Thursday, October 23, 2014

Notes On Congresswoman Velázquez's Informational Meeting With EPA, DEP And NYCHA At Wyckoff Gardens

Last Night at the Wyckoff Gardens Community Center
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez
Walter Mugdan, Superfund Division Director, US EPA, Region 2
Natalie Loney. EPA Region 2 Community Involvement CoordinatorIMG_1521
Councilmember Brad Lander
Eric Landau, Associate Commissioner, Public Affairs at 
NYC Department of Environmental ProtectionIMG_1537
Luis Ponce, NYCHA Vice President of Operations
Joe Ann Brown, representative of Warren Street Houses' tenant associationIMG_1540
NYCHA resident asking about a job training institute as part of Superfund clean-up 
Gowanus NYCHA resident asking for help in getting his car replaced after Hurricane Sandy

Congresswoman Nydia Velézquez hosted an informational meeting at Wyckoff Gardens Community Center last night with representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, New York City Department of Environmental Protection and of New York City Housing Department (NYCHA).

The meeting was meant to engage low-income housing residents in the Gowanus Superfund process, as well as to give residents of Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens, who were particularly hard hit by Hurricane Sandy, the opportunity to address issues of flooding and aging infrastructure. In particular, representatives of both apartment complexes have repeatedly complained of raw sewage in their basement and and gurgling out of their kitchen and bathroom sinks and tubs.

"Since the beginning of this process," the congresswoman told the community,  "one of the top priorities of mine, as well as the other elected officials, has been to assure community involvement and input, and I must say that EPA, under the leadership of Judith Enck, has kept this in mind throughout.  That is why the inclusive process implemented by EPA has resulted in a better strategy. Going forward, we must continue to insure that the public is familiar and comfortable with how the canal is remediated. That is why it is not only important to have the meetings with the Gowanus Superfund Community Advisory Group, but also to bring some of the meetings here. I need and I want to see more participation  from Public Housing residents."

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 was represented by Walter Mugdan, Superfund Division Director and by Natalie Loney, Community Involvement Coordinator.

Mr. Mugdan reminded the community that it has been exactly one year since the EPA issued its Record of Decision (ROD), which represents the finalized cleanup plan for the Gowanus Canal. He explained that there are two major components to the Superfund clean-up. The first component consists of dredging the heavily contaminated mud at the bottom of the canal and to carefully managed the material and to ship it to authorized, appropriate disposal locations outside of the New York area. In addition, the deeper contaminated soil that can not be removed will be capped to isolate it from the water and from aquatic life.
The second component relates to preventing raw sewage overflow from recontaminating the canal after it is dredged. In the ROD, the EPA is ordering City of New York to site two retention tanks near two major outflows, RH-034 at the top of the canal and  OH-007 near the 5th Street turning basin.
"We have determined in our decision, that there will have to be a significant reduction in the amount of Combined Sewage material that goes into the canal when it rains.  In order to build the tanks that will be necessary to capture the extra sewage rainwater,  the City of New York, which is responsible for doing this, will have to find a location for these tanks."

Natalie Loney gave an in depth presentation on how the Superfund program works and where in the process the Gowanus Canal Superfund stands today. [ You can access a video of Ms. Loney giving a similar presentation at TedX Gowanus here.]

Eric Landau, Associate Commissioner, Public Affairs at NYC Department of Environmental Protection  spoke about the 'many things that are going on in Gowanus.
"There is a lot that DEP is involved in here in Gowanus currently," he said.  DEP is in the process of installing High Level Storm sewers, "which will help with the flooding and will have a CSO benefit."  The City, with New York States Department of Environmental Conservation,  'is working on reducing CSOs in the canal" by putting together a long term control plan.
In addition, DEP is installing Green infrastructure elements like bioswales to capture rain water so that it does not get mixed with sewer water.

Last month, the DEP submitted to EPA two potential locations for each of the two CSO retention tanks mandated by the Record of Decision.  
For the retention basin at the head of the canal, near Outfall RH-034,  DEP has suggested Thomas Greene Park, a public park.  The second proposed location is made up of three privately owned lots across the street on Nevins Street between Butler, De Graw and Sackett Street.

For Outfall Number OH-007, DEP has identified the  City-owned Salt Lot at Second Avenue at the edge of the canal.  The second location is located between the canal and 5th Street.

