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Lander Calls Upon Agencies To Coordinate Canal Cleanup

Sparring, PowerPoint slides and a CB6 vote of support ensues.

Councilmember Brad Lander kicked off the Community Board 6 Information Meeting regarding Gowanus Canal combined sewer overflows (CSOs) Wednesday night with an open letter asking the DEC, DEP and EPA to coordinate their timelines for an expedited and more efficient cleanup. He then asked that CB6 vote to support his letter.

"I think where we are compared to where we were a couple of years ago is so dramatically improved," said . "But the conversation regarding water quality and removal of CSOs has really become accellerated in the neighborhood and it got me thinking that the different processes that we have for cleaning different pieces of the canal... would be a lot better off if they could be coordinated." 

The NYC Department of Environmental Protection's ‘Long Term Control Plan’ for CSOs is currently not due until 2015, after Superfund remediation decisions will be made.

"I'm nervous that if [coordinated timelines] don't happen we'll end up with the cart before the horse," said Lander. "Let's get the conversations regarding sediment and water quality aligned."

The announcement took place inside the  auditorium just before the Department of Environmental Protection was to respond to findings from the  and feasibility study related to  into the Gowanus Canal.

While some in attendance responded that they agreed with the letter's sense of urgency, others feared that the EPA would lose its authority and that not all parties involved are working toward the same goals.

"I'm concerned that your letter is saying a little more than just 'work together,'" said Marlene Donnelly, a member of the (CAG). "I'm concerned it might be tying the hands of the EPA toward the schedule they've been sticking to. The DEP always comes on board, they don't follow through, they renegotiate and on and on. In tying the timeframe to the DEP I think we might end up with nothing. I think we have to ask the DEP to cooperate with the EPA.”

Councilmember Lander repeatedly responded that linking the Superfund remedy decision to water quality would yield a more thoughtful sequencing of cleanup efforts and that he agreed that the DEP needs to do more.

"The first and main change I am pushing for here is an accelleration of the Long Term Control Plan by the DEP," said Lander. 

Eileen Mahoney and Jim Muller, representatives of the DEP then took the microphone to lead the crowd through a 50-plus slide PowerPoint presentation responding to and refuting the EPA's feasibility study and methods.

“The EPA did sample [sewer] pipes for CSOs and risk-assessment results were based on that," said Mahoney. "But they never actually sampled solids specifically coming out of the pipes and we think that is a data gap.”

Another staggering gap exists between levels of toxins deemed acceptable by the EPA versus the DEP.

"The major difference between what the EPA concluded and what we've concluded is that the EPA says the PAH Preliminary Remediation Goal should be a level of 7.8 and we've concluded it should be 85," said Mahoney, referring to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, a carcinogen.

Ultimately, the discrepency between the two figures means that the DEP "doesn’t feel that the CSOs are contributing to human health risks,” said Mahoney.

At the end of the DEP's presentation, many in attendance rumbled with accusations of "propaganda" and "spin" as DEP is a potential responsible party (PRP) for the toxins existence in the canal.

“How can I trust you when you are one of the guilty parties?” said Katia Kelly, another member of the CAG and blogger for Pardon Me For Asking.

National Grid, another PRP, were also in attendance. Its representatives noted in a short address to the crowd that they do not expect to hold up the timeline for cleanup.

Community Board 6 members then met to discuss the events of the meeting and to pass a motion supporting Councilmember Lander's letter as well as a second motion pushing the DEP to comply with the EPA's timeline.

“This is a critical moment for achieving the long-desired cleanup of the Gowanus Canal—not only the highly toxic sediment at the bottom, covered by the EPA’s Superfund process, which I strongly support, but also better water quality, reducing combined sewer overflows (CSOs), stopping the contamination still flowing from the manufactured-gas plant sites, and improving the canal’s bulkheads and shorelines,” said Coucilmember Lander in a prepared statement on Thursday. “Taken individually, addressing each of these domains is important but incomplete. Taken together, they can be more than the sum of their parts: they can transform the Gowanus Canal from a toxic environment into a sustainable community resource for decades to come.”

“I’m grateful that the Brooklyn Community Board 6 Public Safety, Environmental Protection, Permits & Licenses Committee voted last night to support this effort," said Lander. "Together, we can achieve a once-in-a-generation cleanup of the Gowanus Canal, polluted so deeply over the past two centuries. Let’s work together to do it.”

A copy of Lander’s letter to the government agencies can be found here.

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