Friday, May 30, 2014

EPA Issues Order To New York City To Perform Gowanus Work

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The Gowanus Canal at Third Street, looking South.
The Gowanus after a Combined Sewer Overflow event.
Garbage and raw sewage floating on the canal after a heavy rain
At the EPA Gowanus Superfund Community Advisory meeting on May 27th, 2014
Christos Tsiamis, Gowanus Canal Project Manager. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2.
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Unilateral Order Sent By EPA To The City Of New York on Wednesday

New York City Still Unwilling Partner In Gowanus Clean-up

On Wednesday, May 28th, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued a Unilateral Order* to New York City  for conducting the design work for the remedial actions described in EPA’s Record of Decision (ROD) for the Gowanus Canal, which was signed last year.

Specifically, the Order compels New York City to perform the design for siting and building the CSO retention tanks and for the excavation and restoration of the 1st Street Basin, as described in the ROD. The order also asks NYC to cooperate and coordinate with the other responsible parties for the dredging and capping portion of the ROD remedy.

The EPA issues Unilateral Orders if a Potentially Responsible Party (PRP) does not agree to perform the cleanup work through a judicial consent decree or an administrative order on consent.
In the case of the Gowanus, the City of New York has been identified as the second largest Gowanus PRP for discharging "hazardous substance-contaminated untreated sewage" into the Canal since it was constructed.

Just the day before, at a Gowanus Canal Superfund Community Advisory Group meeting (CAG), EPA Project Manager Christos Tsiamis indicated that his agency had already issued orders to all the potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) to conduct the required cleanup actions at the Canal. That one exception has been New York City. Tsiamis indicated at the meeting that the negotiations with New York City were coming to a conclusion and that a resolution of the matter of the City's participation to the cleanup work was imminent.

According to a recent EPA response letter to NYC regarding their negotiations that we obtained from EPA upon requestthe EPA decided to hold separate meetings with the City, because it became clear that the City was not willing to "negotiate or work with other parties regarding participation in the dredging, capping and disposal elements of the Canal remedy."

The Record Of Decision required the City to implement measures to control the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO).  EPA expects the City to construct two retention tanks in the upper portions of the canal to retain discharges during heavy rainfalls, until the overflow can be pumped to the local sewage treatment  plant.
The EPA suggested two locations for those tanks in the ROD, but was willing to discuss alternative locations with the City during the remedial design period.

The City responded by delaying. The Administration hired a consultant, who came up with a list of 86 possible sites, some of which can easily be dismissed outright.
In a letter that describes the negotiation process between EPA and NYC that led to the issuance of the aforementioned order, EPA writes:

As noted above, on April 30, 2014, the City submitted a Preliminary List of Potential CSO tank Sites. Parcels over 20,000 square feet were included, and only churches, schools, and parcels with a Floor Area Ratio above 50% were screened out.  Since Gowanus-area buildings typically have few stories, most of the 20,000 sf parcels are below the 50% FAR screening level.  As a result, the list includes 86 parcels, including the newly opened Whole Foods market, the Lightstone parcels where 700 residential units are under construction, the former Power Station, which was recently purchased and is being remediated for a future non-profit arts center, Con Edison's 3rd Avenue service yard, and the American Can Factory, a 5-story multi-use arts and manufacturing complex employing hundreds of people.
These parcels would be extraordinarily expensive for the City to acquire for the retention tanks and thus warrant no consideration as potential locations for CSO storage tanks.  For this and other reasons, EPA believes that the vast majority of the 86 parcels can be screened out immediately, thereby advancing the process.
EPA is concerned that the City's initial tank siting efforts, including consideration of parcels such as Whole Foods, will result in cost inflation and delay.  This concern is also reflected in the City's April 4th, 2014 comments on EPA's draft RD consent order and in our April 30, 2014 meeting, wherein the City sought what it terms an "Off Ramp" provision, a series of terms, providing that it can stop design work if cost estimates exceed those set forth in the ROD by more than +50% planning range.  As we advised the City, although we cannot be bound by the City's estimates, EPA is already required by law to review any substantial changes in the cost of the selected remedy.

The City claims that the two retention basins will cost $500 million.  In the letter, the EPA points out that this is only $6 million dollars less than the cost of the entire Superfund clean-up.

How sad that after decades of using the canal as an open sewer, New York City is still not stepping up to its responsibility towards the Gowanus community.
It is ironic that the City is trying to delay building retention tanks, but is planning to rezone Gowanus to allow more residential housing in Gowanus, which will just mean more human waste in the canal.
It is all rather foolish, no; shameful.

You can access:
 EPA's Remedial Design Administrative Order to NYC here.
Appendix A – Dredging RD Statement of Work can be accessed here
For Appendix B – Tank and Turning Basin RD Statement of Work, click here.

All EPA documents pertaining to the Gowanus Canal Superfund site can be accessed here.


Anonymous said...

I would love to see the full list of properties the City considered as locations for the retention tanks. It appears that the EPA is more familiar with our neighborhood than the Park Slope centric city administration is. Maybe the City ask the "consultant" for a refund.

Is the implication that the City is intentionally being wasteful to drive up costs in order to trigger the "off ramp" provision? They probably patted themselves on the back and congratulated themselves on how clever they thought all were when they came up with that. Did they not think the EPA would see through their shenanigans? We are so fortunate to have this EPA team.

Anonymous said...

What mitigation does the EPA offer for the destruction of a public park in our community? Will they provide a pool / amenity for us during the construction period? It took over three years to simply repair a pump and it's going to be decades to build the retention tanks.

Low income children use that park to learn to swim. Someone should sue the EPA to stop them.

Anonymous said...

I thought that they were going to build the tanks under the public pool on 3rd Ave. That seems like the best solution. The pool would be closed for a few years, but people could go to the Red Hook pool, which could accommodate the swimmers from that much smaller pool. That seems worth while to stop the sewage problem.

Anonymous said...

I thought the pool was sitting atop coal tar and would have to be shut down while the site was remediated anyway.

Anonymous said...

What a dumb idea!

Why destroy a pool to build a tank when you can just dredge 2 feet deeper and run a few 30" pipes the 2 mile length to handle the overflow.

Let's Keep It Simple?

Anonymous said...

"people could go to red hook"

That comment sounds so out of touch. Red Hook is not easy to get to via public transportation and the D&D pool is also a site for the free lunches given out in the summer. The loss of a convenient place for kids to cool off & play in the summer is a big deal.

Anonymous said...

4:52. The land under the pool is toxic, and it is a migrating plume, so it has to be cleaned up. The pool has to be torn down anyway. Stop whining about that pool already. Please!

Anonymous said...

to: "dumb idea"

Where did the dumb idea come from that a 30" pipe under the canal would accommodate the future poo(tsu)nami (s)?

And just where would the 30" pipe of your lead to? The Red Hood Swimming Pool?

For two years now, the EPA requirement for the DEP to keep their sewage out of the public water has been on the table for discussion. Yet in two years they have offered NOTHING CONSTRUCTIVE that will address that problem.

And Mr. Lander, who has a direct line open to city hsll on this, is fully responsible for the current state of city inaction on this matter. Lander will be held accountable for all the penalty changes on this.

Anonymous said...

I think the "dumb idea" came from the current DEP plan that uses an old pipe to catch overflow. DEP's pipe will get filled with the "first flush" of bacteria growing in our CSOs; a significant reduction of contaminants to our Canal.

A 2 mile canal with forty 30 inch pipes could handle 300 thousand gallons of first flush overflow!