Gowanus Canal Superfund Meeting Recap

It pretty much felt like the Gowanus Canal becoming a Superfund site was a done deal at this meeting. Walter Mugdan, Director of Emergency & Remedial Response Division of the Environmental Protection Agency gave a clear and coherent overview of just exactly the objective of this project is. It was SO refreshing to hear someone with an actually scientific background say that “there is no RATIONAL DEBATE” regarding the fact that this area needs to be cleaned up BEFORE (unlike the Toll’s plan) building. THANK YOU!!! According to their sampling there is a tremendous amount of coal tar beneath the sediment and when the tide goes out the coal tar comes up. Coal tar is just ONE of the contaminents down there. He said that this is a “high profile” site which means it will get a lot of attention and that overall on a contamination score with the minimum at 28.5 and the highest at 100, the Gowanus Canal scored a 50 and that was based on just ONE pathway or area that they tested.

Of course there was the usual money based opposition. A representative from Mayor Bloomberg’s office appeared and burst the feeling of “YES! finally some sense is being spoke here” and said that the Mayor was against the superfunding and that developers have invested 400 million dollars in doing the same clean up as the EPA. Boos ensued, at least from one part of the room. Buddy Scotto, was absolutely seething and told certain people who want the Superfund project to happen, something to the effect of “ you are all good talkers but you have no money and never will." Paid union reps praised the wonderful Toll Brothers and complained about that the Superfunds were “undermining the development “ and also complained about the “romanticization of the Gowanus Canal”. Hey, what’s wrong with a little romance?

One of the highlights of the evening was when a CB 6 Board Member asked if maybe if the canal was polluted because of “the artists and their cadmium paint” she also compared the word “Superfund site” with having a “sex offender” in your neighborhood. You know it would destroy your property values. Call me crazy but wouldn’t a clean canal improve your property values and perhaps provide a healthier environment for your children and grandchildren?

Anyway, there is a 60 day comment period and I urge anyone who has an opinion to send your thoughts and concerns by June 6th.
Submit your comments here.


Anonymous said...

After last nights meeting, I looked up the history of the Hudson River NPL listing that EPA was so proud to indicate would start clean-up next year, it was listed in the mid 1980s, over 25 years ago for a cleanup to start. Most of us won't live to see a clean canal based on that track record of "sucksess".

yes it might be in time for your grandchildren.

Also, regarding the CM Deblasio, if you were listening to what EPA and DEC were saying, the land along the canal needs to be cleaned before the cleanup of the canal can start so its the same thing the community has been hearing for the last several years; the only difference now is that there is going to be divestment and "running for the hills". Take a cue from Toll Bros. not EPA on how development will work, it won't so they'll have to wait and wait and wait for the canal cleanup. Also as they indicated the Army Corp, now can't go forward with their proposed restoration project, they need a specific congressional authorization and funding to be able to perform such work and don't have it.

Lastly, the idea that there are 3 Keyspan MGP sites that caused this leaves out the 200 or so former noxious uses easily identifiable from the Columbia Study, it's nice to know got to visit the area for the first time yesterday and don't have any familiarity with what has been happening.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what meeting the previous commenter was at, but last's night's event at PS 32 was a breath of fresh air.

Someone is finally interested in actually cleaning the canal, not in attempting an "ass backwards" approach of dumping housing on top of a toxic canal and hoping the new residents will magically fix the problem, when the old-timers have spent decades trying with little success.

Wake up. It's time for the Superfund!

Pella Marsh said...

Thanks for the report. The Scottos are transparent and good intention Buddy might have 40 years ago was always-- repeat: ALWAYS-- only one part of the story. That the others have been systematically excluded doesn't make Scotto right and I'll guarantee I know people who can tell him more about the TRUE history of the canal than he ever suspected...

Or at least admitted publicly, when a real estate fortune seemed half a possibility.

But don't worry Buddy, people will always be dying so be thankful you have one successful business. It's more than some people ever have, so congratulations.

As for Toll Brothers, their record of corruption and disregard of the land and waters speaks for itself, and the golf course views suck too.

Finally, this is the same Bloomberg Administration that lobbied for new baseball stadiums, partly financed by the public... why again? That spent how much time and energy on the NYC 2012 fiasco?

That vilifies a person's choice to smoke (or not smoke) but wants more shoddy construction on a waterway filled with (at least) a 150 years of serious toxins?

Yeah, I'd trust them on the environment (and look what Bloomberg did and didn't do with Newtown Creek when the Olympics didn't come here) just about as much as I'd trust an undertaker.

Anonymous said...

