Tuesday, April 10, 2012

DEEP CONCERN regarding the DEP's current position re: the Gowanus Canal

Hello from CORD

On Monday night, April 2, 2012, the CAG Water Quality/Technical Committee met with members of the DEP including Angela Licata, Joe Muehller, Kevin Cline and Julie Stein at the Brooklyn Historical Society. The meeting was informal and cordial. Topics scheduled to be discussed were outflow meters and water reclassification of the Canal.
However, the underlying message of the meeting, expressed by many members of the CAG committee was one of the deep concern that many of us have regarding the DEP'S position as a responsible party for polluting the canal (the City of New York has been named a PRP by the EPA).

The DEP has many city wide plans in the works at this moment to improve water quality city wide, as they are required to do under the state clean water act. These plans include a Green Infrastructure Plan which has been widely publicized and presented at multiple meetings throughout our neighborhood and throughout the city. There is also a city wide Long Term Control Plan in the wings---set to be implemented sometime on 2015---all admirable all good baby steps---quite expensive baby steps but baby steps never the less.

The Gowanus Canal along with Newtown Creek, differ from the rest of city. These bodies of water have been declared by the Federal Government, Superfund sites. They have been recognized as highly polluted waterways that present a danger to public health and the environment.

Our little Canal, probably because of its narrow and rather short length (just under two {2} miles) has the distinction of being the most densely packed pathogen filled waterway in the country. Now the DEP and the EPA will point out that pathogens (that's a nice way of saying all of the nasty bacteria,illnesses and diseases that are living in the canal as a result of the amounts of raw sewage that is dumped into it) are not what makes the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site---and that would be exactly right.

What makes our Canal a Superfund site is the fact that at the bottom of the Canal---in the sediment---lie unacceptable levels of toxins that seeped in over many many decades as a result of the gas manufacturing plants that secreted this coal tar as a by product of creating the power that once lit the streets and homes of our neighborhood. Over the years there were also other industries that dumped toxic chemicals and heavy metals into the water as well.

But, what we have learned through the studies done by the EPA during their investigation, is that these toxins are also coming into the Canal through the Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO's). The chemicals, the coal tar the heavy metals are not lying there at the bottom alone---they are constantly being input into the water through the pipes that carry the street run off and the sewage----in fact, the EPA has indicated in their study that these nasty cancer causing chemicals actually attach themselves to the solid waste----that come pouring out of those pipes---the stuff we see all the time floating in and around the canal---sometimes even gushing down the canal after rainfall. See "Holy Crap! Video Shows Raw Sewage Flooding into Canal During Last Week's Storm" at

Now the EPA came into this neighborhood to do a job. A huge part of their job is to identify the problem. From there, more studies are done and eventually remedies are considered, presented, decided upon and acted upon. Nowhere in this process are anything other than scientific facts and data collected, studied and and acted upon.

So the question becomes---who and why would anyone think it prudent, fiscally responsible or sensible to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up the toxins at the bottom of the canal, cap it so that any unremovable carcinogens are contained and no longer present a health or environmental hazard and then proceed to allow additional toxins to come in and eventually collect and build up again at the bottom of the canal?

This is precisely why the EPA has concluded that the CSO's, under the purview of the City's Department of Environmental Protection (the DEP), MUST BE ADDRESSED.
Back a bit, before the Canal was declared a Superfund site, Cas Holloway, now a Deputy Mayor, came to this community and talked about how the city's plan to clean up the canal would be better and would TAKE LESS TIME than the EPA. For good measure, he also threw in that the city had every intention of disputing the hazard rating score that the Canal received---since it was the hazard rating score, based on the scientific studies done, that secured the Canal's position as a Superfund site--

Scientific fact determined the criteria and science won out--- the Canal was declared a Superfund site and further EPA scientific studies began....
Those additional painstaking studies determined that the CSO's must be addressed and the EPA has a suggestion on how to do it....something that will kill two birds with one stone....a retention basin system that will not only capture the toxins coming into the canal at their source, some of which are attaching themselves to the solid waste----and as a wonderful by-product--eliminate a great deal of the pathogens in the water by doing the same for the solids! Clearly a win-win.....

So what happens next.....
Here we are now, studies in, results published---and incredibly, the city is now claiming that the EPA is moving too fast-----even though the EPA is actually right on the schedule they presented to the community from the start-----ironically, the EPA is even ahead of the schedule that the city tried to sell to the community as being faster...

Angela Licata is also disputing the veracity of the EPA's findings regarding the toxic emissions via the CSO's into the canal.....sound familiar?? When the DEP was asked why they are resisting the suggestion of the retention basin,after all---it is the logical solution and one that has been requested for decades by Buddy Scotto and others and as they have done in other areas (non Superfund areas by the way)...what do they say? There are "cost benefits"....and who would pay?

Well we all would---just as we are paying for the retention system they installed in Paedagat Bay-----just as we all will pay for their $140,000,000 Green Infrastructure Plan which is still in the design phase only--that usually means even more expensive by the time it actually gets moving...(can you spell--'CITY TIME'???) and who knows how much for the Long Term Control Plan-

Are these necessary? Yes..both to satisfy the city's obligation to the state under the Clean Water Act and ultimately for the benefit of us all.
Are they worth it? Yes--- and dollar for dollar our water rates are still fairly inexpensive--think about your cable or cell phone bill---and then compare it to the value of your fresh drinking water and the fact that your toilets do flush and your drains work and the waste goes away...
Are these good reasons to do a less effective and so-so job for our community? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Our community has been saddled with an antiquated sewer system. Our community, already densely populated, has been living with this open sewer running through its heart for far too long. Our community is slated to be even more densely populated---there is framework at City Planning that allows for thousands and thousands of additional units of housing in the Gowanus. There are the additional units that are scheduled for Atlantic Yards. Just take a look around and see how our neighborhood continues to grow.

Does it make sense to do anything less than the best job possible for the Canal? Does it make sense for the City of New York to skimp here when this once in a lifetime opportunity to address and correct this problem has arrived?

Mayor Bloomberg----we love the fresh drinking water the DEP supplies to us but it is time to literally stand up and cut the crap!

Please don't waste our time and money fighting the science....spend that money on behalf of the environment and the health of our community. What could be more important than that?


Please read: Tackling the Problem of Combined Sewer Overflow: Why Can't New York be More Like London? http://pardonmeforasking.blogspot.com/2012/04/tackling-problem-of-sewer-overflow-why.html


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........