In a major turn of events for the Gowanus area, Lightstone has agreed to spend $20,000,000 helping to clean up its corner of polluted Gowanus, the EPA announced yesterday. Since the developer broke ground on its controversial 700-unit apartment complex at 363-365 Bond Street, neighbors have complained of “petroleum waste” fumes that reportedly cause “light-headededness, nausea and dizziness,” according to the blog Gowanus Your Face Off.

Part of the remediation includes the removal of 17,500 cubic yards of polluted soil, DNAinfo was the first to report. Crews have already been replacing contaminated soil with fresh soil and gravel at 365 Bond Street, above, but whenever they stir up the existing soil, fumes are released, according to Gowanus Your Face Off.

The construction site was once home to dry cleaners, oil terminals, warehouses and factories, which spewed suspected carcinogens such as heavy metals and PCBs into the soil. Another part of the agreement is that Lightstone will work with the EPA on a sewage and stormwater plan so future flooding will not release contaminants.

Lightstone agreed to the cleanup in exchange for the EPA promising not to sue the company in the future for any additional cleanup work — or impact from the development on the canal (or vice versa), the EPA press release said. So if the development, perhaps combined with another flood, somehow spreads around more toxic waste, Lightstone won’t be liable.

Do you think that’s fair? Public comment on the agreement will be taken until October 8.

Photo by GYFO


A larger than anticipated crowd of over 200 people showed up to discuss their concerns and wishes and help plan the future of Gowanus development Monday night at The Children’s School on Carroll Street. The meeting was the first of a series of public planning forums called Bridging Gowanus convened by local politicians about the ongoing development of and cleanup plan for Gowanus. The Pratt Center for Community Development moderated and presented findings from previous invitation-only meetings held over the summer.

City Council Member Brad Lander remarked that with the EPA’s Record of Decision for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site and the impending transition at City Hall, it’s an important moment for the community to come together and establish a shared vision for the infrastructure of the low-lying and industrially polluted Gowanus area before planning begins. The consensus of the crowd was that every effort should be made to preserve the area’s socioeconomic diversity and keep it affordable for the mixed uses (manufacturing, residential, commercial, artistic) that currently exist. A number of local artists in attendance expressed fears of gentrification and said they felt threatened by the diminishing affordability of studio space. In brief, locals called for a rezoning to preserve affordability and Gowanus’ eclectic identity as a community with vibrant street life and activity.

Other issues raised included the need for a permanent protection plan against coastal disasters; it was noted that the current recovery infrastructure is insufficient to handle even regular rain. The group also said another priority is more schools and suitable health care facilities to accommodate the area’s growing residential population. They would also like the canal to be opened up as a recreational public waterway.

A series of followup meetings will be held early in 2014. In the meantime, anyone interested in joining a working group can contact info@BridgingGowanus.org.

Gowanus Residents Meeting to Create Development Plan [Brownstoner]

Two kayaking teams from Red Hook and Gowanus will go head to head in what they are terming the first “regatta” to take place on the polluted Gowanus canal, reported The New York Daily News. “This is the first race where the entire course, and the ensuing awards banquet will be held completely on a U.S.-government sanctioned Superfund site,” said Owen Foote, a member of the team the Gowanus Dredgers. The Dredgers will face off with the Red Hook Boaters June 15. Each group plans to raise $500 to help underwrite the Dredgers’ educational program about New York City waterways.
Gowanus Canal to Host Its First Regatta in June [NY Daily News]

Local activists are overjoyed the federally mandated cleanup of the Gowanus Canal will include not only chemical pollutants from its years as an industrial waterway but also the biohazardous overflow from city sewers during storms. The Brooklyn Paper has reported more details on just exactly how that will be accomplished: With two giant catch basins costing $78 million each buried underground at the head of the canal near Butler Street and in the middle of the canal near Third Street. Interestingly, one of the chemical pollutants in the canal is coal tar, a byproduct of the days when manufactured gas plants lined the canal’s banks. National Grid has inherited responsibility for some of that, and is one of three dozen industrial polluters who will help pay for the cleanup. As for the proposed sewer overflow tanks, they will hold up to eight million gallons of raw sewage during storms, then send the glop to wastewater treatment plants in Red Hook and Bay Ridge. As a result, discharges of raw sewage into the canal should be reduced by about 58 to 74 percent, the Feds estimate. “We have been trying to get the city to do something about the [sewer] pollution forever,” the Brooklyn Paper quoted Linda Mariano, co-founder of Friends and Residents of the Greater Gowanus, as saying. “It’s a very good thing that they are going to make the effort. That’s what we have been advocating for, for all of these years — I’m happy.”
Feds Force City to Keep Sewage Out of Gowanus [Brooklyn Paper]
EPA Unveils Cleanup Plan for Gowanus [Brownstoner]
Photo by juliandunn