It was clearly stated by the EPA last night that if you want the canal cleaned up, then this is the best and only way to do it. 7:43 recommends the Toll Bros. way. It is public record that David Von S. of Toll said that the canal isn't REALLY that dirty. Buddy (no friend of mine) Scotto stated that the canal was clean enough for residential development. There is no science behind Toll or Scotto - just the desire to make money. So you think they'll really do a better job than the EPA? Get real! And am I really dumb, or didn't Scotto make a big point of saying that true clen up of the canal wouldn't happen until there were enough people living alongside it to make the government clean it up! So now we have the great news that we DON'T have to have dense residential development along the canal first, the EPA is HERE!!! Hallelujah! Buddy said last night that it was the people against development who want this clean-up done. Not true. EPA even stated that they would work with whatever zoning was passed, to make the area good enough for that purpose. EPA said everything to reassure. But not good enough for Toll and Buddy and all. Because they thought they had it in the bag, with all the hundreds of thousands spent on lobbying for their agenda, and all the years Buddy spent on grandstanding as Mr. Gowanus (yeah, he got the pumping station back on, he got the funds for this and that...so he should be allowed to say what happens to it).
I was sooo impressed by the EPA last night - but I also know that Toll, Buddy, and all, had an aftermeeting. Who knows what lawyers, PR people, etc they are hiring as well. They'll be formidable in fighting this Superfund designation. So please don't feel that this is a done deal for EPA cleanup. Send your comments to the link at the bottom of the blog. Thank you. I love the Gowanus - truelly. It is a treasure, and I thank the EPA for wanting to do do a comprehensive clean-up to the best of its ability. It will take effort on that scale!

Anonymous said...

The Hudson River EPA site has been the center of much litigation. It has been up the ladder at least twice with cases that the Supreme Court has been involved. The issue mostly has been whether it was better to seal the PCB's in place or dredge them. I believe that they are being dredged out. The site was where the transformers which have contained the PCB's that contaminated everything else where built.
What I heard last night was different. The Superfund site will be limited to the silt in the Canal itself. The uplands portion will NOT be so designated and remain the exclusive purview of the State DEC...so that Toll Brothers should be allowed to build. However unless the Feds sign off on the Toll Brothers remediation and agree that they(the Feds) will not seek contribution for the silt removal from the site that the Toll Brothers occupy, the possible additional monies from the silt remediation become a burden that a lender-which may wind up owning the site if the Toll brothers default- may balk at.
No one disagrees that the Canal should be clean- its only how to clean and who should pay that will be a contention for years. If the site is so bad why is it that the Feds only discovered this a year ago?
the City's position is that the city is prepared to spend money to clean it up-sparing the landowners in the area the cost. They don't want the designation. If the City is willing to bare the cost why is the superfund site designation necessary? probably because some people don't trust the City either and those are the same people mostly who are against the development of the neighborhood at least anything above three or four stories. IMO...

Anonymous said...

To the above commenter, how about more of the real history behind the canal"cleanup". The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 and the city of New York has been dragging their feet on applying those standards to this canal and doing the work needed to comply with that federal law.
The city of NY has had more than 30 years to do what is needed here. When the city DEP finally came up with the current Flushing Tunnel cleanup plan--under pressure from the State--the work was scheduled to be completed by 2008. The city dropped the project from their priority work list and added yet more delay to beginning this piece of work. And even after this work is completed--according to DEP reports to the state--the canal may still not comply with the Clea Water Act.

The Mayor's office should be shamed for trying to delay this EPS process any further.
It is time that there be a comprehensive approach to making the Gowanus a healthy environment! We need the EPA now. The City has no real plan or method to make a cleanup plan, nor motivation for a cleanup plan. The city has been dragging their feet for decades not--so how can anyone complain that the EPA process will take time. At least it is a process--one that doesn't exist now.
It was so right for our state officials to invite the feds to here to finally take on a canal cleanup!

Anonymous said...

Also, why were the developers complaining that the Superfund cleanup would take too long.
Too long as compared to what? not cleaning up the canal?

What are these developers realy concerned about--getting the canal cleaned or getting in there to make a buck and getting out before anyone "learned" that the plase smelled. Doesn't everyone already know that the Gowanus 'smells'?

Tom Andrews said...

I am happy for the superfund designation and the skills they bring to this project. At last someone is taking on cleaning up the water, and not just the land around it. These projects need to go hand in hand.

The meeting was also a good reminder that this will take many, many years. It took over 100 years to add the contaminants. This kind of clean-up can't be done fast. If it could, why hasn't it been done already? This is a long-term ecological and sociological responsibility we have. Yes, this might not be done in many of our lifetimes, or it may be completed when many of us are old. But it will be done, at least. Any quickly performed cleanup may not, and probably won't be, thorough.

Regarding construction and development, doesn't it make sense to do a thorough cleanup before building? This might be inconvenient timing for development, but if we let development set the priorities over cleaning the canal, we might as well put our heads in the sand.

