Last night, the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (the CAG) sponsored a Town Hall Meeting at PS 32. Our EPA Region 2 Team, Project Manager Christos Tsiamis, Community Coordinator Natalie Loney and Virtually, Attorney Brian Carr were, as usual, there for us. But last night also included Region 2 Administrator, Lisa Garcia and Deputy Administrator Walter Mugdan to update the community and take questions and address neighbors' concerns from the real and virtually attending audience members about the ongoing Gowanus Canal Superfund progress. In person CAG attendees reported approximately 70 persons in the auditorium while zoom figures listed the participant number at 56.
Our Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez addressed the group pointing out that in addition to the EPA employees on hand, DEP Commissioner Rohit Aggarwala was there to speak and take a question or two- as well.
Rep Velazquez praised the community and the CAG for its dedication and reminded all of us of the now decade plus long Superfund process - how far we have come and how far we still have to go. Congresswoman Velazquez herself deserves much praise and gratitude for her commitment to not only bringing the much needed Superfund status to the Gowanus Canal but for her support in having the cleanup include and address the CSO's as part of the remediation.
She then announced that she wished to bestow special recognition to our loyal and wonderful Region 2 EPA Team. She officially acknowledged the tireless contribution to not only the Gowanus Canal Superfund project, but to our community of Natalie Loney, Brian Carr and especially, Engineer and Project Manager, Christos Tsiamis. (See Congressional Honor Award below)*
In this world of politics, business deals and money money money which we all must somehow survive, Christos has been a champion for the many when it would have been so much easier to lay down for the few. In our eyes, our Hercules has neither lost an inch in stature nor an ounce in strength - to the contrary, he is taller and greater than ever.
We salute and thank you, Christos, Brian and Natalie for all that you have done and continue to do. Congratulations on your much deserved Congressional recognition!
Deputy Region 2 Administrator Walter Mugdan took over most of the discussion. It was a different Walter Mugdan than the one we met twelve or so years ago. He seemed so eager to begin the Canal cleanup back then. He spoke of how it would take "longer than you think but shorter than you fear", with an enthusiasm and forcefulness of purpose to be admired. He had a wonderfully community focused attitude that shone through each statement and made us feel like we were finally working with the right people and this job would get done the right way.
That was not the Walter who spoke last night. Last night's Walter spoke of working hand in hand with the DEP and extending the tank construction into 2030 or so. He referred to National Grid and the DEP (the two biggest Canal polluters) as "partners." Granted, they must work together, but we thought the EPA was our partner and they were the Responsible Parties. It was Christos who reminded the group that recent negotiations with the City have yielded a slightly shorter timeline - one that Christos appears to expect the City to stick to...and it is Christos who consistently provides the answers we need to our questions about what is going on at the MGP/DEC supervised sites. (Thomas Greene Park, the Lowe's site and Public Place).
Questions from the audience were thoughtful. Many regarding those CSO tanks and their proposed effectiveness in lieu of the now approved Gowanus rezoning. The development of the newly rezoned area is now expected to bring 20-30,000 new residents. The concerns about greater CSO events and flooding in the area with all of these new residents is pressing. (When the rain falls, even just a little, our CSO's- the Combined Sewer system here in this part of Brooklyn, becomes overwhelmed and the result is the disgusting, bacteria laden raw sewage is pushed out into the Gowanus Canal - check out the now famous 'POONAMI" that happened to be caught on camera after less than 1/8" of rain) — VIDEO LINK.
This happens on a regular basis. Some of the sludge floats by and out but most of it accumulates on the bottom of the canal allowing the bacteria levels to dangerously rise. In addition to that, the toxins in the canal tend to regard the solid waste matter as a magnet--drawing itself to those solids presenting not only a bacterial danger but a deadly chemical one as well. The CSO retention tanks that the city has been dragging its feet to build- even though they are mandated to do so, will help alleviate this problem by capturing the solids and holding them until the runoff volume subsides and the sewage can be perhaps treated before it is slowly released. But there will be no tanks until almost the end of the decade and the newly cleaned and capped Canal will accumulate all that waste on its newly cleaned bottom. What a colossal shame! Our tax dollars used to put the cart before the horse when it was completely unnecessary to do so!
DEP Commissioner Aggarwala gave the attendees the now familiar version of DEP math and cockeyed reasoning. Some of the new developments (the important word there is "some") will have separated sewer systems so that the rainwater and other runoff will not go into the same sewer as the waste. By doing this, since the rainwater/runoff chiefly causes the CSO events (think poonami + 30,000 ), the "system" will actually have its volume REDUCED thereby reducing (I don't think even the DEP has the nerve to say "eliminating") CSO events and overall flooding.
If this does NOT make sense to you....you are an intelligent thinking human being.
So, the developments not directly on the banks of the Canal, but within the 80 block length and breadth of the rezoning, will probably NOT have separated sewer systems so they get added to the existing system which already has terrible problems and results in street and basement floods all over the neighborhood.
We won't need a major storm to happen TO us to have flooding and sewage backups, we are creating one of our very own.
When an audience member questioned if the size of the retention tanks would be enough with the population boom expected, Walter Mugdan was very quick to point out that the tanks were calculated to handle the growth expected.
Thank the Heavens that Christos, once again spoke truth to power. He told all of us that he himself had calculated the values for those tanks and that at the time it was done, only the Lightstone development was put into the equation. The size and scope of the rezoning was
NOT known nor WAS IT CALCULATED into the tanks' capacities. Christos pointed out that that disparity would need to be addressed in order to accommodate the change in population.
Above: Christos Tsiamis speaking
Rep Velazquez quickly looked toward the DEP Commissioner to express her view that the infrastructure must be able to accommodate the community.
There were many other questions from both in person and virtual attendees that time did not allow to be asked and answered. Clearly, as more and more details on the expected timeline and the State and City's plans moving forward come to light, there will be a need for more of these community Q&A sessions.
*Congressional Honor Award:
Other elected reps there:
+ Melissa del Valle Ortiz, Community and Housing Coordinator Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez
+ Liznel Aybar-Ventura, Deputy Chief of Staff, Senator Jabari Brisport (while they still rep Gowanus)
+ Susannah Pasquantonio, Chief of Staff, Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon
+ Arvind Sindhwani, Director of Land Use & Community Advocate, Council Member Lincoln Restler
+ Mia Perez, Education and Land Use Director, Council Member Shahana Hanif
As always, please feel free to email us at (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will bring them up at the upcoming CAG meeting.