Site for two sewage and storm water retention tanks in NY proposed by EPA

The two sewage and stormwater retention tanks are included as part of the cleanup for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site.

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New York, NY, April 14, 2016 -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a proposed agreement with the City of New York that establishes the location for two sewage and stormwater retention tanks, included as part of the cleanup for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site. The agreement sets out a schedule for the design of the larger of the two tanks. It also requires New York City to undertake activities to prepare that location for the tank installation, and to pay EPA oversight costs. Prior to finalizing the agreement with New York City, the EPA is accepting public comments.

The proposed administrative settlement agreement and order released today allows New York City to locate an eight million gallon retention tank in New York City’s preferred location, known as the “Head-of-Canal” location, but it also holds the city to a strict schedule. The EPA can require New York City to place the tank in the Thomas Greene Park location instead, if certain activities do not occur on schedule, including if New York City is not able to acquire the land at the Head-of-Canal location within approximately four years. The EPA is accepting public input on the work contained in the proposed agreement for the next 30 days and will have a public meeting on April 25 to discuss the work being secured under the agreement.

“Cleaning up the Gowanus Canal is a daunting task which not only involves dredging toxic sediment, but also building huge retention tanks to reduce the amount of raw sewage that flows into the canal,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “Getting these tanks installed is a key component of the cleanup. The New York City Parks Department prefers not to have a large sewage retention tank permanently located in a city park. The EPA is also committed to preserving urban parkland and therefore spent time working with the City of New York about an alternate location. This proposed location meets the EPA’s twin goals of cleaning up the canal while also protecting urban parkland.”

More than a dozen contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PCBs and heavy metals such as mercury, lead and copper, were found at high levels in the sediment in the Gowanus Canal. PAHs and heavy metals were also found in the canal water. PAHs are a group of chemicals that are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil, gas, wood, garbage or other organic substances. PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment, and their manufacture was banned in 1979. PCBs and PAHs are suspected of being cancer-causing and PCBs can have neurological effects, as well. To this day, people can still be found fishing in the Gowanus, despite advisories about not eating fish from the canal. In 2010, the Gowanus Canal was added to EPA’s Superfund list of the nation’s most contaminated hazardous waste sites.

The EPA’s cleanup plan requires that New York City construct two sewage and storm water retention tanks to significantly reduce CSO discharges from two key locations in the upper portion of the canal. These discharges are not being addressed by current New York City upgrades to the sewer system. Without these controls, contaminated sewage discharges would re-contaminate the canal after its cleanup. In its cleanup plan the EPA estimated that a reduction of 58% to 74% of these discharges will be needed to maintain the effectiveness of the cleanup, and the new tanks are being designed to achieve that goal.

The EPA issued its final cleanup plan for the Gowanus Canal Superfund site on September 27, 2013. The cleanup includes dredging contaminated sediment that has accumulated on the bottom of the canal as a result of industrial and sewer discharges. The dredged areas will be capped. The plan also includes controls to prevent combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, and other land-based sources of contamination from compromising the cleanup. Under administrative orders with the identified potentially responsible parties, the EPA is currently conducting and overseeing engineering design work needed for the site cleanup. The canal design work is expected to continue for another two years, followed by the start of cleanup operations, which the EPA expects will be initiated at the 4th Street basin and the top of the canal in 2019.

The EPA’s cleanup plan assumed possible locations for the two tanks, both owned by New York City -- the Thomas Greene Park location for the larger tank at the top of the canal and the Department of Sanitation salt storage lot located at 2nd Avenue and 5th Street for the smaller tank in the middle of the canal. The cleanup plan specified that the final locations would be determined during the design phase of the project. The EPA and New York City have already agreed that one tank, with a capacity of four million gallons, will be located at the Department of Sanitation salt storage lot.

For the larger eight million gallon tank at the top of the canal, New York City proposed as its preferred location two adjacent properties on Nevins Street between Butler and DeGraw Streets. The EPA and New York City agreed to locate the larger tank at this Head-of-Canal location. The agreement also requires the City to carry out actions to prepare that site for installation of the tank, including removal of contaminated soil.

This site selection decision is contingent on New York City meeting certain conditions that have been detailed in the proposed agreement. If these conditions are not met within timeframes specified in the agreement, EPA can require New York City to design the tank for construction at the Thomas Greene Park location. Under the agreement, New York City will work concurrently on tank designs for both locations, as a contingency.

The agreement between EPA and New York City aims to avoid a potential permanent loss of parkland at the Thomas Greene Park. The park, which includes a swimming pool, is important to the community, with 40,000 visitors in 2015. The Head-of-Canal location is expected to provide additional open space in the community.

The EPA will hold a public meeting on April 25 at P.S. 32 located at 317 Hoyt St., Brooklyn, N.Y. at 6:30 p.m. to explain the work being secured under the agreement and is encouraging public comments. Comments will be accepted until May 16.

Additionally, comments can mailed or emailed to:
Walter Mugdan, U.S. EPA Superfund Director
290 Broadway, Floor 19, New York, N.Y., 10007
mugdan.walter@epa.gov

To read the agreement between the EPA and New York City, please visit https://www3.epa.gov/region02/superfund/npl/gowanus/ or visit EPA’s document repository located at the Carroll Gardens Library at 396 Clinton St. in Brooklyn, New York.

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