Judy said...

I think that my comment at the meeting about sex offenders was misinterpreted. I think it is a terrible idea to have our neighborhood branded and stigmatized with the Superfund site label. I think that being labeled a Superfund site is as bad as being labeled a registered sex offender. The "Superfund" label is harmful, unnecessary and will do much more harm than good. The EPA has other ways and programs to help with cleanups and we should fight for one that is faster, and which does not stigmatize as much.

While I welcome EPA guidance and support and think they should be involved and give grants to help fund the cleanup, I want the canal cleaned NOW, not in 15 or 25 years.

There are alternatives to the stigmatizing Superfund designation, including the EPA's own Brownfields program where the EPA would award grants to community organizations for studies and even actual cleanups. They could be a helpful guide and ally to the other governmental agencies that want to work to clean up the canal.

This should be a partnership, not an adversarial process. There are programs detailed on the EPA's website which involve working with local government.

Why was this done now and in such haste? Why were other alternatives not explored?

The Canal should be thoroughly cleaned up but not on the EPA's 25 year timetable. Instead the EPA should lend a helping hand and work with local government and give grants. The cleanup should be done properly in a non adversarial way and NOW, not in 25 years.

Anyone who owns property (including a condominium or coop) within 3 blocks of the Gowanus Canal should consult with an attorney before supporting a Superfund designation. The stigma and burdens are enormous. The lawsuits can drag on for years. The innocent landlowner designation is not clear cut. And even if the EPA does not sue, it is not clear that potentially responsible parties won't sue all other prps for contribution.

A Superfund designation is probably one of the worst things that could ever happen to property values, not just in the two or three block radius but in all the neighborhoods even near the Canal.

The image of the neighborhoods around the Canal will forever be tainted, despit the fact that they are safe to live in. Those who own within a few blocks of the Canal will be most harmed and will have trouble selling and refinancing. The law is complicated and is somewhat explained on the EPA's website. Even lenders may fear being held responsible.

Think of it, would you ever move to Love Canal? Would you care that the house you were considering purchasing was three blocks away from Love Canal? The Love Canal neighborhood was forced to change its name to Black Creek Village although that never fooled anyone.

If anyone owns property that is or ever was industrial, they risk being forced to do a cleanup, under the threat that if they don't they will have to pay treble damages. The EPA tried to assure people that they would be OK. Try getting that in writing. Their site states

"This Policy does not provide for an exemption from potential CERCLA liability for any party; it is a statement of the Agency’s enforcement discretion. Liability is governed by Section 107 of CERCLA. Under Section 107 (a) (1) of CERCLA a person is liable if it is the owner or operator of a facility. 42 USC 9607 (a) (1). (I think a tenant should qualify as an operator of a facility.) Under Section 101(9) (B) of CERCLA, a facility is defined to include any site or area where a hazardous substance has come to be located.” 46 U.S.C. Section 9601 (9)(B). (See http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/policies/

Instead of working with local politicians and the Army Core of Engineers and the city, and cleaning up the canal now we will rush into a process that will probably last at least 25 years, if the GE contamination in the Hudson River river is any guide.

Walter Mugdan of the EPA proudly announced that they were going to do the cleanup of the Upper Hudson River. He conveniently forgot to mention that the Upper Hudson GE site was added to the Superfund list in 1984! And in this case, GE was the responsible party. Here things are more muddled. The EPA will sue all the potentially responsible parties which include those who had nothing to do with the polluting.

Who benefits from a Superfund Designation?
1.Not anyone who owns property in Carroll Gardens or Cobble Hill or Boerum Hill
2.Not anyone who sincerely wants to see the Canal cleaned up quickly so that it becomes safe to use within the next couple of years.
3.Not anyone who owns or operates any kind of facility or has used any property in the area for any use other than wholly residential uses
4.Not anyone who would like affordable or low income housing
5.Not anyone who is interested in the jobs that the development would bring
6.Not local businesses who would benefit from additional customers
7.Not anyone who would like to see the raw sewage flows stopped
8.Not anyone who is interested in saving energy, stopping global warming or who believes it is better if people live in urban walkable communities well served by public transportation instead of in suburban sprawl where they have to drive everywhere.

Plow to Plate said...

