Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Last Night's CB6 Gowanus Superfund Meeting: The Pros Vs. The Amateurs

Walter Mugdan, US EPA Director of the Emergency and Remedial Response Division

Angela Carpenter, EPA

EPA Presentation

EPA Presentation

EPA Presentation

For New York City, Caswell Holloway,Chief of Staff for Deputy Mayor Schyler

Dan Walsh, Head of NYC Office Of Environmental Remediation

The City's Caswell Holloway, foreground, with Dan Walsh

City's Alternative Plan presentation

City's Alternative Plan presentation

After last night's Community Board 6's informational meeting, at which the Environmental Protection Agency and representatives of New York City proposed their different plans for a Gowanus Canal clean-up, CB'6 Chairman Bashner concluded by saying that "it was a pleasure to be sitting here watching the City and the EPA fight over who gets to clean the canal."

Yes, indeed, it was a pleasure, though the meeting confirmed once more that the EPA has a clear, well-thought out plan and the experience to clean the canal, and the city, frankly, is winging it. Whereas Walter Mugden of the U.S. EPA gave a thorough and clear presentation of why a clean-up is necessary and how his agency would proceed under Superfund, the City's presentation, given by Caswell Holloway, Chief of Staff for Deputy Mayor Schyler and Dan Walsh, Head of NYC's Office Of Environmental Remediation, seemed confusing, overly complicated and seemed to be a work in progress with many variables, held together with hopes and a prayer.

Water Mugden did such an excellent job that he outlined the difference of the two approaches rather thoroughly before Mr. Holloway even took the microphone. From the beginning, it was clear that Mr. Mugden had serious doubts about the viability of the city's plan.
One thing is for sure: The Gowanus Canal is highly polluted and needs a thorough clean-up which involves not only dredging the bottom of the waterway, but also cleaning the surrounding land to make sure that contamination of the canal is stopped.

The EPA Plan

The EPA outlines that the following contaminants were found in very high concentration all along the length of the canal are:

*Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs): up to 4.5% in the canal sediment *Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs): up to 43 parts per million in canal sediment *Heavy Metals ( Lead, Cadmium, Arsenic and Zinc)
*Volatile Organic Compounds

These contaminants are the result of the canal's industrial history and stemmed from the former Manufactured Gas Plants, Coal yards, cement makers, paint and ink factories, oil factories as well as the city's sewer overflow.

The EPA proposed the inclusion of the Gowanus on its National Priority list which currently includes 1,264 sites, because the canal's downstream areas are used for fishing, recreation such as kayaking and canoeing, and because the area has been designated an 'Estuary Of National Significance' and because the area floods on a regular basis.
Evaluating the risk of direct human contact with sediments and surface water, the EPA gave the Gowanus Canal a score of 50 out of a possible score of 100. The minimum score for eligibility to be included onto the list of Superfund Sites is 28.5.

The EPA is planning on working fully with The City of New York, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservancy and the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. The EPA would address the FULL length of the canal and would evaluate and address onshore facilities that continue to leak hazardous contaminants into the canal. The agency estimates that 330,000 cubic yards of mud will have to be dredged from the canal. The cost will be in the hundreds of millions.

Funding will come from Potentially Responsible Parties Or PRP's, such as, in this case, National Grid, which is the biggest polluter along the Gowanus. But there are many others which will be identified by the EPA, which has extensive information gathering and enforcement authorities.
For cleanup of sites for which no responsible parties can be identified, so-called 'orphaned' sites, the EPA uses its own funds from its annual budget.
It is highly unlikely that individual residential home owners will be held responsible
, Walter Mugden stated. This happens" in almost no case."

CLEAN-UP of the canal
WILL HAPPEN FIRST, litigation against the PRP's will come later.

The Superfund nomination will
NOT DELAY the actions of New York City's $ 178 million project to rehabilitate the flushing tunnel and the pumping station as well as divert 1/3 of annual Combined Sewer Overflow away from the Gowanus Canal, an action that is required under a Consent Order with the NYS Department Of Environmental Conservancy.

The listing WILL NOT DELAY the rezoning of the Gowanus Area from manufacturing to residential. The EPA will continue to monitor and maintain the canal after the clean-up, and issue 5 year reports.

