Thursday, June 25, 2009

Last Night, Act Two Of City's Gowanus Alternative Clean-Up Plan Presentation


Last night was Round 2 of the City's presentation on their alternative plan for the Gowanus Canal. This time, the meeting was geared towards Gowanus-area business owners.
Cas Holloway, Chief Of Staff to NYC Deputy Mayor Skyler, again was the master of ceremony. ( How Mr. Holloway can continue to keep a straight face
during these presentations is beyond me. How much salary do you suppose the city pays him to act as sacrificial lamb? Probably not enough!!!!)

I am still in South Carolina, but received accounts of the meeting from neighborhood residents who were in attendance.. Below is their great coverage.

First account:

The City finally claimed ownership of the letter they are circulating about their alternative and but it on city letterhead.

In answer to the previous evening's question, Cas Holloway indicated that no money has been spent on lobbyists to DC because municipalities can lobby and Cas has been to DC several times to lobby for the City's Alternative Superfund plan. We learned at Tuesday night's meeting that Cas is neither an engineer nor a scientist. He is, however, a former corporate litigator which for some reason he mentioned several times last night. This explains so much like why he sometimes seems to be defending client whom he knows is guilty, the word parsing, the careful delivery.

Walter Mungden and his team, who are engineers/have science backgrounds, were there and as usual Walter logically dispelled the misinformation and clarified the City's points and answers. Walter also said that the EPA has indicated in writing that the EPA sees no reason why the City cannot proceed with the flushing tunnel work. So, that avenue of threat seems to be closed for the City but I am sure they will conjure up something else. Walter also inserted a dose of reality in terms of PRP liability. The EPA's intention is not to drive viable business away and the EPA can not blood from a stone so it is unlikely they will go after someone for $100,000 if they only have $5,000.

The City had some new slides. One slide contained the fear mongering tactic that super fund would lower property values, make obtaining mortgages difficult, lead to higher interest rates for area residents, etc. He was however very careful to say that it "could" lead to these things. Deb Scotto was all too happy to jump on the fear mongering bandwagon and was a little more strident than Cas saying that super fund would just be a stigma on the neighborhood it would condemn the neighborhood and people wouldn't be able to rent their properties, renovate, refinance, or sell.

Once some of the audience members realized that if they were deemed PRPs under either plan they would have pay they became more skeptical. They also realized that litigation would probably be part of the equation under either plan. One person seemed to indicate that maybe the preferable thing to do was nothing since there didn't seem to be any health related problems caused by proximity to the canal. Cas did say that doing nothing was not an option. And of course no comprehensive health study has been done or if it has it is outdated and impossible to obtain.

Dan Wiley, from Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez's office, set the record straight regarding the use of WRDA and the viability of using that source of funding. There is a waiting list of properties for the funds, it is 50 million per year shared between all the states, you have to reapply for it every year, other areas in New York Harbor are on the list for funding but the canal is not. It doesn't sound like it is a true option. He also made a very important point - this isn't a political but a scientific decision.

It doesn't seem like there will be much difference in time frames and if I understood correctly the epa might be a little quicker. City wouldn't start for four or five years anyway. I think the City's push for support is more of stalling maneuver than a real commitment to clean the canal. My feeling is that in two or three years they will be more than happy to throw in the towel and turn it over to the EPA and in the meantime the City can use that time to get the Gowanus rezoning through. Cas did refer several times to the City's "plans" for the canal but never really indicated what those "plans" are. It would be nice if the City would clue the community in as to what the Bloomberg Administration plans for the neighborhood although I am sure we can all make a good guess.

A good portion of the audience seemed to be affiliated with Clean Gowanus Now! , GCCDC, and the CB6 Land Use Committee cabal. These meetings seem to be little more than a PR stunt orchestrated to drum up support for the City's Superfund Alternative Plan. The bottom line is that is not a popularity contest nor as Dan Wiley so rightfully noted last night is it a political decision but a scientific decision.

This is the second report sent to me by a local resident in attendance last night.