"This is a long process.  From this point to when we get back to EPA and the community with the one site [for each tank] that we think makes the most sense, it is the end of June [2015]. From now till June, there are still a lot of things that need to be looked at, including cost and how the community feels about the various locations.  We are very well aware of how the community feels about the Thomas Greene Playground.  We definitely heard that and we take this very seriously. That is also why it is our second rank site according to our criteria."

What Landau failed to mention is that Thomas Greene Park is publicly owned already,  whereas the alternative site for Outfall RH-034 across the street is privately owned and would need to be purchased, presumably by means of Eminent Domain.  The businesses currently operating on the land would need to be relocated.
All that would cost time. legal expenses and money to purchase the land.  Considering that on its website , DEP states that it "believes that the cost of the tanks would be five to ten times higher than EPA has estimated", it is hard to believe that the agency would rank the privately owned site higher than a site that it already owns.

Landau also failed to mention that Thomas Greene Park sits on top of a former Manufacturing Gas site for which New York DEC is currently finalizing an environmental remediation plan under the State Brownfield Program.  The coal tar that currently sits under the park and the pool will most likely have to be dug up anyway, which means that placing the retention tank there could save additional money.

Finally, Luis Ponce, NYC Housing Authority's Vice President of Operations, was able to address the sewer back up issue that were foremost on the minds of most Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens residents who came out last night.
Ponce explained that since receiving the complaints, NYCHA had determined that the problem was  the result of stoppage within the buildings'  waste pipes, most probably caused by grease being poured into the kitchen drains.  The catch basins had been cleaned out and the situation resolved.
"This is definitely a NYCHA issue, not a Gowanus Canal issue," Ponce stated.

1928 photo of the former MGP site at Douglass Street, where Thomas Greene Park is now


Anonymous said...

Thank you for covering this. I'm glad to see Congresswoman Velazquez and the EPA continue to reach out and engage the Wyckoff and Gowanus residents to help keep them informed about the Superfund process.

Margaret said...

Good luck acquiring the three privately owned lots - a production company just moved in to the old Conklin Brass on Nevins and Sackett. They spent a TON of money on renovations etc. to transform the old Conklin Brass. This company is thriving! Does it make sense to uproot all this effort to in order to keep Thomas Greene Park, which has to be cleaned anyway and then they can rebuild it once cleaned? That plume under Thomas Greene Park is deadly, and migrating.

Anonymous said...

Could we please deal in facts...One has to understand that ALL of the propoerties at the head of the canal (site 1 and site 2) including the old conklin brass property are significantly contaminated with the same exact coal tar material as TGP. and no one has died so calling it deadly is just scare mongering.... and BTW the park is also very much thriving!!! as a community... resource.

Anonymous said...

let's be real folks and have some perspective please ...EBOLA is deadly.. 100 years old subsurface contamination many feet below is not.

Anonymous said...

People claiming that the contamination beneath the swimming pool is not harmful should obtain their own legitimate scientific data to back up that claim and refute the data that DEC and the Brownfield Program has. It would safe the tax payers money.

Anonymous said...

It is clear that the tanks should go beneath the park. This will facilitate the removal of the toxic soil and installation of the tanks all at once. The park will be rebuild with an improved design after the tanks are done - everybody wins. The community will just have to travel a little farther to another park till the work is complete. This is for the greater good of the community.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. Public meetings are time consuming and your efforts are appreciated, Katia.

But since a reader brings up Ebola, yes Ebola has more immediate health effects; and yes it is carried on bodily fluids and feces-- that is, it is carried on the kind of stuff that is dispersed in Gowanus during CSO events.

The holding tanks will address both the immediate health impacts of sewage and the slower long term impacts of the toxins.

And if you had to pick one of those areas to dig up and remove the toxic material, wouldn't it be better to do the site on which children play, rather than the private properties under consideration?

Margaret Maugenest said...

@10:12 - did you ask for a (costly) toxicity study of the area? Well, our building did, from Toxic Targeting. And we immediately got a call from the owner of that company warning us of the migrating plume under Thomas Greene Park. Not, it wasn't a plume under Conklin Brass, that's not where the plant was that created all this tar. This is not scare mongering, it is scientific fact.This stuff is deadly. As a resident down the street from the site I want it cleaned up. And I also want to support the new industry that has spent a lot of money to be here. The Thomas Greene Park site for the retention tanks is a kill two birds with one stone solution - cleaned up land, retention tanks to help the water, and a cleaner park after it's all done.

Anonymous said...

Site OH-5 conveniently excludes the property on 2nd Ave. that is under construction without DEC permit. Can someone explain why? see:

smells fishy