The City's Alternative Plan

Why the city is hell-bent on keeping the EPA out of the clean-up process, though the agency is the expert and the city has never undertaken a project of this magnitude is a puzzle. However, it became clearer rather quickly when Caswell Holloway mentioned Public Place, The Toll Brothers and development and the city's concern that these projects will be indefinitely delayed, within the first few minutes of his presentation. Holloway stated that the goal is that "those developments should go ahead as planned." He also mentioned that the Superfund designation "is making lenders nervous."

The city touts its plan as every bit as thorough at EPA's, but
faster and more efficient. The process will be managed by the EPA, the same as under the Superfund. But the city's alternative would ask identified polluters, such as National Grid, to voluntarily step to the table and pay up, an approach that has rarely been used on sites like the Gowanus, where many Potentially Responsible Parties will be identified. According to the city, "the voluntary process is faster than the Superfund's adversarial process."

However, so far, no PRP's have stepped forward voluntarily to work with the city.

The city plans to work in close association with the Army Corps Of Engineers, who have studied the Gowanus canal for years.
However, no representative of the Army Corp Of Engineers was present to confirm or talk about their involvement. As far as funding for the city's alternative, it relies on the inducement of a cleanup discount to the PRP's. This is possible (but not guaranteed) through a government program which allows some funds to be accessed by the Army Corp of Engineers to perform a cleanup and dredge of Federal navigable waterways. This proposal, in my view, adds significantly to the complexity of the project and is more likely to delay, rather than speed the process.

There was no mention of long-term monitoring after a clean-up.

Mr. Holloway also stated that the City has stopped the ULURP process for the rezoning of the Gowanus area from industrial to residential.

It was also stated that the 1/3 reduction of the Combined Sewer Owerflow by the City will be achieved by diverting the raw sewage into other bodies of water, NOT by finding a more permanent solution for managing the waste.

If the city fails with its alternative, Mr. Holloway seriously suggested that the city can then go back to the EPA to ask for the canal to be placed on the Superfund List. Which begs the question, why don't we go with the experts in the first place?

At one point during the meeting, a local residents sitting behind me murmured: " Does the City think we are stupid?"
Indeed, after last nights presentation, it is amazing to thing that the city is gutsy enough to go against the science, know-how and experience of the EPA.

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Anonymous said...

For more discussion on meeting see:

Brooklyn's Lavender Lake Needs Superfund

by Joshua S. Verleun
May 26, 2009

Anonymous said...

Being placed on the Superfund will have dire consequences for our neighborhood. Be careful of what you wish for!

Anonymous said...

Dire? Please explain this to me.

The city's plan was basically the same as the EPA's but much more confusing with too many parties involved. Either way the canal has to be cleaned.

I have a feeling you are talking about property values when you use the word "dire". As the EPA said people knew what they were buying and living near before this all happened, this will only make it better in the future.

Margaret said...

11:24 Enough of the scare tactics about Superfund - most of them coming from anonymous - like yours. "dire consequences" for whom? Who are you? What's your angle? Margaret Maugenest

Anonymous said...

What's next? Are Bloomberg, David von Specklesten, de Blasio, and Holloway&Co. going stomp their feet and threaten to threaten to hold their breath until their faces turn blue?
While the City and others keep saying that a superfund designation will delay the revitalization of the canal area (read it could slow development) and is a slow process it is these very same parties that are actively delaying and threatening to impede the EPA's efforts.
I found the EPA's presentation to be half hearted and felt that even they did not believe their own spiel.
Once again Walter Mugdan and Angela Carpenter did a wonderful job of presenting the FACTS and dispelling the fear mongering. Thank you both.

Anonymous said...

One of the interesting pieces of news that came last night from the mayor's representative was that City Planning has not yet certified the ULURP for the Toll site. This is why Toll has not yet bought the land--their purchase is based on the completion of the residential zoning.
So is it that Toll has asked the city to hold off on the certification so that Toll isn't stuck with the site and the cost of their portion of a Superfund Cleanup? What else would be stopping the city from certifying the Toll ULURP? EPA Superfund is not preventing this. Those who were hopping to sell land to Toll should be asking the city these hard questions rather than pointing the finger at Superfund for their situation. Toll was likely looking for a way out of this project anyway and are likely just using this as an excuse.

Anonymous said...

Did the city mention a health study? That's part of Superfund. And Gowanus really needs one.

Margaret said...

