Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Questionable "policies" under EPA Administrator Judith Enck and a sea-change of attitude by the EPA toward NYC, a Gowanus Canal PRP!

The recent Gowanus Canal CAG general meeting was a thoroughly confusing and depressing affair. But more on that in a moment.

First the basic facts:  

The CAG General Meeting was held on Thursday January 19, at PS 58 in Carrolll Gardens.  It was open to the public.  Superfund Director, U.S. EPA Region 2, Walter Mugdan presented updates to the audience on the possible future locations for the two retention tanks, an issue that has become contentious as the City of New York, one of the PRP's, puts pressure on the EPA.  Notably absent was Christos Tsiamis, the EPA Remedial Project Manager U.S. EPA Region 2 for the Gowanus Canal Clean-Up, who for years, has been patiently and diligently presenting the actual science of the Gowanus Canal clean-up to the CAG, as well as thoroughly explaining the rationale and best clean-up design for the community. 

 Above:  EPA Administrator speaks to the Gowanus Canal CAG

Mugdan stated that the first retention tank, the Owl's Head tank site, had been decided but that "no decision" has been taken on the second retention tank location yet.  This second tank site has been the subject of much controversy lately.

Paradoxically, Mugdan explained that while the EPA agrees that the best location for this second tank is under the swimming pool in Thomas Greene Park (and was the original Tsiamis plan), the City of NYC instead heavily favors a site along the Gowanus Canal at the head of the Gowanus Canal.  This latter plan requires the use of eminent domain (!) to seize three plots of private land with what amounts to public tax payer dollars. (See our thoughts on the unfairness of eminent domain being used for this retention tank at:
http://carrollgardenspetition.blogspot.com/2015/12/eminent-domain-is-unnecessary-unfair.html   "Public dollars might be found by using a percentage of our water bills," one NYC elected official mentioned, to the huge dismay of some in the audience.

Furthermore, while Mugdan reassured the audience that this latter option would not delay the Gowanus Canal clean-up, there was a general feeling in the audience that in fact the clean-up WOULD in fact be delayed due to process of eminent domain costing protracted legal time and monies.  "The City's proposal, which includes condemnation proceedings and potentially lengthy lawsuits, obviously has the potential of delaying the environmental clean up of the Gowanus Canal significantly and it will add a lot of uncertainty." PMFA

Mugdan did not have a good answer as to why the EPA would feel pressured to side with the City, which is a PRP, but it was clear that when he said "polices" were to blame, that in fact he was referring to the pressures of NYC politics as usual.  Mugdan admitted the coal tar amounts under the proposed private properties were far LESS than under the swimming pool and parkland which he called the "mother load" of contaminating coal tar.  FYI: The City of New York has a website describing the dangers of this coal tar at http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/24922.html  Thus science, logic and efficacy would seemingly back the first plan.

However Mugdan did admit that the NYC Parks Commissioner was vehemently against the siting of the second retention tank under the swimming pool at Thomas Greene Park as this tank might need a head house that would need to be situated on the existing parkland where the pool is located.  There were obviously many holes in this line of thinking and the argument was surely based on no science or math as the head house dimensions are unknown and the possibility of locating the head house near the parkland rather than ON the parkland have never been seriously considered. 

Furthermore, several CAG members pointed out the that the same NYC Parks Department actually knew about this mother load of coal tar when it authorized the existing park and swimming pool. The then NYC Parks Commissioner situated this public City Park (dumbly) right on top of this mother load of contamination.  Thus, the exposure to the public by these harmful toxins did not stop this ill-conceived NYC Parks design.  Why then, would the EPA, an agency of the federal government, give the NYC Parks Commissioner so much gravitas now?

One of the CAG members commented that local politics seemed to be driving the latest decisions of the EPA, not science.  Mugdan answered he liked to think of the word "policy" not "politics." However many in the audience remained unconvinced as well as unimpressed by such semantics.  

CORD wrote Judith Enck, Administrator for U.S. EPA's Region 2 Office U.S. EPA about our severe reservations regarding the use of eminent domain to site the second retention tank.
We forwarded this letter to Mayor DeBlasio, Senator Schumer, Governor Cuomo, and many other elected officials.

Katia Kelly, Community Activist and Neighborhood Blogger wrote:  "Why would the EPA Region 2 under the leadership of Judith Enck, which has prided itself on keeping its own timeline, open itself up to uncertainty and time delays?  And why does it seem to cater to the City, which is a PRP?  After all, there is a real possibility that the City is trying to use eminent domain to delay the clean-up process?  Historically, one City administration after the other has been successfully kicking the problem down the road.  That is why we needed the EPA to interfere in the first place."   http://pardonmeforasking.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2016-01-24T10:22:00-05:00&max-results=40puz

Judging from the comments to her story, many in our community have become both skeptical and depressed by the recent turn of events.  The EPA, a federal government agency, and once this community's hope for a healthier and safer environment seems to have gotten in bed with the wrong party lately, a PRP in fact, under the questionable leadership of Judith Enck.   

And where on earth did Christos Tsiamis go?


More Information at These Useful Links

Eminent Domain is Unnecessary, UNFAIR, and Fiscally Irresponsible in Gowanus! (Part Two)


CORD Letter to Judith Enck

In a Strange Twist EPA's Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck May Let Policies Rather Than Science and Engineering Contaminate Gowanus Canal Superfund Clean-Up PMFA

Tonight, EPA To Update Community Board 6 On Sitting Of CSO Retention Tanks Mandated By Gowanus Canal Superfund Remedial Plan PMFA http://pardonmeforasking.blogspot.com/2015/10/tonight-epa-to-update-community-board-6.html

PRP Definition at the EPA   http://www.epa.gov/enforcement/finding-potentially-responsible-parties-prp


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........