EPA, electeds left in the dark on construction at toxic Gowanus Brownfield site as developer seeks to avoid 421-a deadline

A bunch of elected officers are elevating the alarm about potentially-hazardous construction on a toxic Brownfield cleanup site beside the Gowanus Canal.

On Friday, May 19, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon’s office began receiving cellphone calls about ongoing, sudden pile driving at a privately-owned parcel Brownfield site known as 459 Smith Street, previously a part of the bigger Public Place former manufactured gasoline plant site, additionally recognized as the Citizens former MPG site.

The pile driving was loud and disruptive, inflicting vibrations that shook the neighborhood. More importantly, the work was filling the air with the scent of coal tar, a toxic, carcinogenic sludge left in the floor by the previous gasoline plant, in accordance to a letter Simon and her colleagues U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez and New York City councilmembers Shahana Hanif and Lincoln Restler despatched to metropolis and state officers on Friday afternoon.

public place gowanus brownfield site
The notorious Public Place Brownfield site in Gowanus is adjoining to the 459 Smith Street site, which is owned independently however has related ranges of contamination. Photo by Kirstyn Brendlen

While Simon was working in Albany, a few of her staffers headed to the site from their office on Smith Street, the pol advised Brooklyn Paper. 

“They spoke to workers there … who didn’t know it was an environmentally toxic site,” Simon mentioned.

Staffers began reaching out to the businesses chargeable for the site — the federal Environmental Protection Agency, who’re overseeing the whole Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, who’re chargeable for the Brownfield cleanup, and the metropolis’s Department of Buildings.

Responses got here slowly, or not at all, says the letter, which was despatched to commissioners at the DEC, DOB, and the metropolis’s Department of Environmental Protection. Pile driving continued till Saturday.

EPA left in the dark

The elected officers weren’t the solely ones frightened about the construction. At a meeting of the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Committee on Tuesday, Christos Tsiamis, the remedial project supervisor of the federal Gowanus Superfund cleanup, mentioned he hadn’t recognized about the work till group members and elected officers alerted him and his colleagues at the Environmental Protection company.

“That was a big, capital B-I-G, surprise to me,” Tsiamis mentioned at the meeting. “It was the first that I had heard of it, last Friday. I had concerns.”

Tsiamis mentioned he was frightened as a result of the site is contaminated and abuts the polluted canal — but in addition as a result of the site is getting used as a staging space for the Superfund cleanup, and the EPA is storing monitoring and filtration gear that would have been broken by the vibrations on the site.

“We were really upset by the fact that we were not notified,” he mentioned. “I sent an email to the owner’s legal representative outlining my concerns and requesting certain information.”

As he waited for a response, which got here on Friday night, Tsiamis despatched one other e-mail, this one asking the proprietor to briefly cease the construction till the EPA might evaluation the info they requested.

On Monday May 23, Tsiamis came upon that his request had been disregarded, and pile-driving had continued by way of the weekend, together with on Sunday. According to Friday’s letter, the work lastly stopped on Tuesday May 24.

The EPA might do not more than request that the work was stopped, Tsiamis mentioned, as a result of the company doesn’t have direct authority over that site, which is being cleaned up by National Grid, considered one of the “Potentially Responsible Parties” recognized as chargeable for funding the cleanup, and New York State.

The project supervisor was additional stunned to study that the construction had been in the works for months. 

According to paperwork filed on the metropolis’s Zoning Application Portal, the proprietor of the lot, a Foreign Limited Partnership known as HR DC Smith Street Owner, finally plans to erect three mixed-use buildings on the site.

City rules allowed for permits to be issued to the site — and any site inside a Waterfront Area — as lengthy as an environmental remediation plan had been submitted to DEC and a site plan had been submitted to the metropolis’s Department of City Planning.

With the paperwork submitted to the right events, DCP gave DOB permission to grant the permits in March. Earlier this month, the developer was given a allow to lay 100 sq. toes of basis — noted as a “421a pile installation.”

gowanus canal brownfield site
The Gowanus Superfund site is surrounded by heavily-contaminated Brownfield websites, together with the 459 Smith Street site, the place piles have been pushed with out warning final weekend. File picture by Kirstyn Brendlen

To be eligible for tax breaks underneath New York’s controversial 421a program, residential builders should have began construction by June 15, when the incentive is ready to expire.

