Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dear EPA Administrator McCarthy, Gowanus Needs Your Help! Why I Reached Out To Washington Regarding Our Polluted Canal

Looking at 234 Butler Street and 242 Nevins Street from the Gowanus Canal Side
The Double D Pool at Thomas Greene Park
1928 photo of the former MGP site at Douglass Street, where Thomas Greene Park is now
242 Nevins Street
234 Butler Street
As a member of the Environmental Protection Agency Gowanus Canal Superfund Community Advisory Group (CAG), I am deeply disappointed by the latest twist in the long-promised environmental clean-up of our toxic waterway.

My disappointment is not with EPA's Region 2 team, which has been overseeing this particular Superfund project. Headed by Gowanus Canal Project Manager Christos Tsiamis, Legal Counsel  Brian Carr and Community Involvement Coordinator Natalie Loney, the team has worked tirelessly to move the project forward in record time for the good of local residents.
Rather, I am disturbed by the fact that politics, not science or engineering seem to have 'contaminated' the process. And I lay the blame squarely at the feet of Region 2 Regional Administrator Judith Enck, who appears to be disregarding her team's scientific findings and recommendations in order to accommodate the City of New York, one of the primary polluters of the Gowanus Canal.

These accommodations center around the siting of an 8-million gallon retention tank the EPA has ordered New York City's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to build as part the remedial design for the canal . The tank is a combined sewer overflow (CSO) control measure for the upper part of the canal meant to "significantly reduce overall contaminated solid discharges to the Canal."

EPA Region 2 has suggested placing the 8-million gallon tank underneath the Double D pool at Thomas Greene Park. The Agency reasoned that:
a)the park is already owned by the City, which would save the cost of acquiring land and
b)the site sits on top of the former Brooklyn Union Gas Fulton Municipal Manufactured Gas Plant and needs to be environmentally remediated by National Grid.
This, according to Region 2, would create "a synergy between programs that potentially could save time in Site acquisition and permitting and save significant construction costs."

New York City, however, wants to place the tank on two privately owned sites, 234 Butler Street and 242 Nevins Street, located directly across from the park.  Those sites would need to be acquired by eminent domain, a lengthy legal process that may take 5 years.  The acquisition would cost tax payers upwards of 100 million dollars.
To justify its plan, NYC DEP insists it needs to build a larger than necessary head-house for the mechanicals related to the tank.  Mostly, the City claims that the temporary loss of the Double D Pool and the park space needed for the tank, if it were to be built at Thomas Greene Park, would constitute an environmental justice issue since the community, which include many NYCHA residents, are underserved as far as parkland.

Regional Administrator Enck, a political appointee,  seems to have fully bought into this environmental justice issue.  She contacted me  after I published a post on a recent CAG meeting, in which I suggested that her final decision on this matter may come down to politics, rather than science.  
She obviously did not like the post.  She began the conversation by telling me that, as a journalist, I should have reached out to her personally before publishing it.  ( I had reached out to her in a letter weeks before urging her to listen to her own team of scientists and engineers but she ignored my correspondence.  I also pointed out that I have never claimed to be a journalist, just a member of the community who writes a neighborhood blog.)

Enck insisted that her final decision regarding the siting of the tank will take the City's claim of environmental justice issue into account. "We take the loss of parkland very seriously", she told me.
I pointed out that, in 2010, the City had been all too willing to close the Double D pool to save money and had not seemed too concerned about the loss of such an amenity for NYCHA residents then.

I also reminded her that the biggest environmental justice issue was the liquid coal tar underneath the pool. The community certainly understands that the temporary loss of an amenity that is only open for several weeks each summer would be offset by the removal of toxic material and a cleaner environment

During our conversation, I mentioned the offer by private developer Alloy to donate free parkland to the City in exchange for dropping its eminent domain plans for the privately owned sites at the head of the canal. Enck seemed dismissive of the offer. "Developers come and go", she told me.

A final agreement between EPA Region 2 and New York City is forthcoming in the next few weeks.
Only then will we know if Judith Enck has given in to the City's thinly veiled attempts to delay taking responsibility for dumping millions of gallons of raw sewage into our open waterway. 

If the presentation at the last CAG meeting in January was any indication, she is making decisions that put the City, not the EPA in control of the Superfund clean-up timetable.

That is why I recently reached out to  EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in Washington.  I believe that  once again, the Gowanus community is being shortchanged and that we need to come together to fight for a clean environment. Because, in Gowanus, getting rid of raw sewage, liquid tar and PCPs  should be the only environmental justice issue Judith Enck should care about.
Hopefully, Washington can and will remind her of this.

Here is my letter to Administrator McCarthy. Perhaps you may want to write your own?

Dear EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy,

I am reaching out to you today because my community needs your help to keep the clean-up of the Gowanus Canal on track.

I live three blocks away from the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal and have spent the past five years serving as a Gowanus Canal Superfund Community Advisory Group member. I am also a community blogger, keeping my neighbors informed on matters related to the canal.

I have had the great pleasure of interacting with the Region Two team responsible for the clean-up. Walter Mugdan, Christos Tsiamis, Brian Carr and Natalie Loney have been nothing but transparent and available to the community. Their hard work has earned them the trust of local residents.

There are strong indications, however, that the team's efforts are being undermined by EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, who appears to be allowing politics to overshadow the Gowanus Superfund process. Against the advice of her team, she is allowing the City of New York (a PRP) to delay the timeline set forth by Region 2. More disturbingly, the delay may lead to the recontamination of our canal after remediation, something that no resident is in support of.