Dear Judy,

The gig is up. Even being nominated for a Superfund site means that you can't pass off your property as clean and pristine. And Mr. Mugdan clearly reassured home owners that they would not be responsible for any clean-up costs - so please stop those scare tactics! Mr. Mugdan rightly stated that the Gowanus was already a "de facto" Superfund site. So by your logic, it is actually a great idea for property owners to support the Superfund designation for the Gowanus, because it is the ONLY way that this canal will get better. Toll Bros. has stated that the canal "really isn't that dirty", and Mr. Buddy Scotto has stated that the canal was clean enough as is for development. And we ALL KNOW that the so-called Gowanus Conservancy is really the greenwashing for development agenda -Bob Zuckerman heads them both.
Judy, since you are the person who made the comment about Superfund designation being the same as having a sex offender in the neighborhood, you are also the person who remarked that the canal's pollution was perhaps due to painters dumping canvas and toxic paints into the canal. I would like to apologize to you for laughing as hard as I did. I would also like to reassure you that none of the pollution in the canal is a result of painters and their canvases and paints.

You may want to become more informed about the nature and seriousness of the pollution before you give anyone advice about how they should respond to the Superfund nomination. Heck, you might even change your mind and support it yourself!

Judy said...


My opinion is that the canal should be cleaned to EPA and New York City and New York State Standards, whichever is highest. I want it to be completely safe to live there. I would like to see it clean enough to swim in, if this is possible. I would like to see this cleanup occur now and not in 15 or 25 years. People currently live around the canal and it should be made safe today, not in 25 years.

The secretive posting of the proposal in the Federal Register, without consulting with or even informing the government agencies currently working to clean up the canal shows that it was not done in good faith, rather it was a highly successful strike by those who do not want any development in the area. And a superfund designation gives some people exactly what they want, no development for 25 years.

These people hope “the gig is up” and they don’t care about the homeowners or other innocent property owners they hurt. Sort of a scorched earth policy by those who want cheap space and their political allies, however anyone who owns property or operates a facility around the canal should be careful that this does not turn around and bite them--the cheap space they think they are getting may turn out to be very expensive if they are found to be responsible parties. One should really read the EPA site.

I also think that it was because the EPA thinks people currently eat fish from the canal that the score was 50 on the scale. I never saw anyone fish in the canal. Because fish that have been in the canal swim to other areas where they are caught and eaten is however another reason not to delay the cleanup for a generation.

The reason I supported Toll Brothers is because I would like a public esplanade instead of what is there now. I also love the idea of Sponge Park.

I also don't think the EPA did a great job with Love Canal. I don't think they even removed the toxins--they just tried to seal them off and bury them with dirt--this time six feet deep instead of two feet deep. Now they are "monitoring" the situation.

Unlike the EPA’s cleanup of Love Canal, I think the toxins in the sediment at the bottom of the the Gowanus Canal should be dredged, dried and shipped to landfills far away from human habitation.

I do not think our communities should be unfairly stigmatized by the Superfund label. Proper cleanup can occur without it. As to who is financially liable for the cleanup, one should not just trust everything one is told.

Go to the EPA site and read what they say. It is pretty complicated. I think it is a little scary. I think that it might be wise to consult with an expert lawyer.

Margaret, I never said canvases were toxic, but I know that many oil paints have pigments such as cadmium and cobalt in them. When cleaning one’s brushes these contaminants may be dumped down drains and end up in the cso. I also think that ceramic making uses some pretty toxic substances, especially in some decorative art glazes. But it is not only the pollution that artists may have created, it is also pollution from prior owners that current owners are responsible for especially if they purchased without first doing proper environmental studies in accordance with EPA requirements.

This is a complicated area of the law and it pays to be cautious before rushing into something one does not understand completely. I also think that while the EPA may exercise prosecutorial discretion as to whom it chooses to pursue, other responsible parties could try to seek contribution from those whom the EPA chooses not to pursue.

Consulting with an expert lawyer would be a good idea. Consulting with a real estate agent or appraiser as to how the label "Superfund site" is likely to affect property values is also a good idea, and one could probably obtain a real estate agent's opinion without spending money.

Anonymous said...

Judy, do you live in the Gowanus neighborhood? Or do you live in Carroll Gardens. Clean water versus toxic water. This may not be just for this generation, but for future generations. EPA and Army Corps statistics do not lie. The results of their testing and monitoring is proof enough for the people who live in the Gowanus neighborhood that the cleanup will take money and a few years. So what? The results will be much better than the present condition of the water and land. What is sneaky about the EPA telling the community at the same time as they tell the politicians? I think the transparency is perfect and refreshing! And if you were listening, it isn't about eating the fish as much as what poisons are going from the Gowanus into other areas of the NY NJ Harbor Estuary via the fish. This is a small part of a much bigger picture.

Lisanne said...

It seems the people who are fearful of the Superfund nomination are using "property values" as their main point. I don't think the values will go down, at the moment they are going down slightly as they are everywhere in the USA because of the economic downturn. People STILL spent millions on brownstones here when it's been common knowledge about the environment surrounding the Gowanus Canal. Cleaning the canal properly will make any development a more welcome one to the community. Building on the shores of an aquatic brownfield without considering a proper cleanup is criminal.