Thursday, April 14, 2016

EPA Region 2 Administrator Enck Just Blinked And May Now Have Allowed New York City To Delay The Gowanus Canal Superfund Clean-Up

Looking at the head of the Gowanus Canal.
Thomas Greene Park in Gowanus
Mostly desolate Thomas Greene Park on a beautiful spring day this March
Double D Pool At Thomas Greene Park, EPA's preferred site for CSO retention tank
234 Butler Street: New York City's preferred site for the 8-million gallon CSO retention tank
242 Nevins Street, second privately owned site eyed by the City

EPA Proposes Locations for Two Sewage Retention Tanks as Part of Gowanus Canal Cleanup
Public Encouraged to Provide Comments
Contact: Elias Rodriguez, (212) 637-3664,
(New York, N.Y. – April 14, 2016) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a proposed agreement with the City of New York that establishes the location for two sewage and storm water retention tanks, included as part of the cleanup for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site. The agreement sets out a schedule for the design of the larger of the two tanks. It also requires New York City to undertake activities to prepare that location for the tank installation, and to pay EPA oversight costs. Prior to finalizing the agreement with New York City, the EPA is accepting public comments. The proposed administrative settlement agreement and order released today allows New York City to locate an eight million gallon retention tank in New York City’s preferred location, known as the “Head- of-Canal” location, but it also holds the city to a strict schedule. The EPA can require New York City to place the tank in the Thomas Greene Park location instead, if certain activities do not occur on schedule, including if New York City is not able to acquire the land at the Head-of-Canal location within approximately four years. The EPA is accepting public input on the work contained in the proposed agreement for the next 30 days and will have a public meeting on April 25 to discuss the work being secured under the agreement.
“Cleaning up the Gowanus Canal is a daunting task which not only involves dredging toxic sediment, but also building huge retention tanks to reduce the amount of raw sewage that flows into the canal,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “Getting these tanks installed is a key component of the cleanup. The New York City Parks Department prefers not to have a large sewage retention tank permanently located in a city park. The EPA is also committed to preserving urban parkland and therefore spent time working with the City of New York about an alternate location. This proposed location meets the EPA’s twin goals of cleaning up the canal while also protecting urban parkland.”
More than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PCBs and heavy metals such as mercury, lead and copper, were found at high levels in the sediment in the Gowanus Canal. PAHs and heavy metals were also found in the canal water. PAHs are a group of chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage or other organic substances. PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment, and their manufacture was banned in 1979. PCBs and PAHs are suspected of being cancer-causing and PCBs can have neurological effects, as well. To this day, people can still be found fishing in the Gowanus, despite advisories about not eating fish from the canal. In 2010, the Gowanus Canal was added to EPA’s Superfund list of the nation’s most contaminated hazardous waste sites.
The EPA’s cleanup plan requires that New York City construct two sewage and storm water retention tanks to significantly reduce CSO discharges from two key locations in the upper portion of the canal. These discharges are not being addressed by current New York City upgrades to the sewer system. Without these controls, contaminated sewage discharges would re-contaminate the canal after its cleanup. In its cleanup plan the EPA estimated that a reduction of 58% to 74% of these discharges will be needed to maintain the effectiveness of the cleanup, and the new tanks are being designed to achieve that goal.
The EPA issued its final cleanup plan for the Gowanus Canal Superfund site on September 27, 2013. The cleanup includes dredging contaminated sediment that has accumulated on the bottom of the canal as a result of industrial and sewer discharges. The dredged areas will be capped. The plan also includes controls to prevent combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, and other land-based sources of contamination from compromising the cleanup. Under administrative orders with the identified potentially responsible parties, the EPA is currently conducting and overseeing engineering design work needed for the site cleanup. The canal design work is expected to continue for another two years, followed by the start of cleanup operations, which the EPA expects will be initiated at the 4th Street basin and the top of the canal in 2019.
The EPA’s cleanup plan assumed possible locations for the two tanks, both owned by New York City -- the Thomas Greene Park location for the larger tank at the top of the canal and the Department of Sanitation salt storage lot located at 2nd Avenue and 5th Street for the smaller tank in the middle of the canal. The cleanup plan specified that the final locations would be determined during the design phase of the project. The EPA and New York City have already agreed that one tank, with a capacity of four million gallons, will be located at the Department of Sanitation salt storage lot.
For the larger eight million gallon tank at the top of the canal, New York City proposed as its preferred location two adjacent properties on Nevins Street between Butler and DeGraw Streets. The EPA and New York City agreed to locate the larger tank at this Head-of-Canal location. The agreement also requires the City to carry out actions to prepare that site for installation of the tank, including removal of
contaminated soil.
This site selection decision is contingent on New York City meeting certain conditions that have been detailed in the proposed agreement. If these conditions are not met within timeframes specified in the agreement, EPA can require New York City to design the tank for construction at the Thomas Greene Park location. Under the agreement, New York City will work concurrently on tank designs for both locations, as a contingency.
The agreement between EPA and New York City aims to avoid a potential permanent loss of parkland at the Thomas Greene Park. The park, which includes a swimming pool, is important to the community, with 40,000 visitors in 2015. The Head-of-Canal location is expected to provide additional open space in the community.
The EPA will hold a public meeting on April 25 at P.S. 32 located at 317 Hoyt St., Brooklyn, N.Y. at 6:30 p.m. to explain the work being secured under the agreement and is encouraging public comments. Comments will be accepted until May 16.
Additionally, comments can mailed or emailed to: Walter Mugdan, U.S. EPA Superfund Director 290 Broadway, Floor 19, New York, N.Y., 10007

To read the agreement between the EPA and New York City, please visit:
or visit EPA’s document repository located at the Carroll Gardens Library at 396 Clinton St. in Brooklyn, New York.

The Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 just released the statement above regarding an agreement the Agency reached with New York City on the location of two sewage retention tanks that are an important part of the Superfund clean-up of the Gowanus Canal.

The tanks are combined sewer overflow (CSO) control measures meant to significantly reduce overall contaminated solid discharges to the Canal.

For months now, the EPA and the City have been negotiating the siting of the larger of the two tanks.
EPA Region 2 suggested placing the 8-million gallon tank underneath the Double D pool at Thomas Greene Park near Nevins Street. The Agency reasoned that the pool needs to be removed anyway because it sits on the former Brooklyn Union Gas Fulton Municipal Manufactured Gas Plant which needs to be remediated. Also, the parkland is already owned by the City, which would save the acquisition cost.
The NYC DEP, on the other hand, preferred to site the 8-million gallon tank on privately-owned land along the canal, adjacent to the park. The sites in question are 234 Butler Street and 242 Nevins Street.
The City reasons that it wants the tanks in closer proximity to the rest of its Gowanus infrastructure at the head of the canal. It also wants to build a head-house for the mechanical elements related to the tank. The above ground head house envisioned by the City would take up 1/4 of Thomas Greene Park if built there, DEP argues. The neighborhood is already underserved as far as green spaces according to the City. Using the privately owned parcels would allow them to maintain the park as is and add additional parkland on those purchased parcels.

Building the tank on private land is not only going to cost the City substantially more money, it will also delay the entire Superfund clean-up by a minimum of four to five years as the city first needs to acquire the privately owned land, potentially through condemnation proceedings and potentially lengthy lawsuits if the owners refuse to sell.

At a community meeting in January, Region 2 Superfund Director Walter Mugdan admitted that, "the chunk of time [because of these legal proceedings] would be longer in almost all certainty than if the tank went to the park location."
It remains clear that EPA still sees the Park as the best location for the tank because the
location will save time and money.
"I still believe that is pretty accurate," Mugdan told the community in January. "Since the pool needs to be dismantled anyhow, it seems like a pretty logical location to put the CS0 tank.
In addition, today's statement on the agreement reached between the EPA and New York City leaves one important part out. The EPA team responsible for the environmental remediation design for Gowanus Canal Superfund has been clear that building the tanks on the City's preferred site immediately adjacent to the waterway creates some very difficult engineering challenges.

It appears that it all came down to the City being able to turn the potential loss of a portion of Thomas Greene Park into an environmental justice issue. that swayed EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck into giving in to the City despite the advice of her own team.

Perhaps Enck should have been informed that the NYC Parks Department has described Thomas Greene Park as 'underutilized', that the City wanted to close the DD pool five years ago because of lack of funds, that the pool is only open two months out of the year now and that NYC was very much aware of the fact that there was liquid coal tar oozing under parts of the park because it had been built on a former MGP site and that it would, at one point, need to be remediated.

Sadly, the biggest environmental issue here may be that New York City, one of the parties responsible for polluting the Gowanus Canal in the first place, may be able to delay the Superfund clean-up.
But that, of course, is how our little 1.8 mile canal has been allowed to stay polluted for over 100 years.
Politics, at the end, always get in the way.


Becky said...


Margaret Maugenest said...

I live two blocks from that park, and your pictures show what I usually see when I pass there. It is not what I would call "vibrant" in any way. The fuss about the pool - it is open 3 months of the year. Where that 40,000 number (of people using the pool last year) comes from I have no idea. I used to use this pool until I found out it was sitting on a highly toxic piece of land (thank you NYC Park lands for putting a pool on top of what you know is highly polluted). And, yes, like your pictures show, across the street from the pool is VERY vibrant commercial activity. Something is askew here. "Save" what is underutilized and destroy what is active.

Katia said...

Well said, Margaret.

Anonymous said...

This is simply and sadly unbearable news. You write "When it comes down to it, it appears that it all came down to the City being able to turn the potential loss of a portion of Thomas Greene Park into an environmental justice issue. that swayed EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck into giving in to the City despite the advice of her own team" and I can not agree more.

The community has voiced and re-voiced its plea to have the clean-up of the Gowanus Canal Clean-Up proceed on the original schedule. For what? So that hundreds of new residents can come to live next to a still contaminated waterway that is now on a slow track for clean-up? Shame on the city of NY and shame on Ms. Judith Enck whose grandchildren evidently do not have to live here. Evidently we residents can tolerate all these toxins and contaminants for some more years. I guess now we can all share in the misery of chemical contamination with all the new residents headed here. What a sham and a scam. Not only a shame but a SHAM. and a SCAM......

Anonymous said...

I have lived here all my life and have volunteered so many long hours to help make sure the Gowanus Canal was cleaned up as fast as possible. So many of my neighbors laughed at me saying it the Gowanus Canal clean-up would "never happen in my lifetime." I persisted to volunteer despite family crises and health. I believed in the good of the EPA and I believed the EPA would make sure the right thing would be done for our neighborhood. I have lost all faith in the EPA since Ms. Judith Enck took over the decision making. She seems to have only herself and her own career in mind. The typical politics and selfishness always seem to win but why? Because greed and selfishness always prevail? Is that what I should tell my family and my grand children? Honestly I can say, I do not think will I ever get to see this canal cleaned up in my lifetime. What a waste of my precious time. Now it seems like all my time was wasted and my neighbors were right all along.