Some additions: there have been 45 sites which have used or are using the alternative plan--of these only one had multiple prps--(20 of them vs the 150 to 200 thought here) Not really sure what phase that project is in but one out of forty five suggests that alternative plans with multiple prps is not the best way to go

There were about 100 people there tonight--lots of suits- including David Von Spreckelsen, Toll Brothers V.P.---I wondered how they were all informed of the meeting but no one asked. It seemed to me that after a little while, most of the suits left a little disappointedly--maybe the initial city sales pitch sounded good but once Mugdan's calm, focused facts, combined with the plain truth that the EPA has nothing to gain or lose by choosing listing or alternative routes vs the city's "IF" (in giant flashing neon letters) plan was even too much for them to bear.

Ellen from State Senator Daniel Squadron's office, was there. She left copies of Daniel's pro Superfund statement. Both Oscar Jonas and Irene Van Slyke of Velmanette Montgomery's office were there--the senator's statement in support of Superfund was also available.

Ms. Found In Brooklyn also has a great recap of the meeting on her blog. Make sure you read it here: The Word "Superfund" Scares the City! A Recap on City's "Alternative to Superfund" Presentation.

My thanks go to my very involved neighbors who continuously attend these meetings and educate themselves on issues. I truly appreciate that they took the time to write these posts so that all Carroll Gardeners/Gowanus residents can stay informed.


Unknown said...

Senator Montgomery's Statement and Fact Sheets explaining Superfund and City Plan were EXCELLENT. Wish it were available online for all to see. Very clear. She was one of the first community leaders to come out in support of Superfund.

Jim V said...

Here's Senator Montgomery's fact sheet. It can be downloaded from

“Superfund” is the easy name for a program the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses to clean the most polluted areas of our country. The NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation asked the EPA to consider listing the Gowanus Canal after finding the incredibly high degree of pollution in the area.

The level of pollution necessary for EPA Superfund listing is measured in “parts per million.” Heavy metals and certain other pollutants in the Gowanus Canal pollution registers in parts per HUNDRED. That’s 10,000 times more polluted than the lowest emergency listing! In addition, every time it rains raw sewage overflows into the canal. The bacteria count in a recent study is shocking, more than 25 times the unsafe level.

Land surrounding a clean, safe canal will be far more valuable. A thorough and expeditious cleanup will be the best thing for everyone!

Progress should be seen quickly once work starts, but the complete cleanup will take time. The cleanup has to be thorough and consistent or the canal will return to the current dangerous state. Federal designation commits the cleanup to professional, uninterrupted effort.

Superfund cleanups are funded by the people who caused the pollution.

The EPA believes much if not most of the cleanup will be the responsibility of National Grid.
*It won’t cost the community money.
*It won’t cost home owners money.
*It won’t cost new business owner money.
*The EPA has said it won’t cost New York City more money than they are already committed to spending.
The EPA starts work immediately from Federal funds set aside for this purpose.
*Congress budgets $320 million dollars annually for the Superfund
*An additional $600 million dollars has been allocated this year alone
*President Obama is reviving the funding stream that will place an additional billion dollars in the Superfund.
The EPA is ready to go!

New York City has proposed an alternative plan they believe will accomplish a similar clean canal, but the City is not in the business of cleaning toxic sites. While well meaning, the City plan is completely untested and contains questionable assumptions.
*The City plan depends on polluters voluntarily doing the work themselves, to their own standards; but these polluters haven’t done anything up to now.
*The City plan doesn’t intend to clean the whole canal, and a partial cleanup will not be safe.
*The City plan would need special Congressional approval for the Army Corps of Engineers to work on the entire Canal; they legally can’t go north of the Hamilton Avenue bridge!
*The City plan has no guarantees that the funding will actually happen; it relies on the idea that Congress will give substantial special money for years to come for this one project, which is very unlikely.
*The EPA has been doing this for decades and knows what it is doing. The EPA has said *Superfund listing will incorporate all City programs and not delay any efforts currently in progress. Superfund listing guarantees action in ways the City plan cannot.

The cleaning process itself will produce new, Green jobs. And a clean Gowanus Canal and vicinity will be a much better employment area!

Current plans for building housing in the Gowanus area would expose families to a life next to dangerous contamination. For the sake of all, the area must be thoroughly cleaned to Superfund standards so housing for all can be responsibly built.