“I’m sure you’re aware of the 421a program, which is the purpose that these piles are going in,” mentioned DEC consultant Kiera Thompson at Tuesday’s meeting. “They have until June 15 to place the piles in the sites to qualify for tax credits.”

As of Friday night, DOB had additionally granted an after-hours variance permitting the set up of concrete footings “including excavation, forming, tying rebar and pouring concrete” on the site on two consecutive Sundays — May 29 and June 5. Calls to Empire Management, who’re listed on allow paperwork as the proprietor of the site and have been CC’d on the letter, weren’t picked up or returned on Friday night.

“The EPA, I would say, has been extraordinarily communicative and honest with community members,” Simon mentioned. “As a result, the community has particular faith in the EPA.”

But the metropolis’s preliminary reluctance to designate the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site and the ongoing delays in establishing two much-needed sewage retention tanks have made Simon and the group cautious, she mentioned, and the DEC leaves a lot to be desired communication-wise.

DOB didn’t instantly reply to request for remark on Friday night.

“That’s why we’re sending this letter,” she mentioned. “If you’re going to put in building permits, we want to know about it. We want to know what work is going to be done. There has to be communication with the community, there has to be communication with elected officials.”

A DEC consultant advised Brooklyn Paper that the company had acknowledged a “change in use” letter from the developer, who deliberate to set up a “limited number of piles in certain locations,” and that the work has since been accomplished. The division just isn’t chargeable for denying or issuing permits, the spox mentioned, and directed additional questions to the metropolis.

Simon and Velázquez, together with the EPA and group members, known as the Gowanus rezoning into question final year, citing out-of-date and inaccurate rainwater modeling utilized by the metropolis as they assessed the environmental influence of the cleanup.

“The Gowanus rezoning was approved contingent upon a list of conditions the community expected to be fulfilled, especially with regard to the integrity of the Superfund remedy to ensure the health and safety of existing and future residents,” the letter reads. “Failure to communicate about this recent pile driving does not bode well for the public trust which needs to be repaired.”

Health and security considerations at the Brownfield site

Simon mentioned she hoped to see construction stopped briefly till elected officers and the EPA can verify that the work is up to requirements and protected for each the fragile setting and close by residents.

The state calls the 459 Smith Street Brownfield a “significant threat to human health and the environment,” and it’s listed as an energetic, ongoing cleanup — as is the adjoining Public Place Brownfield. 

A supplemental investigation carried out at 459 Smith Street final year discovered unacceptable ranges of harmful semivolatile natural compounds in the soil at the site and confirmed that any future buildings ought to embrace soil-vapor intrusion boundaries, which might forestall these chemical compounds from rising into buildings in their gaseous types. 

An April 8 replace posted to the Citizens MPG website says that National Grid has accomplished remediation at the site as required by the DEC, although the state’s web sites don’t mirror that.

In February, the EPA mentioned that the state’s deliberate cleanup at Public Place won’t be up to the federal company’s requirements, and urged the division to take one other look at their plans and make modifications the place mandatory.

“EPA has jurisdiction on things relating to the Superfund site,” Tsiamis mentioned on Tuesday. “The Gowanus Superfund site is not just between the two banks of the canal. It goes wherever the contamination exists and potentially affects the canal.”

While the EPA won’t formally have had the authority to cease construction at the Smith Street brownfield, he continued, he felt they need to have been ready to implement that order due to the site’s proximity to the canal and the incontrovertible fact that the site was contaminated by the similar corporations and chemical compounds that trashed the canal.

“If there are similar cases, we are going to try to establish some procedures, so at least we have advanced notice of this type of development work,” he mentioned.

Simon hoped to reassure her constituents that she and her colleagues are “fighting for transparency and accountability at this site,” she mentioned. “And all the local elected officials are working together to ensure that.”

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