Yesterday, the EPA revealed its plan for the Gowanus Canal: Dredge it, scrape up the toxic sludge, and bind the goo with sand or concrete. In addition, the plan calls for diverting raw sewage into overflow tanks until the City’s water treatment plants can handle it. The price tag is estimated at $467 million to $504 million, with cleanup completed in 2020. The public review process starts now: Two public meetings are set for Jan. 23 and 24; public and written comments will be accepted through March 28.
A Price Tag for the Gowanus Cleanup [NY Times]
EPA Looks to Spend $500M Cleaning up Gowanus Canal [NY Post]
EPA to Release Plan for Gowanus Cleanup [Brownstoner]
Photo by Genial23

DNAinfo reports on the surprising proposal of Brooklyn concrete magnate John Quadrozzi, who wants to transfer the toxic sludge removed from the Gowanus Canal to the Gowanus Bay in Red Hook to expand the shipping terminal he owns. The idea is that a larger, extended terminal will accomodate larger ships. Apparently the lowest-level contaminants from the Gowanus would be mixed with a concrete-like stabilizing material that would make it safe to use as landfill. Details on the cost, environmental issues, the legality of expanding the terminal, and what the EPA thinks are all pretty murky, so to speak. But as DNAinfo notes, “The canal’s designation as a Superfund site… grants the EPA broad powers that could permit it to simply give Quadrozzi the green light to create more property at the Gowanus Bay Terminal with the sludge and money that the EPA itself would be providing.” Quadrozzi also said he’d create a maritime museum at a ship that’s docked at the terminal.
Developer Seeks to Use Toxic Sludge as Landfill to Expand Brooklyn [DNAinfo]
Photo by Jim in Times Square

In light of Hurricane Sandy and the flooding in Gowanus, Councilmember Brad Lander has urged the Lightstone Development Group to further work with the community before moving ahead on a 700-unit rental project planned for the shores of the Gowanus Canal. Lightstone previously stated that the storm would not change their proposal for the area. Here’s a snippet of his full letter to Lightstone:

In the wake of the storm, alongside our ongoing relief and recovery efforts, it is essential to rethink our approach to the development of areas along the water’s edge, which are most vulnerable to severe weather – especially those that flooded during Hurricane Sandy. I believe it would be a serious mistake for you to proceed as though nothing had happened, without reconsidering or altering your plans, and putting over 1,000 new residents in harm’s way the next time an event of this magnitude occurs.
I therefore urge you to withdraw your application for 363-365 Bond Street, and to take part in a planning dialogue that engages local stakeholders, elected officials, and public agencies at every level of government to account for the high risk of future storm surges. With this approach, we can turn this moment of disaster into an opportunity for thoughtful planning and infrastructure investments that will lead to sound, long-term, balanced development. Without such planning, we can expect to again see the high costs and, more importantly, the tragic impacts such storms have on our city.

The proposed development would be located in Evacuation Zone A, which was evacuated for both Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Irene. The Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus (FROGG) also released a statement urging the City Planning Department to put a moratorium on the review or approval of any pending projects planned for Zone A, including that of the Lightstone Group, “until new guidelines for such development have been created.” Lightstone’s proposal, which did not have to go through the ULURP process because the Toll Brothers project already did, was previously scheduled to be discussed by the City Planning Commission on Nov. 13, but it wasn’t on the agenda and does not have a new date yet.
CB6 Says Yes to Lightstone’s Gowanus Development [Brownstoner]
Petition up to Protest New Gowanus Development [Brownstoner]
Long List of Concerns for Gowanus Rental Development [Brownstoner]
Neighbors Concerned About Gowanus Development [Brownstoner]
All the Details on Lightstone’s Gowanus Development [Brownstoner]
New Developer Eyes Toll Brothers’ Old Gowanus Site [Brownstoner]

This morning Pardon Me For Asking and Gowanus Your Face Off published the results of EPA testing in the Gowanus Canal after Hurricane Sandy. The EPA tested flood waters at the ground floor of two buildings along the canal. One building is at the head of the canal and the other one is near the 3rd Street turning basin. You can find the full release, in PDF form, here. Here are some highlights:

Levels of bacteria were high. While this type of bacteria becomes inactive over time, these findings reinforce the need for people to protect themselves when cleaning up flood waters that contain sewage and therefore contain bacteria… Low levels of gasoline and diesel derivatives were found, consistent with road run-off which often contains traces of fuel. Levels of semi-volatile organic compounds were very low or not detected… Levels of most volatile organic compounds and metals were very low or not at levels that could be detected.

