Friday, October 31, 2014

"Think With Us": EPA Provides Bigger Picture In Regards To Siting One Of Two Gowanus Retention Tanks

At Tuesday's General Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Committee meeting
Christos Tsiamis, EPA Region 2 Project Manager for Gowanus Canal Superfund Site
Two sites proposed by DEP for an 8 million gallon CSO retention tank at the top of the canal near Outfall Number RH-034 . One is Thomas Greene Park, the other is a site consisting of three privately owned lots adjacent to the park at Nevins Street between Butler, De Graw and Sackett Street.
The Double D Pool at Thomas Greene Park
Handball court near Nevins Street at Douglass Greene Park
1928 photo of the former MGP site at Douglass Street, where Thomas Greene Park is now
The park, surrounded by industry, as seen from 4th Avenue looking towards the Gowanus Canal in the 1930s.
Schematic showing coal tar pollution under the Double D Pool at Thomas Greene Park
Friends of Douglass Greene Pool
Flyer circulated by Friends Of Thomas Greene Park at a recent public meeting

The discussion at Tuesday night's general meeting of the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG) centered mostly around the siting of one of the two retention tanks the US Environmental Protection Agency is ordering the City of New York to build near two major Combined Sewer Outflows in the polluted waterway.

Last month, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection submitted to EPA two potential locations for each of the two tanks mandated by the Record of Decision (ROD).   For the retention basin at the head of the canal, near Outfall RH-034, DEP has suggested Thomas Greene Park and a second location across from the park, consisting of three blocks between the canal and Nevins Street from Butler Street to Sackett Street.

Thomas Greene Park is publicly owned, so the city would not need to purchase the land. The alternative site across the street, however, is privately owned and would need to be purchased by the City, presumably by means of Eminent Domain. There are currently businesses operating on the three blocks in question, which would have to be relocated. 

Complicating matters further, Thomas Greene Park sits on top of a former Manufactured Gas Plant (MGP) and coal tar is currently oozing under the Double D pool area and flowing towards the Gowanus Canal.   New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is currently finalizing an environmental remediation plan under the State Brownfield Program to deal with the contamination.  
The cost for the mandated clean-up will be assumed by the responsible party; National Grid.

The remediation at the site will most probably mean moving heavy equipment in and around the park.  It may also mean that the pool needs to be dug up.  That's why EPA suggested that the City place the retention tank there, since it would save money.

At a recent community meeting hosted by Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, however,  the City made clear that it favors placing the retention tank under the privately owned land across the street. 

At Tuesday's CAG meeting, Christos Tsiamis of EPA wanted to provide some clarity to the community on this particular  subject, especially since Friends Of Thomas Greene Park, a group with representation on the CAG, distributed a flyer that seemed short of information but full of subtext.  
The flyer urged people to sign a petition addressed to Judith Enck, EPA Region 2 administrator , to "save our pool," and to "tell EPA to make the polluters pay!" 
The actual online petition states: "the EPA Superfund clean-up needs to be an investment in our community, and not theft of our public land."

Tsiamis' response was clear: "The site needs to be remediated. If you don't remove the pool, the park will not be remediated." He pointed out that  "this means the potential polluter does not need to pay. So when you send this [flier] out, you make the polluter NOT pay. "
He also pointed out that the only theft of land would involve the City taking the privately owned land by eminent domain if the owners refuse to sell. "That would be closer to theft than closing the park for two years."  He added: "The [EPA] does not like taking land if there is an alternative."
"If Thomas Greene Park is used for the retention basin, it would be temporarily taken.  You need to take the land in order to improve the land. Then you return it.  This is usually called 'Capital Improvements'.

As for reconstructing the pool if it needs to be removed,  Tsiamis suggested that the community work towards a better future for the facility as well as for a better clean-up of Thomas Greene Park.  
He pointed at Riverbank State Park, a park with a pool built on the top of a sewage treatment facility on the Hudson River as an example of what is possible.
Indeed, if the City is prepared to pay millions for the privately owned land across the street, perhaps the money would better spent rebuilding the pool.  Perhaps we could even get an indoor facility, which could be open during the entire year, instead of only 2 months. "Look at the better investment for the community," Christos told the CAG. "You need all the information to make an informed decision."

As for Friends Of Douglass Greene Park, it is unclear why they would try to protect the pool if it means the pollution underneath will not be fully remediated.  By doing so they are (willingly or unwillingly) creating cover for DEP and National Grid.
The group was told by a representative of the New York City Parks Department back in 2008 that the Double D pool may need to be pulled up if DEC finds contamination underneath it.  I can't imagine why the group is now so outraged after the presence of coal tar was confirmed.

Two additional points to consider are:
1) DEP did not consider cost when it suggested the two sites for the tank in the upper portion of the canal.  When this is figured in, there is no doubt that purchasing the three blocks of private land on Nevins Street would be an outrageous waste of our taxpayer money, given the fact that the City already owns the park.
2) DEP appears to have forgotten to tell the private owners of its intention to buy their land.  I spoke to one of the them a few days ago and he seemed surprised. He told me that the City had never approached him.

We all need to make sure that we understand what is at play here.  For decades now, National Grid and the City have failed to assume responsibility for the environmental hazards they have exposed us to in Gowanus.
We are closer than ever to finally getting some resolution.  Let's choose our battles and seize the moment. And most importantly, let's make sure we don't lose sight of the bigger prize: a clean canal, free of toxins and human waste.


Anonymous said...

I signed a petition a long time ago but I feel I was mislead. I believe that the petition was created by the Fifth Avenue Committee and overseen by the same person who is now representing Friends of Thomas Greene Park. The way that the petition was worded made it sound as if they didn't want to stop a necessary clean up but wanted the agencies to mitigate the loss of use of the pool during the clean up by providing alternative recreation options.

