Friday, July 1, 2011

Notes from the Recent CAG Meeting

Hello from CORD/Coalition for Respectful Development!

The Gowanus Canal CAG general meeting was held at 209 Joralemon
Street on Tuesday, June 28th. Although CAG member attendance was sparse,
there was a great deal of old and some new (to us) information imparted
by the evening's guest speaker, Gardiner Cross, of the NYS Department
of Environmental Conservation. (DEC)

The DEC is in charge of remediating the contaminated parcels of
land formerly used as manufactured gas plant sites, also known as MGPs.
There are three sites which are currently being remediated by the DEC.
The site that was most animatedly discussed was the former Citizens
site, now known as Public Place.

Mr Cross gave a detailed explanation of how these sites used to
manufacture the gas that was needed to light and heat our homes decades
ago as well as explaining how this gas manufacturing produced a nasty by
product, the infamous, coal tar.

It is the coal tar, an extremely hazardous material, embedded
in the uplands (and the Canal sediment--but that is under the purview of
the EPA) at widely varying depths and concentrations, which needs to be
removed and safely disposed of before the Public Place site (or any of
these sites) is fit to be used. Furthermore, the sites must cease any
further leaking or leeching of any of this dangerous substance into the
Gowanus Canal.

Truly an engineering and environmental challenge--

Mr Cross shared some of the DEC Public Place plan as to how they are preparing to approach this huge, complicated task.

As mentioned above, some of the information was a rehash of what we
had heard before. Part of the "new" information was, that in spite of
the advent of the EPA and the designation of the Gowanus Canal as a
Superfund site and all of the additional testing that has been done,
the DEC remediation plan has not changed at all.

A few facts presented surprised some of the attendees.

For example, many of us were completely unaware that there was a
Community Board meeting held several years ago, where this DEC
remediation plan was discussed and a public comment period actually
initiated, which has, of course, long since closed

CAG members were not only surprised that this had taken place, but
were dismayed to discover that the (relatively new) EPA presence alone
combined with whatever additional findings their remedial
investigation may have revealed would not automatically initiate another
public comment period regarding the DEC clean up plan.

Hasn't one of the main discoveries of the EPA Remedial
Investigation been that the canal and surrounding uplands (both mgp
sites and other parcels) were even more contaminated than originally

CAG members asked for a recap of some of the details regarding the plan:

-- To what depth will they be digging in order to "remove" the coal tar? (still eight whole feet)

-- What type of barrier would they be using to keep the coal tar
out of the water? (if i understood this correctly, it would basically be
a barrier wall sunk into the canal between it and the upland banks--it
would have "wing shaped" ends above ground to collect whatever rainfall
or runoff was naturally produced in order to contain and collect it in
order to prevent it from leeching into the canal--there would
also be coal tar collection wells placed along the wall, (spaced along
the proposed green path, [for lack of a better term]) at various points
to continue catching the remaining highly toxic coal tar still moving on
the site

-- What type of barrier, if any, would they be using to keep the
gooey substance contained within the Public Place site area? (just that
single barrier wall along the Canal)

-- How could we be sure that the coal tar could not be diverted
and make its way under our (existing) homes since only a uni sided
barrier is to be employed? (this was a bit confusing since coal tar
can and does move, but perhaps not very far (?). Since there is no plan
to completely surround the site with a barrier wall, although that is a
method that has been employed at other sites for whatever reasons, must
we assume that the coal tar will just inherently know not to cross smith
or fifth streets??? do we know for certain that it has not?

Mr Cross listened and answered each question and informed the
attendees that "many of the same questions" brought up at the CAG
meeting were brought up years ago as well, but that did little to
assuage the concerns of the group.

Another surprising fact Mr Cross announced was that the wells
installed on the Public Place site had already yielded more than four
thousand (4000) gallons of coal tar! Many of us were completely
unaware that there was anything more than continued testing going on at
that site at this point.

A National Grid employee mentioned that activity at the Public Place site could be found at their website (

The CAG members asked if the DEC would be willing to attend a CAG
committee meeting at a future date--and both Mr Cross and Mr Ryan, the
Director of Remedial Bureau C, graciously agreed.

Clearly there is still a great deal of concern among many CAG
members coupled with a great deal of uncertainty as to how effective
this remediation will be--not only for those who may eventually reside
on the remediated properties, but questions about what type of
consequences may befall the surrounding, existing residences as a result
of the cleanup close by.

CAG members are busy preparing their questions now. CORD invites
you to send your questions and concerns as well. You may reach us at
We will be happy to share your thoughts with the DEC when they attend
the next CAG general or committee meeting if you cannot attend yourself.

In spite of the sparse turnout, it was a very lively meeting. CORD
certainly looks forward to another question and answer session with the
DEC as well as continued progress reports on those old gas sites.

Respectfully yours,



With the "Protect Our Homes" petition, CORD was formed in May, 2007. This petition arose as an overwhelmingly negative response to the coming of the over-sized 360 Smith Street Development at the corner of Smith Street and Second Place (Aka Oliver House; aka 131 Second Place). This petition, which had well over three thousand signatures, led to a new zoning text amendment in summer of 2008.

To: Our Elected Officials, Community Leaders, The MTA:
(MAY, 2007)

We the undersigned Carroll Gardens homeowners and residents, are appalled by the "as of right" ruling which allows owners and developers to erect buildings in our neighborhood with no regard to the impact they will present to our quality of life and the value of our homes........