Our Meeting with New York State DEC/Department of Environmental Conservation
Is the NYS DEP taking a major dump in Carroll Gardens?
Are they pooh poohing the toxic poo poo in the Gowanus Canal, turning a blind eye to the many health risks?
WHY would they do that to us?
On Tuesday Dec 4th, the PS 32 auditorium was filled with community residents who came to participate along with the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group's (CAG's) Water Quality/Technical Committee. In a discussion and Q&A session with the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (the DEC) regarding their role in the clean up of the Canal.
Although originally scheduled as a CAG meeting (which are always open to the Public anyway) this meeting became a more formal opportunity to allow questioning from the public through pre written index card questions. Unfortunately, the DEC only had a very brief amount of time to share with us, so questions handed in from the audience were really NOT addressed. (Our understanding is that they will be eventually answered by the DEC. If the Q&A's are made available to us, and they should be, we will post them at the CORD blog as soon as we receive them.)
However, the CAG members were able to get several concerns across to the DEC personnel .
The State sent Jim Tierney, Assistant Commissioner for Water Resources from the DEC along with Gary Kline, Jeff Myers, Robert Schick, also from DEC. DEC has a great deal to do with the approval of the EPA's Proposed Plan since "state acceptance" is one of the criteria EPA must meet.
Region 2 EPA has been nothing short of superb in their handling of this entire project. They have met (and at times) exceeded their own deadlines, have provided assistance to the needs of the Community Advisory Group and have managed to keep the entire community informed and engaged throughout the process-- up to and-including post Sandy...
It has been a different story with the City of New York's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). They have challenged, plain old fought and stalled the Superfund designation at each and every opportunity. Partially, their stance can be understood. They are, after all, one of the biggest polluters of the Canal and therefore, by Federal Law, required to finance the improvements and remedies that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA) proposes and implements.
We suppose that some could argue that their response is no different than any other defendant---except that by not amicably complying with the EPA's proposals, they are seriously short changing our community---constituents and taxpayers of this very same entity. In effect, the DEC is legally and politically harming we who live and work near near the Gowanus Canal by challenging the EPA.
Their reasoning? The DEC claims they already have plans in place that would make significant changes to the Gowanus Canal. These plans are very costly and what we community members are hoping the EPA might be proposing, would be a waste of additional money since the City already has the problem 'covered.'
It is true that Mayor Bloomberg's administration has some CITY-WIDE plans that are both admirable and helpful in solving some of the sewage and sewer problems that we share with our fellow city dwellers. But they are simply NOT ENOUGH to make significant impacts on the Gowanus. And more importantly, by implementing only these methods, instead of the more comprehensive plan, which we have very clearly and repeatedly requested, we are not only deprived of the type of environmental and public health benefits that we deserve, we risk the re-contamination of the Canal AFTER the EPA's very expensive cleanup is complete.
Now New York State's position, handled by the Department of Environmental Conservation (the DEC--the folks that came to visit on Tuesday) is a bit different from both the City (DEP) and the Feds (EPA). They are supposed to be the guys who enforce something called the Clean Water Act---a decades old law that requires each city and municipality to clean up their waterbodies and stop raw sewage from going into them.
The DEC has had decades to get the many polluted waterways throughout the state cleaned up. It is a huge, expensive job that apparently must be done in phases---so in order to keep all their i's dotted and all their t's crossed, the State goes into legal/technical discussions/negotiations with different cities (including ours) which results in a series of short and long term plans designed to consistently improve water quality. When State and City agree, something called a Consent Order is issued, and the city or municipality is allotted time to get the new plan in action in order to achieve the improved water quality. These usually are granted for very extended periods of time.
How many of you remember Cas Holloway, then DEP Commissioner, now a Deputy Mayor, coming before us, talking up and trying to sell us the Green Infrastructure (GI) plan? He clearly asked our community to "get on board and tell the State" what a good idea we all thought it was...
.How many of us would have understood that were it not for a well placed question from one of our neighbors---that what Commissioner Holloway was asking us to do was to sabotage ourselves......and to help the City get the Consent Order (albeit a perfectly legal agreement) to delay cleaning up the water properly.? It sure seems now, in hindsight, as though the City of New York was well aware at that point that they would use that very same Consent Order granted partially on the merits of this GI plan as an excuse to avoid doing more for the Gowanus Canal's clean up under their responsibilities as a Superfund PRP (a polluter).
New York City has entered into one of these consent agreements with the DEC. The agreement includes the improvements the City is counting on like the (GI) plan and the Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) --which by its very name should give you a hint as to the timeframe on that one.
So ALL the city pieces are now in place....
The City has plans which will help NEW YORK CITY OVERALL a bit with some sewer problems and make a tiny dent in the deplorable conditions at the Canal--conditions they, the City are responsible for and are now required to correct under Superfund. Problem 'covered'.
EPA Region 2 has explained to us that they are responsible for cleaning up the highly toxic sediment on the bottom of the canal and to make sure that additional toxic compounds do not enter the Canal through the lands surrounding the Canal or through the pipes that run into the canal----which includes the CSO discharges
The thing is this....the Remedial Investigation and the Feasibility Study conducted by the EPA as well as two different studies done by National Grid, confirm that there are toxic compounds coming into the Canal through those CSO's. The scientists at the EPA have explained that there is a chemical bonding---almost a magnetic relationship--between those toxic compounds and the solid wastes that run through those CSO's.
When this happens, the toxic compounds attach themselves to the solids, which find their way to and stick to the bottom of the canal---building up---Once the bottom of the canal has been cleaned and capped by the EPA---these mounds of solids will just be newly deposited clumps of the very hazardous materials the EPA spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 500,000,000 dollars cleaning up.
