Gowanus Superfund Town Hall - Takeaways from a Keen Observer

Gowanus Superfund Town Hall - Takeaways from a Keen Observer by Brad Vogel

Gowanus Superfund Town Hall - Takeaways from a Keen Observer


By Brad Vogel; Gowanus Dredgers

On Thursday, November 16, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez keynoted a town hall meeting on the state of the Gowanus Canal Superfund clean-up.  The Gowanus Community Advisory Group or "Gowanus CAG" - a 55-community member group that meets monthly to advise the EPA on the clean-up - hosted the event.  A crowd of over 200 packed the Wyckoff Gardens Community Center for this classic civic exercise: a chance for citizens to interact directly with elected and appointed government representatives.

But amidst the many remarks by politicians - Velázquez, new EPA regional director Peter Lopez, Assemblywoman Joanne Simon, and Council Member Brad Lander - the real substance of the evening came in the presentations by the EPA's Natalie Loney and Walter Mugdan, as well as in the interactions between Mudgan and citizens who posed questions at an open microphone.

While several articles have provided accounts of the evening, here are key takeaways that emerged in the course of the evening, with a focus on new developments:

- The current pilot dredging project underway in the Fourth Street Turning Basin off Whole Foods was expected to move from bulkhead stabilization (driving of steel pilings to keep canal sides from collapsing during dredging) to the actual contaminated sediment removal in December.  EPA made clear that due to some unexpected delays, that main phase of the pilot dredging will now start in January 2018.

- Previously, the community had understood that after the pilot dredging in the Fourth Street Basin, the main dredging of the full canal would play out in three segments - upper, middle and lower canal phases.  At the Town Hall, the EPA made clear there would, in fact, be four functional phases: upper canal, mid canal, and now, two sub-phases "3A and 3B".  3A would consist of a short segment of the canal just below the Hamilton Avenue Bridge in shallow waters off the city's asphalt plant and 3B would consist of deeper water dredging out where the canal begins to morph into Gowanus Bay and the harbor.

- EPA made it clear it was keenly aware of community opposition to the potential loss of the Double D pools in Thomas Green Park (as deeply contaminated coal tar plumes under the pools will need to be removed.  It was unclear whether the city would ultimately choose the Thomas Green Park site or the privately-owned site along the head of the Canal for one of two giant Combined Sewer Overflow ("CSO") tanks.

- A gentleman named Sal took the microphone at one point as the owner of the historic Gowanus Station building that the city says it would need to take by eminent domain in order to build the 8 million gallon CSO tank.  He asked why his property, an architecturally significant structure at Butler and Nevins was needed for the project.  He also held up a small flyer showing the building's facade with the words "SAVE ME" on it, as well as details for an upcoming Brooklyn Borough President's hearing on the matter on Monday, November 27 at 6 p.m. at Borough Hall.  Copies of a letter from the State Historic Preservation Office asking EPA to save the building were also circulating in the meeting.

- One citizen questioner from the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club asked Mr. Mugdan of the EPA what EPA was doing to ensure that design of bulkheads along the Canal included a means for individuals to exit the Canal safely if they fell in (whether from shore or from watercraft in the Canal).  Mugdan responded rather tersely: "If someone falls into the water, it's gonna be hard for them to get out. This is not a waterway that people should be doing anything near."  So, instead of any commitment to review further for a means of enhancing safety given the many places where community uses intersect with the Canal edge, Mugdan simply said: "Don't fall in.  Don't tip."


READ ABOUT the Dredging and Capping Pilot Study on the Gowanus Canal


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