I am not a CAG but I do receive information from some members and I am upset that CAG members are spreading misinformation to the community. They should resign. The role of CAG members is to provide accurate information to the people they represent.

Rob said...

It seems pretty obvious that they have to rip up the pool if they're to properly clean up the tar underneath and prevent it from oozing into the canal. I'm not for destroying parks but the city did build one on polluted ground. It's going to have to be dealt with.

Anonymous said...

It would make more sense for the Saviors Double D Park to get the City & the PRPs to put up the money to re-build the Double D park after the clean-up than to leave the coal tars in the ground for the next generations to come to worry about. These "saviors" only care about the next ten years not the next 50 - 100 years. I guess that is what happens when you only care about yourselves and your current position in the community.

Anonymous said...

the obvious choice is to use the pool site and rebuild an improved rec facility when the tanks are done and toxic soil removed.

Anonymous said...

At the meeting held by the Congresswomen, the DEP seemed to be saying that the heard the community that they didn't want a holding tank under the park.

Where did that fabrication come from if the silly poster telling people to be against that tanks under the park was just being distributed? How did the DEP draw the conclusion before the community was even engaged.

And the answer can't be that the DEP was basing their statement on a petition on this topic issues almost two years ago before anyone understood what this was all about. Because today those who have taken the time to understand the situation would rather see the pool replaced on a properly remediated site.

Margaret Maugenest said...

It is nothing short of criminal for the so-called "Friends of Double D Park" to disseminate misleading , and worse, wrong information. It makes me wonder what the hidden agenda is - because there HAS to be one. The Fifth Ave. Committee is all for development - "affordable housing" is something they call for a lot. Hmmm...Follow the money is always the rule - but I can't figure this one out.
Because the choice of the Double D site is a NO brainer for anyone actually using their brain, and actually cares about my community, including health.

Anonymous said...

YES, the tar underneath the Double D should be cleaned up. And, YES, the Double D should be rebuilt afterword. But the City must also provide an alternate temporary recreational site for the two years (or more) of construction for all the people who depend on the Double D, particularly in the summer when the pool is the only local respite from the heat and also provides a free summer lunch program that is within walking distance of 2 subsidized housing complexes. The Double D must be cleaned up; an alternate temporary recreational facility must be provided; and the Double D must be rebuilt at the end of the project. The community must hold all involved to these demands.

Margaret said...

Road workers who are currently digging up the streets nearby the Double D pool had to stop because they encountered the tar. This stuff is real folks.

Anonymous said...

To Anony @ NOVEMBER 01, 2014 9:24 AM,

If your wish was for accommodating the recreation needs of the community during the disruption, than why not a poster and petition stating that? But that is now what in stated in print from those who say they representing the park and the community it serves.

Reminder, Friends of Thomas Green Park is a private entity.

Very Interested said...

to "Friends of Thomas Green Park is a private entity." What do you mean? It's not a community group? Who are they? What is their agenda? What do you mean by private?

Anonymous said...

while we are at it, perhaps in addition to a new year round enclosed park , we should ask for new streets, new sidewalks, more subway capacity, and new sewers to support it...Oh, and no tax or and rate increases..

Anonymous said...

This is a no brainier! Why would we let the polluters and the city not fund the clean up of the canal. To let children continue to swim and play over a coal tar area, this is almost like Love Canal. What are you thinking Friends of Thomas Green Park?

Agnes said...

What are you thinking Friends of Thomas Green Park?

That IS the question to ask -and I would love it if they would answer - honestly, and intelligently, with REAL concern for the community's health and welfare. And since the person who is head of the "Friends" is employed by the Fifth Avenue Committee - maybe we could ask the same of them? To answer???

Anonymous said...

To anony at November 03, 2014 10:50 AM,

If there are not sufficient tax revenues to pay for what should be done, then government should revoke the 25 year tax reprieve that was given to Lightstone..

Or maybe FAC wants to protect Lightstone from paying any taxed to protect the cash flow for administrating that affordable housing.

Anonymous said...

Always wondered that the Fifth Ave. Committee was working some angle - "neighborhood work." But what the angle is, not sure. They want, or maybe worse, got, Public Place site to develop, for "affordable housing." Though why anyone would want to put dense population on a toxic flood zone in a hurricane evacuation route is hard to fathom. Like Lightstone is hard to fathom.

Margaret said...

That flyer looks like it's endorsed by Stephen Levin, the Fifth Avenue Committee, and the Wyckoff Residents' Assn. That means this group (Friends of Thomas Greene) has done some good outreach. Why can't they do some good effective outreach to get a park there like Riverbank State Park - not so large because the site isn't as large, but surely top grade! Riverbank is built on top of a sewage treatment plant. It has become one of the most heavily used state parks in New York.[Wikipedia] This is proof that there should be no deterrent to a park being built on retention tanks, either!

Anonymous said...

I think this is ridiculous. The EPA is trying to make the contamination in the park sound worse than it really is. That's so they can put the CSO tanks there and force a cleanup by National Grid and save money by not having to purchase the land. The EPA does not care about the park. The EPA does not care about the people of Brooklyn. They keep saying make the polluter pay! But guess who has to pay the polluter?! That's right, the people of Brooklyn who use natural gas. When the EPA makes National Grid clean up things they don't have to, we (the people of Brooklyn) have to pay the bill.

Katia said...

The EPA cares about science and only. And you should, too.
I guess you would rather believe National Grid, the polluter. That is your prerogative.
As far as our bills, they will continue to go up, no matter what.