So logical thinking would be--let's try to capture as much of those chemically polluted solids as we can at their source and hold them and release them in such a manner as they cannot build up and recontaminate the Gowanus Canal. We clean and cap the bottom, we prevent re-contamination through some sort of holding/retention system and we get a truly significant reduction in the nasty pathogen levels running through the heart of our neighborhood through that open sewer we call the Gowanus Canal to boot. WIN WIN WIN situation all around. Right?
The City cries foul----no good---not necessary -- too much money----our plan is good enough.........
Now here's where the State of NY comes in......with their ability to forestall/ slow down and generally put a crimp on the cleanup....and Tuesday night despite saying that they are in full support of the EPA's efforts to clean up the bottom of the Canal and get this done quickly:
that they understand the problems with the CSO's, that they recognize the well documented incredibly high pathogen concentrations---they are concerned about the cost to the taxpayers of the additional work that would be required to truly clean up and protect the remedy in the Canal.
For a moment, it seemed as though Cas Holloway and the City of New York was standing in front of the PS 32 auditorium.....
Why are they so concerned about our tax dollars spent that way but not concerned about our tax dollars literally being flushed down the toilet when the EPA clean up is compromised?--which is what will happen if the cso's are not addressed because of New York State's resistance.
Their actions and position can result in a "sort of" cleanup for us -- a so-so-- cleanup.
In other words, a "it's good enough for you" job that will build in a never ending incoming supply of toxic compounds growing on the bottom, unacceptably high pathogen concentration levels and lots of additional expensive maintenance for years to come.
Now in fairness, Deputy Commissioner Tierney rightfully states that this is new territory. We have never had a Superfund site in New York City before. So doesn't that mean that the same old same old does not have to apply? Our neighborhood has never before had this great a shot at getting that Gowanus Canal and all of the health hazards it presents to every one of us finally addressed--why isn't the State jumping on this opportunity?
Our impression of the DEC's position on Tuesday night was that a somewhat more cleaned up Canal is achievable without the additional costs that the EPA has indicated in its Feasibility Study are necessary. It certainly won't be as good as what we want, won't be as effective in maintaining the integrity of the EPA cleanup---but they may just have to decide that way anyway--because that seemed to be the game plan all along......Neatly parse and clearly cut-up the responsibility--EPA gets the bottom, State gets the uplands, and the City gets a Consent Order.....
The Superfund status of the Canal separates it from other water bodies in the City--hell its contents and condition separate it from any waterbody in the whole country---so it makes sense that some additional monies should be spent there---Why should a choice have to be made? So we must begin to really think about the following and ask ourselves some questions.....
Obviously a clean Canal benefits the Gowanus, Carroll Gardens, Cobble HIll, Red Hook, Boerum Hill and Park Slope communities----that's a whole lot of people.
So who would complain or object to this goal and why?
----Why was the plan as described by the DEC several times so neatly parsed out?
----Why the insistence to stick to this original plan even though it is hideously apparent that things changed along the way?
---After all of the EPA studies and data are in--clearly a more aggressive approach than previously thought is necessary
---Who does it serve to insist on the old one?
Should New York State decide to go with a good for today but ridiculously unfit for tomorrow kind of decision......Who benefits and/or prospers? And who would get sold down the open sewer? Think about it. The City is spending money throughout the entire city to pay for the GI and LTCP---the Canal is not getting a lion's share---just its proportionate share of those monies. Why are both things---a comprehensive, well maintained remediation of the Canal and a CITY WIDE Green Infrastructure and Long Term Control Plan impossible to achieve at the same time?
As a final comment---the Federal Government has granted the EPA a tool, the ability to supersede the authority of New York State's Clean Water Act with something called, CERCLA/ Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)http://www.epa.gov/superfund/policy/cercla.htm
THE CAG has already asked Mr Matty Stanislaus, EPA Deputy Commissioner, National Headquaters in Washington DC if he recognized the authority of CERCLA over the Clean Water Act. He indicated to us in a teleconference that he did indeed. The CAG took t a step further and asked Deputy Commissioner Stanislaus along with EPA Region 2 top management to implement that CERCLA authority and take over the water quality situation here in our Gowanus Canal.
Flexing CERCLA's muscle here would shut down the State's authority----We have not heard back from Mr Stanislaus yet. We are hoping that he is seriously considering it.
The EPA told us at our last general CAG meeting that the PROPOSED PLAN should be out for public comment by the end of this year.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD. SUPPORT YOUR OWN NEIGHBORHOOD. MAKE SURE YOUR VOICE IS HEARD.
LET THE EPA KNOW THAT YOU WANT THIS THING DONE RIGHT. IF IT TAKES THE FEDS TO ENFORCE USING THEIR CERCLA AUTHORITY, SO BE IT.
WE WILL KEEP YOU INFORMED BUT YOU MUST PARTICIPATE.
We are all taxpayers of the City and State of New York. This is our City. This is our State and these deplorable conditions are not only unworthy of the greatest city in the world--they are ILLEGAL.
EPA Region 2 has studied and attacked this problem and has embraced our community simultaneously. They are a refreshing reminder of how a large government, bureaucratic agency can and should work for its citizens.
Let's start asking ourselves why the EPA, a large federal agency cares about us more than our local agencies.
Our local elected officials all signed on to a letter that basically said they did not think that the city's proposed plans were enough to reach a clean safe Gowanus. Letter Link
Our electeds know the City's plan is not enough, We know it's not enough. Both the Feds and the State DEC know it's not enough-----
SO WHO AND WHAT is in more need of PROTECTION than US?