Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Yet Again, NYC DEP Wants To Delay Construction Of Two Crucial CSO Retention Tanks For The Gowanus Canal

The head of the Gowanus Canal
The Salt lot at 2nd Avenuel
The famous "poo-nami' video showing CSO event on Gowanus Canal

Despite a pandemic, despite an exodus out of New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilmember Brad Lander are both still pushing for the rezoning of the Gowanus neighborhood from mostly manufacturing to residential.  It is by far the largest proposed New York City upzoning of the de Blasio administration despite the fact that the area still faces serious and dangerous environmental challenges

First, the Gowanus Canal, which runs through the area, was declared  an EPA Superfund site and has not been remediated yet.  Secondly, much of the land in Gowanus is in a FEMA Flood Zone A. Thirdly, there are three former Manufactured Gas Plant  (MGP) sites along the canal's shores that are now and will forever be laden with liquid coal tar at depths of 100 to 150 feet. And fourthly, NYC continues to use the canal as an open sewer, allowing Combined Sewer Overflow to enter the waterway during heavy rain events. That is a clear violation against the Federal Clean Water Act.

It is expected that the Department of City Planning will certify the proposed rezoning, which will trigger the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) very soon.

But....what about the pollution, you may ask? Well...
Just yesterday, PMFA wrote about the fact that shortcuts were being taken on the most polluted MGP site in Gowanus where our Councilman is envisioning 900 units of housing.

In addition, residents learned at the July 28th EPA Community Advisory Group meeting that the City of New York is yet again trying to delay the construction of two CSO control facilities meant to reduce the volume of untreated wastewater entering the Gowanus Canal.

Here is some background. As part of the EPA Superfund clean-up, the Federal Agency has ordered the City to build two retention tanks, one 8 million gallon tank at the head of the canal at Butler and Nevins Streets, and a 4 million gallon tank at the Salt Lot at 2nd Avenue, located in the middle section of the canal.

In the past few years, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection has managed to delay the construction of the tanks by several years by insisting on siting the tanks on land seized by eminent domain and by over-designing the tank facilities. The Agency also managed to more than double the construction cost. In  2018, D.E.P.'s Kevin Clarke testified that the cost for the entire 'program' that includes both tanks is estimated to reach $1.2 Billion. E.P.A. had estimated the cost at $500 million.

So, imagine the community's surprise when it heard that DEP's Commissioner Vincent Sapienza had reached out to EPA Region 2's Administrator Peter Lopez, asking for additional time due to the financial challenges the City is currently facing because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sapienza asked for a one year delay for the completion of the larger tank and an 18 months delay for for the smaller one.

Keep in mind that the tanks are only addressing current CSO discharges and that 0EPA expects a significant increase in CSOs into the canal as part of the area rezoning, this is bad news for current and future residents.

The news prompted Voice Of Gowanus, a coalition of civic organizations and local residents to reach out to Administrator Lopez with the following letter on August 7th:

Gowanus Canal Superfund Required Sewage Detention Tanks 
Vs. DEP Delay Request

Dear Regional Administrator Lopez,

During the recent July Gowanus CAG meeting, the community was made aware that NYC DEP has requested a substantial delay in carrying out its obligations in the EPA Superfund cleanup for the canal, which includes one sewage detention tank at the head the canal and a smaller one on the city’s 2nd Avenue Salt Lot. We have been told that the DEP cites a large coronavirus-related revenue shortfall as a reason to push back this Superfund construction work a year for the larger tank, and a year and a half for the smaller tank.

As a local Gowanus coalition of civic associations and residents, we are reaching out to you with our concerns now, given that the EPA CAG will not be meeting again till late September and we understand this is a very time-sensitive matter.

As members of the Gowanus community many of us are aware of previous times when the DEP had fully funded Gowanus infrastructure work (the 2004 Flushing Tunnel Project) only to have DEP pull the funding for years and delay Gowanus for new infrastructure projects elsewhere.

We have good reason to be concerned with this current excuse for delay especially given that the EPA has already allowed several delays on this DEP work. And that this work will now no longer be completed by the time the dredging work is finished. Further, there was an understanding in the community that funding for Gowanus CSO tanks has been in place. In March 2016, Councilman Lander TWEETED proudly that he was glad to see $510m in the updated capital plan for Gowanus CSO retention tanks.

From Councilman Brad Lander's Twitter account, March 2016

The Gowanus community prefers that you DO NOT allow the NYC DEP to delay its portion of the Superfund cleanup any further. If you are inclined to negotiate any delay, we ask that you only agree to delay the work of one tank's construction, not both, and make approval contingent upon NYCDEP agreeing to prioritize design and construction of both retention tank projects over all other new DEP infrastructure projects. We would feel deeply wronged in Gowanus if the EPA granted the requested delays to the DEP only to have the DEP fund new infrastructure works at the expense of finishing the Gowanus tank projects.

As you know, hundreds of millions of gallons of raw sewage discharging regularly into our waterway continues to be a major environmental and health concern. The problem is about to become even more acute as the City appears poised to certify the massive rezoning of the Gowanus corridor.

Our community needs a hero. Please be ours.

Voice of Gowanus

If you would like to send your own email to Administrator Lopez in support of Voice Of Gowanus, click on the link below. It will open a new page with the email address and letter. So easy.
Click to Write Your Own Email To Administrator Lopez


Anonymous said...

Anyone can see how important it is for regular community people to keep after government agencies so they do what they are supposed to do. Looks like we do need to stay on our toes to ensure this cleanup takes place. Just what's the big deal with putting a few concrete basin into the ground with a pump, why 20 years to build such things?

Thanks goes to PardonMeForAsking for posting this and providing a simple way for more in the community to (as they say) "hold our government's feet to the fire".

Gowanee said...

What? The City wants to RAM THROUGH REZONING, in toxic land along a toxic canal that is also an open sewer (waterfront property anyone?), in a flood zone, in a hurricane evacuation route, but because fo COVID budgeting now the City can't step up to the plate and build the retention tanks according to schedule? Retention tanks that are needed with the zoning AS IS! Listen people, THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!