Last night, the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG) hosted a town hall meeting on the Environmental Protection Agency ‘s $506 million Superfund clean-up of the 1.8 mile toxic canal. Representatives from EPA Region 2 were on hand to give the public an overview and an update on the environmental remediation and to answer questions from the public.
The key note speaker was Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, who was one of the first elected officials to support the designation of the Gowanus Canal to EPA’s list of most toxic sites in the country in 2010, despite pressure from other electeds, including then-mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“I remember getting calls and letters under the door to my house telling me that if I proceeded to support the Superfund nomination for the Gowanus Canal, I would pay the consequences because it would bring the real estate value around the canal down,” she recounted “Really?” she told the people in the audience, who broke out in laughter.
To Mayor Bloomberg’s request not to support the nomination, she response was:
“Your Honor, in all due respect, I am not a scientist. I am an elected official.I will wait for the scientists to let me know what is the best way to clean-up and restore the canal.” Last night, she told those in attendance: “The rest is history.“
“I am so proud. Not only has this been a community driven process, but the EPA has been on the forefront of providing this process. One of the first actions taken by the EPA was to form the Gowanus CAG, which has been meeting monthly for so many years now.“
Addressing Washington’s new administration, she reassured local residents. “I know that you were concerned when President Trump sent the EPA budget to us. As we all know, the President proposes, for that is his duty. But it is our privilege as members of Congress to dispose of the budget. When they cut the Superfund program by $360 million, we restore the funding. In 2017, the budget for the program was $1.08 billion. We are on track this year to approve a similar amount, or even slightly higher for 2018. No one should be concerned that the Superfund program will not have the money to continue this work.”
The Congresswoman mentioned that she will call on the EPA to create a Superfund job training program so that “we can train able-bodied residents from this areas so that they can reap the rewards of the economic activity that is going to happen here.“
“We are cleaning up the canal the right way, in a manner respectful to community needs,” she concluded. “I want to take this opportunity to say “thank you to the members of the CAG and to everyone in the community for being active participants throughout this process.“
Velázquez then introduced Peter Lopez, the new EPA Region 2 Administrator, who echoed the Congresswoman by saying that commitment and engagement by local residents will make this
He also took the time to acknowledge “the very capable team” responsible for the clean-up and to “thank the professionals who have been working here.”
He called Walter Mugdan, Region 2’s Superfund Director, a Renaissance man. “What I value most in Walter is his heart, his compassion and his commitment. I am very glad to have him as an ally and to help me understand this project more fully.”
He also acknowledged Christos Tsiamis, the Gowanus Canal Superfund project manager: “He is hands on, very dedicated, and relentless in his pursuit in making this canal a shining star for the community.”
Lopez also gave a shout out to Brian Carr, the team’s legal council and to the project’s Community Involvement Coordinator, Natalie Loney.
He concluded: “I would like to thank you on behalf of the EPA. We are committee to serve you. want this community safe, we want people to have a quality of life. They say that without vision, people perish. What I see in this room is tremendous vision and tremendous energy. We want to work towards this vision.”
Natalie Loney gave a brief presentation on the history of the canal from Gowanus creek in new Amsterdam to a man-made waterway in the mid-1800s, which served as a major industrial transportation route, to its current status as a Superfund site.
For decades, three Brooklyn Union Gas Manufactured gas plants (MGP), paper mills, tanneries and chemical plants, which once operated along the Canal, discharged wastes into it. The resulting sludge at the bottom of the canal contains high levels of contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls and heavy metals, including mercury, lead and copper. In addition, contamination flows into the Canal by way of New York City’s Combined Sewer system, which discharges sanitary waste from homes and rainwater from storm drains.
Walter Mugdan then spoke on the environmental remedy laid out in the Record Of Decision (ROD), which was signed in 2013. He also updated the community on what has been accomplished, what the next steps are and, most importantly, the timetable.