2:33 Did you mean that you found the EPA's presentation to be half-hearted, or that you found the city's presentation to be half hearted? The latter makes more sense with the gist of the rest of your comment.

Anonymous said...

I was glad that Bob Zuckerman asked the city's reps what exactly they meant by their flogging of the vague term "powerful incentives" to get the potentially responsible parties to willfully - nay, happily - step up to the plate and pay a portion of cleanup costs. Of course, the answer was simply that they'd possibly have to pay less IF (and ONLY if) the city's multi-faceted plan came together without a hitch (including four years worth of the TOTAL funding for this kind of project nationwide). Nonsense. Why do I get the feeling that their little bag of tricks would also include tax breaks equal to or greater than the sum total ponied up by these PRPs?

Anonymous said...

2:43 - Toll received permission to build their development in March see:
Gowanus Zoning MapLast night, EPA said residential development will not be sued so Toll can build without risk of lawsuits. Everyone else will likely need to build bigger / taller due to lawsuits. It sucks for Toll owners to be surrounded by skyscrapers!

David Pechefsky said...

I found many aspects of the City’s presentation problematic, but will only focus on one issue here. The City’s plan rests on securing funding through the annual congressional appropriations process. Do we really want our congressional reps lobbying for this funding if the clean-up can occur through the superfund process? The City has a lot of needs; if you can get the “responsible parties” to pay for the clean-up through superfund why use scarce resources on it? There are many other projects that we need our congressional delegation advocating for. Let the EPA do its thing.

David Pechefsky, Green Party Candidate for Council District 39

Anonymous said...


You missed the main point last night - less than 20% of superfund sites have been cleaned in the past 25 years.

Funding canal cleanup "may" come from any source - mitigation for harbor dredging is an obvious example not mentioned last night. There's no reason to rush to superfund - Gowanus community has done fine for 25 years without Feds - why not wait another 25?

The club that canoes Gowanus has asked pertinent of questions that should have been addressed BEFORE the EPA chose to impose this on our community. And those kids are IN FAVOR OF Federal Cleanup!

Margaret said...

Hey 2:43 - I am not sure you got your facts right, there. EPA only stated that homeowners would not be sued for cleanup. And where you get this skyscraper b.s. from, I have no idea.

Anonymous said...

great coverage.
superfund it.
don't believe the city/toll bros hype.

Margaret said...

11:28 "There's no reason to rush superfund -Gowanus community has done fine for 25 years without Feds - why not wait another 25?" Man, Superfund opposition really comes at you from both sides, doesn't it? One side says it will take too long. This comment insinuates that we can have another 25 years like the 25 we've just had. I have lived in Gowanus exactly 25 years, and I say "Seize this opportunity! It's the BEST BREAK community residents and the Gowanus Canal have gotten, and the ONLY chance it will get the cleanup it needs. It may take those 25 years you were willing to throw away to non-action,11:28. I'd rather get something. And don't delude yourself into thinking that the city or private sector can clean up the canal. ONLY THE FEDS HAVE THE EXPERIENCE, the TOOLS, and the WILL!!!!

Raised in Carroll Gardens said...

I have a question: Has any current tenant along the Gowanus stopped polluting? Has any recent tenant (gone now, but polluted between 1970 & 2005) been saught for clean-up fees or pollution fines?

If the city can't handle it's current backyard Gownaus Problem, then what makes Mike & Co. think he can build our future?

Raised in Carroll Gardens said...


Has anyone done a study about the After Effects on the 1970's dredging of the Gowanus?

Rememeber how the neighborhood stunk for 3 years? Remember all of the neighbors who were diagnosed with Cancer in the early 1980's?

Raised in Carroll Gardens said...


Have there been any studies as to how to clean-up the Gowanus naturally? Like:
- Stop 50% of current sewage flow into the canal.
- Plant beds of clams/mussels which are known to filter many pollutants.
- Flush the canal with clean water.
- Dredge the bottom WITHOUT lifting the sludge above the water level (keeping the pollutants IN the water and NOT making them air-born.
- Introducing fish, coral, seaweed, clams/mussels that may be able to survive and then clean via a natural eco-system.

Just a thought

Anonymous said...

Dep Mayor Cas is a big a pile of excrement. You can rest assured that this guy is not looking out for the long run best interests of this planet. He dicks over the citizens and pensioners of the city of NYC on a daily basis so why would anyone look to him to do the right thing??