The community is frankly disheartened by Administrator Enck's refusal to let science and engineering dictate the process. Instead, she seems more eager to accommodate the City of New York, which, after 150 years, continues to contribute significantly to the pollution in the canal.

One can certainly see parallels between Gowanus and recent events in Flint, Michigan. The EPA is the last hope for many communities that have been exposed to environmental hazards caused by their own local governments. When politics influence EPA's decisions, there simply is nowhere else for citizens to turn.

I urge you to remind Region 2 Administrator Enck that science and engineering should guide her decisions, not political maneuvering by a PRP.
Please uphold the principals of the EPA and re-assure the people of Gowanus that their trust in your agency is well placed.

With regards,
Katia Kelly

My friend, author and fellow CAG member Joseph Alexiou, just wrote eloquently on this issue for Curbed.

Click here for his wonderfully written article.


Anonymous said...

Well written

Anonymous said...

It is a shame that the city has gotten away with calling this toxic waste site "a Park" all these years.

And there lies the Environmental Justice issues--at the feet of the Parks Department and the DEP, not the EPA for their plan to cleanup the toxic mess and stop the future toxic inputs into the surrounding area and the canal.

Linda said...

The Gowanus Community and other nearby neighborhoods campaigned to have the Gowanus designated as a Superfund site in 2009. We overwhelmingly said YES to Superfund Designation for the Gowanus Canal.

Here is an excerpt from the campaign to the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC.

"We the undersigned, wish to express our support for the nomination of the Gowanus Canal to the National Priorities List and designation as a Superfund site. We are convinced that it will take an all- inclusive, EPA supervised total remediation to restore this area to well being fit for all possible uses. Only the Federal Government's Superfund program is capable of offering such a remediation plan and process. We ask that the United States Environmental Protection Agency expedite the Gowanus Canal NPL nomination and Superfund designation and bring all of its considerable resources to correct this totally unacceptable condition."

One of the political issues concerning the clean up is the siting of the underground retention tank -
Shame on the Parks Department which knew that the land for the park and the pool site was contaminated - when the park and the pool were placed on that site. EPA Region 2 has the right scientific solution - please go forward with their scientific solution -

We are still waiting - since 2009 - for the Superfund clean-up of the Gowanus Canal. Judith Enck and Gina McCarthy please do not play politics - it is critical that the EPA Region 2 team begin the clean up process NOW. We want a toxic free waterway and a better and healthier community-and we want it NOW! Again, please do not play games with an environment hazard, the Gowanus Canal. The Gowanus Canal remains an
unacceptable condition.


Anonymous said...

Katia What an excellent job you are doing presenting this disturbing and vexing Gowanus Canal Superfund clean-up mess. Let us pray for the wisdom and fairness of Administrator McCarthy and hope she is able to see through the toxic soup that clouds this Gowanus Canal clean-up issue. Ms. Enck is clearly buried deep in the toxic soup and has lost her moral compass.

The latest pollutant is not even the noxious toxic coal tar we must all deal with as a Gowanus but rather the deliberate "spinning" of a stretch of asphalt laid KNOWINGLY on top of a massive coal tar spill as "precious parkland".

What is next? Shall an acre or two of Public Place be called "precious parkland" too?

The parkland issue is clearly a red herring for a development plan already in the works (against the express wishes of the community) which will undoubtedly flaunt more buzzwords like "precious parkland" and "affordable housing" while covering up numerous twists and turns in the system that include the "finessing" of the tax codes, the zoning codes, the hurricane evacuation routes, the Zone A development codes, the building rules, and God knows what else.

The winners in this scam are clearly never the residents or community members but rather the cynical politicians and developers and a host of others, such as the experts like "scientists" who will cast the information or the data in a shady light for their own benefit. We all know how the "system" works.

Let us hope Ms. McCarthy is beyond the political fray of NYC , a cut above the usual politics here and a SCIENTIST first and last. Let us hope she has clarity and can think rationally and intelligently about the matters at hand regarding the Gowanus Canal clean-up!

We do not need another Flint Michigan type of melt-down in decision making here in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

Katia said...

Thank you so much for this, Anonymous. Beautifully worded and so true.

Steve Wax said...

I'm a local home owner living a few blocks from the canal. I'd like to write a letter of support re the position you have eloquently published here, Katia. What's Administrator McCarthy's address? And keep up the good fight, you're doing a great job of representing us!

Katia said...

Thank you so much, Steve, for your kind words and also for taking time to reach out to Administrator McCarthy. her EPA email is: Mccarthy.Gina@epa.gov.
The mail address is :
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004

Agnes said...

1. The pool is open two months of the year. We live in the area and are exposed to Gowanus continuous toxicity 12 months of the year.
2. The pool sits on top of a migrating highly toxic plume that must be dug up anyway.
Shame on the city for building a pool on toxicity in the first place. The City should not be calling the shots here.
3. Why would an administrator bypass science and the expertise of her own team to kowtow to a PRP? A PRP who was against Superfund cleanup and has said it could do a better job in shorter time but we all know that isn't true. And now we are seeing that PRP potentially getting the last word after all! What a slap to the community!

Anonymous said...

Eminent domain means NYC taxpayers are fotting the hefty bill of acquiring that property. If we are talking about justice, how it is justice to acquiesce to that decision when thee are other viable options. One of them from a developer. As far as Ms. Enck's statement that "developers come and go" - Alloy is a bery powerful developer with deep pockets. They aren't going anytime soon.