finalized in 2017 and approved by DEC in 2018.

At many community meetings held by DEC and National Grid in the past years, Carroll Gardens/Gowanus residents were told that the remedial design required:
 -the  removal of “contaminated soils to a depth of approximately 8 feet below grade."
-the removal of all structures on the site, which include gas holders on Parcel 1and a tar separator on Parcel 3.
- the installation of a High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) liner 2 feet below grade throughout the site  as storm water management to prevent rain water absorption, which could dislodge the deeper, remaining pockets of coal tar.
- two water treatment systems to clean the rainwater so it can can be discharged directly into the Gowanus Canal
- 8 feet of clean backfill and regrading of the land.
- recovery wells that will continue to collect liquid tar that bubbles up to toward the surface.
- 900 linear feet of barrier wall at the water's edge to prevent coal tar contamination from flowing into the Gowanus Canal.

Over the past two years, DEC has already degraded the remedial design by doing away with the  impermeable HDPE liner and the treatment systems. (Rain run off will now be collected in trenches running parallel to the barrier wall. However, most of the rain will penetrate the ground, raising the possibility that pockets of coal tar will migrate).

The August 2020 DEC change order is downright scary. The removal of only 2 feet of contaminated soil throughout the site should make all of us very angry and very concerned.
Hasn't the community lived with this dangerous contamination long enough? Can't we expect our own environmental agency to advocate the best clean-up for us? 

At the July 28th EPA Superfund CAG meeting,  John Miller of DEC explained that in three areas on Public Place, National Grid's contractors dug down twenty to twenty-two feet. 
However,  when asked about the pockets of coal tar that go down 100-150 feet in some areas of the site, he added:
"Honestly, you are just not going to get down that deep.  There is maybe not necessarily a need to do

And then he added:  "We definitely want to find out where it's migrating and find out where the limits of the contamination have spread.  We have a fair idea of where it migrated, but some additional work is needed off site to button up our investigation."

So, not only is DEC allowing National Grid to scratch the surface of the contamination, but DEC doesn't even know where the underground plume has migrated off-site?  Does this mean that it could have oozed under some nearby houses? 

Which brings us back to the question of why the site, which will forever be polluted, is being remediated with restricted residential use in mind, when residential use on Public Place is not permitted under the current zoning.  

We can thank Councilmember Brad Lander for this folly. Lander has been pushing to rezone the 5.8 acre City-owned Public Place site as part of his overall proposed rezoning of Gowanus, despite the fact that lots I and II were designated for "for public recreational use" on the City Map on February 27, 1974,

Lander has been in favor of 'Gowanus Green', a 30 story, 900 unit housing development for the site since before his three terms as our councilman.  Lander has publicly boasted that the apartments would be 100% affordable, though the site developers contradicted him at a public meeting in December 2019 and could only promise 74%.

But is it dangerous to live on top of the most polluted site along the Gowanus Canal, on top of a huge coal tar plume? Probably, especially if the State allows National Grid to reduce the level of clean-up.
With coal tar remaining deep underground, one of the biggest problems will be semi-volatile and volatile gases. Especially naphthalene, classified by EPA as a possible human carcinogen, is highly volatile and could possibly penetrate into the residential buildings.

The Public Place remediation does not call for a vapor intrusion protection cover.  Instead, National Grid and DEC are counting on future building foundations to serve as a protective cap in order to prevent human exposure .  But... any fissure in the foundation could lead to vapor intrusion.

So, the question remains: why would NYS DEC allow National Grid to reduce the level of remediation, knowing that our Councilman is pushing for housing on the site?
And...why is Brad Lander not holding a press conference in front of Public Place blasting National Grid and DEC for lowering the level of care if he is intent on bringing families to live there?

Click here for further reading:

Screen Shot 2012-04-30 at 9.21.52 AM
An arial view of the Citizens Gas Work site in 1926

Read more