Thursday, June 09, 2016

EPA Finalizes Agreement with New York City on Combined Sewer Overflow Tank Design

The US Environmental Protection Agency just today issued a press release announcing that the Federal Agency has finalized its agreement with the City of New York regarding the location of one of two Combined Sewer Overflow tanks, which are part of the remedy for the Gowanus Canal clean-up.

This is disappointing but not unexpected news since it seemed clear from the beginning that Regional Administrator Judith Enck was willing to make concessions to the City in regards to the siting of the tank that will:
- include the taking of land by eminent domain
-prolong the timeline of the environmental clean-up 
-allow the City to re-contaminate for a period after the canal has been dredged and capped since the tank may not be completed before then.
-and will cost local residents more money in taxes and water rates.

When the proposed agreement was first outlined for the community this spring, the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group asked the EPA to please give local residents and organizations time to comment.  EPA's response to the public's comments can be found here.
The comments may not have made a difference in Enck's mind ultimately, but it was still important to capture them for the record.

What is your reaction to this announcement?

(New York, N.Y. – June 9, 2016) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized an agreement with the City of New York that secures the design of the larger of two combined sewage and storm water overflow (CSO) retention tanks, which are key components of the Gowanus Canal cleanup, including both the tank’s size and location. It also requires New York City to undertake activities to prepare that location for the tank installation and to pay EPA’s oversight costs. Prior to finalizing the agreement with New York City, the EPA accepted comments from the public for 45 days and attended two Brooklyn community meetings to explain the proposal. A response to the public comments has been issued with the final order.

The final administrative 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 with monetary penalties imposed if violations of the schedule occur. Also, 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. Locations for staging and other work related to the construction of the 8 million gallon retention tank will be acquired by New York City as part of the ongoing design phase of the project.

“The New York City Parks Department prefers not to have a large sewage retention tank
permanently located in a city park,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “The EPA is committed to preserving urban parkland and worked with the City of New York on this alternate location. This alternate location meets the dual goals of cleaning up the canal while also protecting urban parkland.”

More than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (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 substance sites.

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 EPA’s cleanup plan also calls for the construction of 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, CSO discharges would re-contaminate the canal after its cleanup. The plan also includes controls to prevent other land-based sources of contamination from compromising the cleanup. The canal design work is expected to continue for another two years, including a dredging and capping pilot which the EPA expects will be initiated at the 4th Street basin in 2017, followed by the start of full-scale cleanup construction at the top of the canal in 2018.

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. Under the agreement, the larger tank will be located at the 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. As a contingency, the agreement also requires New York City to work concurrently on a tank design for the Thomas Greene Park location. If the agreement conditions are not met within timeframes specified in the agreement, the EPA can require New York City to construct the tank at the Thomas Greene Park location.

The final administrative agreement and order will be posted by close of business today at this link:

EPA’s responsiveness to comments will be posted today at:

To learn more about the Gowanus Canal Superfund site, visit:


Anonymous said...

Penalties? Who gets the money if the city is forced to pay penalties? So Eastern FX has four years to fight or is all this a done deal? And what does it mean that the City will be allowed to re contaminate the canal?

Katia said...

I believe the penalties would go to the EPA.
As a community, we can best support Eastern Effects by sending letters of support addressed to the City and our elected officials at this. It really is up to them at this point.
As far as the re-contamination of the canal, I just classified the statement in my post.
The community was told by EPA that there is a chance that the 8 million gallon CSO tank at the head of the canal will not be completed by the City before the EPA begins dredging and capping the canal. This could mean, according to EPA, that CSO continues flowing and mounding at the outflow on Butler Street for a period of up to two years.
The City would then be required to re-dredge at that location. This could, of course, compromise the capping at that spot.

Becky said...

From the EPA response to comments document:
"EPA presumes that NYC has assessed all factors, including the loss of jobs, tax revenue, and the other financial considerations, and has concluded that this agreement is beneficial to NYC. "

WHY??? This is the best they can do?

Becky said...

Again from that document:
"The Head-of-Canal location selection decision is contingent on NYC meeting certain conditions that are detailed in the proposed agreement. If these conditions are not met, EPA can require NYC to construct the CSO retention tank at the Park. Under the proposed agreement, NYC will work concurrently on tank designs for both locations, as a contingency."

What are the conditions? Can we focus on that?

Rob said...

From what I read in Gothamist it's basically up to De Blasio to step in if they want to save Eastern Effects. I don't have confidence he will.

Katia said...

De Blasio won't save them. He probably already received a campaign contribution from the developer who will buy the lot from the City when DEP is done using it as a staging area.

Anonymous said...

EPA takes one week to "consider" comments and then moves forward anyway without any community support?

This is not our Mayor or our Governor acting but our President. EPA reports to Obama and has never responded to any community comments which is in violation of Federal law regarding land acquisition.

Lawsuits on this will extend beyond any leases but lease renewal is what everyone should be concerned about! Hopefully, the Gowanus community can help finance the legal costs like the DOC fight at 2nd Ave last year.

Is there a meeting Wed. at the Conservancy to discuss Gowanus? Please post.

CGFamily since before St. Agnes moved in said...

DREDGING: Dredging is a bad idea. While we see many multi-colored liquids perk-up from the bottom of the canal pretty often, it's better than dredging. Dredging will bring up all those juicy oils at once, over the several months that it will take from start to finish.
For those of you who don't know, when the canal was last dredged the neighborhood cancer rate shot-up 30 to 45%. Before Carroll Gardens was the 'she-she' area that it is, it was still all part of Red Hook and the residents were blue-collar workers & their kids. In the 70's parents were dropping like flies - all with rare cancers; the types you saw right after 9-1-1.
The canal should be lined INSTEAD OF Dredging, and then flushed on a regular basis.
Overflow Tanks - Yes, of course. NO new polluters - YES, enforce.
But do NOT allow what's under generations of silt to come up into the open air.
Unless they can deepen the canal without using steam-shovels and barges it should NOT be done.