EPA Updates Gowanus CAG On Superfund

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GOWANUS – The EPA team members working on the Gowanus Canal Superfund Cleanup returned to the Gowanus CAG Tuesday evening for the first time since being furloughed during the federal government shutdown.

Gowanus Canal seen from the 9th Street Bridge (Photo: Nathan Haselby)

EPA Project Manager Christos Tsiamis started the meeting by providing the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG) with an update on the cleanup project. His team expects to meet the following milestones in the next two months:

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  • To complete the design for the sheet pile wall, or cutoff wall, by March. The wall will run along the east side of the canal from Union Street to the north end of the canal, and prevent tar from entering the canal from the former manufacturing gas plants
  • The NYC Department of Design and Construction to complete the design—for excavation and restoration—of the 1st Street Basin within the next two weeks
  • 90% of the completed design for the cleanup of the upper canal (from 3rd Street to the top of the canal) to be submitted by the Primary Responsible Parties (PRPs)
  • DEP to submit the nearly completed design of the CSO retention tank at the top of the canal (Butler & Nevins Streets) by April 2019 per the 2016 Consent Order between EPA and New York City.

Tsiamis added that his team has completed its evaluation of NYC Department of Environmental Protection‘s (DEP) proposed tunnel alternative to the two CSO tanks currently planned in the EPA’s cleanup of the Gowanus Canal. DEP presented the proposed project to the Gowanus CAG in January when the furloughed EPA team members were unable to attend the group’s monthly meeting. Noting that it was a “simplified presentation,” and that the “issues are more complex,” Tsiamis noted, “They think of going deep, we think deep before we go.”

Gowanus Canal Superfund EPA Project Manager Christos Tsiamis at Gowanus CAG meeting, Feb. 26, 2019 (Photo: Pamela Wong/Bklyner)

Tsiamis explained that his team will next discuss DEP’s proposal with EPA Regional Administrator Peter Lopez, adding that it may require “more than one briefing.” After asking the CAG to remain patient, he promised, “Once we are all ready…we will come here and we will discuss with you what EPA’s view is on the issue.” The design of the two CSO tanks will continue as the EPA considers the two options.

“If we deem that [the tunnel] is something that has to be pursued, there is a process that has to be followed,” Tsiamis added. “This process, depending on the extent of the change of the remedy, could be of short duration to a really very long duration.” He explained that if changes are made and the alternate plan is selected, a Record of Decision Amendment would be implemented “and that is lengthy process,” which could potentially delay the project by another two years.

Tsiamis also updated the CAG on the status of 234 Butler Street, the historic Gowanus Station building, that locals and Gowanus Landmarking Coalition have been trying to save from the wrecking ball. The city seized 234 Butler as well as two neighboring buildings, 242 and 270 Nevins Street, via eminent domain at the end of 2018.

While DEP’s plans require demolishing the building to make way for the CSO head house facility, EPA worked with SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) and requested that a portion of the building’s facade be saved. “We came to you with a proposal…[to] preserve the corner of the building, the entire façade with everything on Nevins Street and about 30-50 feet on Butler Street,” Tsiamis said. “That was the Draft Memorandum of Agreement that we presented to you,” in June 2018.

The city responded saying that to preserve all that EPA had requested in the Draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), “would be very costly and perhaps it might not be successful to save those two portions of the wall,” Tsiamis said. EPA Regional Administrator Lopez “considered this and…decided to find some way of satisfying both the community and the city,” which is to “dismantle carefully those portions of the two walls and then restore them, rebuild them, with all the historic elements…and incorporate them into the new head house that will go in [its] place.”

“I am asking EPA and DEP to reconsider 234 Butler Street,” said FROGG (Friends of Greater Gowanus) member Linda Mariano. “The building is such a dynamic architectural Gowanus-related building and I feel that the CAG who was supposed to be part of the MOA never signed on legally as consulting parties and our voices were not 100 percent heard or even questioned.”

Responding that the project has many views and interests, Tsiamis added, “We are here and trying to build a balanced approach that makes sense and serve the community but at the same time enables us to do what we’re here to do…. Your voices were heard.”

“I just think there are things in this Draft MOA that are quite concerning,” added Brad Vogel, a member of the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition and Gowanus Dredgers. “For example it says ‘there appear to be no prudent and feasible alternatives to demolition.’ I just don’t think that’s accurate. If it’s concerns that the administrator has about costs and the risk of collapse, then state those. This is very broad, blanket language. I don’t think it’s accurate or justified.”

Vogel cited another phrase from the MOA, which reads “…and to the extent practical, preserve the materials…” and added, “If you give an inch, as we have learned, a mile will be taken and there’s a chance that nothing will be preserved.”

Tsiamis reiterated that there are many parties involved in the Superfund cleanup and that his team is trying to satisfy as many as possible.

The Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG) holds general meetings the fourth Tuesday of the month at 6:30pm at the Mary Star of the Sea Senior Apartments, 41 1st Street. All Gowanus CAG meetings are open to the public.

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