The nonprofit environmental watchdog Riverkeeper also tested the waters after Sandy and found high levels of bacterial contamination in the Gowanus but also said the very high tides “flushed” the entire harbor with clean sea water.
Testing After Sandy – EPA Results [GYFO]
EPA Releases Hurricane Sandy Sampling Results [PMFA]
Photo by GYFO

Yesterday we wondered if Gowanus residents should be concerned about flooding from Hurricane Sandy, today the New York Times came out with a full-blown article. Residents, not surprisingly, are concerned about inadequate infrastructure and the toxic waters, especially in light of big development eyeing the shores of the Gowanus. According to the Times, “E.P.A. officials say that the water that came out of the Gowanus, and turned Bond and Nevins Streets into rushing rivers last week, was extremely diluted with saltwater coming in with the tide. All floodwaters, they added, can be hazardous.” As for the 700-unit Lightstone development, a company rep says the development plan already takes into account possible flooding and will not need to be changed in any way. But residents seem pretty convinced that the flooding isn’t going away anytime soon. Locals are still waiting on the EPA for test results on how toxic the floodwaters actually are; those results could possibly change the course of how Gowanus residents deal with future flooding, or if they even stay in the neighborhood.
In Brooklyn, Worrying About Not Only Flooding but Also What’s in Water [NY Times]
Should Residents Worry About Gowanus Aftermath? [Brownstoner]
Photo by Craig Hazan

Gowanus residents have started expressing concern over the remnants of flooding in Gowanus, considering the toxic state of the canal. A reader tells us: “Business and housing in the flooded areas are currently covered with a sludge coating of toxic waste left behind when the Gowanus water receded, but EPA is apparently issuing statements to the effect that there is nothing to worry about, despite the contents of their own report noting human health hazards in the surface and ground sediments of the Gowanus — which are now all over the floors of homes and offices.” The New York Daily News reported that the EPA didn’t see significant health risks because most of what spilled was ocean water. Over the weekend, residents were still pumping out flood water; the state sent emergency management teams to assist with the cleanup last week. Council Member Brad Lander also released this statement last night:

Before Hurricane Sandy hit, I contacted the US Environmental Protection Agency and NYC Department of Environmental Protection with concerns about flooding around the canal from storm surge and got a commitment from both agencies to do testing and address potential issues of toxicity created by the flooding. The EPA has now taken samples of flood water from two Gowanus businesses and will update us as soon as they have results.

You can read the statement from the EPA here. You can also keep track of dispatches from the neighborhood right here.

Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview folks involved in Brooklyn real estate, architecture, development and the like. Introducing David Briggs and Anthony Deen, the co-founders of Gowanus by Design. GbD is a Brooklyn-based urban design advocacy group focusing on the Gowanus Canal and surrounding neighborhoods.

Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how’d you end up there?
Anthony Deen: We live in Carroll Gardens although since my family is from Fort Greene it doesn’t seem like much of a move. In fact, after living in L.A. for a couple of years, when my wife and I decided to start a family, I knew I’d be returning to Brooklyn, but we really fell in love with the small town vibe here in Carroll Gardens.
David Briggs: I have lived in Carroll Gardens since 1989. I moved there since I had a couple of friends who had lived there in the 1980s. The rents were lower than Manhattan ($1,100 for a two-bedroom) and it was only four stops on the F train to Manhattan.

BS: Can you talk about the beginnings of Gowanus by Design, and its mission and goals today?
DB: Anthony and I co-founded Gowanus by Design in 2009 as an organization that would report and comment on the ongoing clean up and development proposals in the Gowanus Canal neighborhood. As pro-development residents, we had (and still have) serious concerns with the city’s planning process that was underway. We supported the EPA’s designation of the canal as a Superfund site and felt it would offer a welcome pause to the rush of luxury housing development that the city was supporting with zoning variances. After the canal was added to the EPA’s National Priorities List in 2010, we started asking a series of questions that could help define the framework for new development. We decided that the best forum for answering these questions would be through open design competitions.

After the jump, more on the beginnings on GbD, development planned for Gowanus, and the canal as a public asset… (more…)

Following the Community Board Six land-use meeting in which the Lightstone Group presented its proposal to develop along the Gowanus Canal, a group of Gowanus residents remain concerned. In anticipation of the full Community Board Six meeting this Wednesday, they started a petition to call for a new environmental review at the site. (Lightstone does not need a full environmental review since the Toll Brothers proposal was already approved through the ULURP process. They are seeking only minor modifications to the Toll plan.) The land-use committee voted that the Department of City Planning table the Lightstone Group proposal. As the petition states, “We need to let CB6 know that these recommendations have widespread community support.” At the meeting last month, some residents expressed support for revitalizing the site and opening up the waterfront; others expressed concern about the lack of infrastructure to support the development and the state of the Superfund site. Today the issue also received the New York Times treatment, which quotes more residents about what they think of the plans.
Grand Plan for a Toxic Site Is Scorned and Celebrated [NY Times]
Long List of Concerns for Gowanus Rental Development [Brownstoner]
Neighbors Concerned About Gowanus Development [Brownstoner]
All the Details on Lightstone’s Gowanus Development [Brownstoner]
New Developer Eyes Toll Brothers’ Old Gowanus Site [Brownstoner]