Wednesday, June 25, 2014

CAG Meeting Summary and DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd's Visit

The Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (the CAG) met on Tuesday, June 24th at the St Mary Star of the Sea Residences.
There was a large turnout of CAG members, local elected officials, community residents and other interested parties there to greet and listen to the Department of Environmental Protection's relatively new (three month old) Commissioner, Emily Lloyd, address the community regarding the newest turn of events in the Gowanus Canal's Superfund saga.

A bit of backround, the Gowanus Canal, the very first Superfund site in New York City, and what has been called the most polluted waterway in the entire country (mostly because of its unique stew of sewage and toxic chemical compounds) is at a point in the Superfund timeline where the problems have been identified, a workable solution for cleanup and a plan to prevent re-contamination post cleanup has been achieved and the US Federal Government's Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA) has issued what it a legal document to those responsible for the pollution (known as Responsible Parties) who are now fiscally responsible for the cleanup,to comply with those plans. LINK to ROD

This legal document, called a Record of Decision (or a ROD, for short) was issued back in September of 2013.  Its recommendations were not kept secret from the the City or any of the parties-rather, there were numerous, ongoing discussions regarding the cleanup and what would be involved.

There are many responsible parties involved, but the chief party is the City of New York. Why?
Well, the sewer system is set up in such a way that the sanitary waste basically gets flushed and pursues its predetermined path to the appropriate water plant for treatment and "disposal". The "runoff" water ( i.e. rainfall, street hosing and the accumulated garbage, oil residues,etc) that run along the gutter and into the street sewers share some of that "pathway"--the result? No problem in dry weather--but during rain--and not even that much of it, the combined sewage and runoff overwhelm this old system and we, the residents living near the Canal, have what amounts to an open sewer running through the heart of our neighborhood. See the "Poo Poo Tsunami"

This combined sewer overflow system (known as CSO'S) is not unique to the Canal or Brooklyn. It was and is part of the antiquated infrastructure of this city, but in our case, this system presents not only a bacterial, disease laden disaster for our community, but a chemically dangerous one as well since the toxic compounds that are the chemical component of the Canal's disgusting stew are known to attach themselves to the solid waste that is, as we speak, just floating by like a taxi wiling to give a free ride.

EPA solution?  Install a system (retention tanks) where the sanitary (really, unsanitary) waste can be held back during rainfall so that the waste, the street runoff and rain do not wind up "combining" and overwhelming the existing sewer system.

Once the rain and its ensuing runoff has subsided. the waste can be released and head on its merry way to the appropriate treatment plant---no open sewer, no free ride for any chemical compounds that may have runoff into the system during the rain and a cleaner, healthier Canal and therefore, environment for us all.

The EPA has scouted out and suggested two city owned properties suitable for underground tank installation
One at the location known as the salt lot on Fifth Street and Second Avenue, the other, within the Thomas Greene Park---A good portion of this park is required to undergo a cleanup by the New York State Department of Conservation since it  is sitting on a former gas plant manufacturing site and oozes toxic chemical compounds into the canal as well as into the ground the Park sits upon.

The park and the pool which many area residents enjoy, will have its use interrupted by the cleanup--retention tank placement or not.
The EPA did not choose this site is city owned land which saves NYC's taxpayers from purchasing costs, acquisition fees, etc and time.

More importantly, it sits at the head or the top of the Canal---a position which would allow the underground tank to grab those solids and hold them at a point PRIOR TO them entering the canal where they have already, undoubtedly picked up some additional matter and PREVENT them from attracting and depositing any chemical compounds that may have seeped into the canal further down its course.

So, why is there a problem? The City of New York does not seem to want to do this --- even though they are now not only required to do so under the ROD, but also under a Unilateral Order issued by the EPA to the City. LINK to EPA Administrative Order

The  City, under this new Mayor, issued a reply, which basically, the way we see it says, we, THE CITY, don't agree with you. The retention tanks you are suggesting may not be necessary, They may even be, under the law, requiring us to clean up to a higher degree than we have to. We are not saying we won't do it but we reserve the right to keep objecting to it, the proposed locations and the whole suggestion right now. 

This brings us to Commissioner Lloyd's visit to the CAG.
Commissioner Emily Lloyd is a warm, charming lady with a sweet smile and an engaging, calm, earthy manner.
Basically, she said that the City "never said that we weren't going to do it"--in reference to the retention tanks. When questioned about the City's wording in their reply letter, she calmly said we shouldn't pay attention to that. These are letters from lawyer to lawyer--nothing more...HUH?

Commissioner Lloyd claimed that they, the City, were still seeking appropriate locations for the tanks and had hired a consulting firm (Brown & Caldwell) to scout out additional possible locales.

 Apparently, the consulting firm, paid for by, as Ms Lloyd put it, "rate-payers", NOT "tax payers" money ( aren't all rate payers, tax payers too??) --- found scores of sites, most of which were not owned by the city--and some of them nowhere near the head of the canal.

But, Comm Lloyd claims that once some potential locations are automatically dismissed (like schools, NYCHA properties, houses of worship and residences) it will narrow down the field considerably.
The City will get back to the EPA by the end of September with their "list".
We assume that the rate payers are also going to pay for the production of that "list" as well as all the other steps in between the scouting and the final product. Think about it-does it really take almost four months to weed out the schools, NYCHA properties, houses of worship and residences??

Do the rate payers get a say in any of this?
Ms Lloyd said  that  she believed that there were private landowners who would be willing and eager to have their property purchased by the city on this list.

As rate payers, we now officially object....why should we pay for land ( at least in the Greene Park instance--right at the source of the incoming solids) situated in a less ideal location than the one the city already owns?

Ms Lloyd herself said in regard to retention tank locale, " I understand it, more North is better than farther South."
Yes, we know that there is fear that the park and pool will be lost--if not permanently, then for an unacceptable period of time. Yes, we know that  there is consternation regarding the pool being situated on or close to the retention tank. We do not take this lightly.

NYC has the ability to provide temporary respite for the community and really has the moral obligation to provide a park and pool to the community that they can use and feel comfortable with--whether that means re-locating the pool to another area within the park or purchasing property to locate it adjacent to the park.  THAT is something we rate/tax payers would not mind having our money spent on. 

The City has known for decades that all the former gas plant sites were polluted--the EPA told them just how much---rectifying  THAT is something we rate/tax payers would not mind having our money spent on.  That could not possibly cost more than what they are doing right now and it benefits everyone.

Commissioner Lloyd pointed out that we rate payers have seen our water bills rise more than 100% over the last eleven could the DEP even consider not using what they already own to fix a problem which they allowed to continue? If they need to purchase a parcel adjacent to the Park for recreational use and new pool installation, so be it. But to waste time and money bickering over the inevitable is not just wasteful. It is irresponsible.

Now let's cut to a Daily News article that appeared online sometime after 4PM yesterday. LINK to NY Daily News Article
In that article Ms Lloyd talked about retention tanks "not being good neighbors".  Whether that is true or not remains to be seen.
It is only an underground storage tank, not a treatment plant. And although it is true that there will be some kind of maintenance involved, it is hard to believe that it could be more inconvenient, disgusting or as unhealthy as what runs through our "neighbor", the Gowanus Canal, right now.

Also in that article, Comm Lloyd's boss, Mayor de Blasio basically said that
the city is "still seeking cleaner greener solutions to the problem."
What WE hear is more legal fees paid by us rate/tax payers, more wasted time and the open sewer still in operation---so the city can avoid obeying the law and preserve its right to keep objecting to the EPA's order.

Gee...almost sounds like a tale of two cities....doesn't it?
To be continued.......


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........