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EPA, Voice of Gowanus, others slam city’s environmental impact statement for contested area

August 10, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
Gowanus Canal
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Several hours before the Aug. 9 deadline to submit official comments on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the massive 82-block Gowanus Rezoning, the federal Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to Marisa Lago, director of the NYC Department of City Planning, complaining of inconsistencies in stormwater calculations and asking that major sections of the EIS be redone according to EPA directives. 

The EPA has a say in the development process because the heavily polluted Gowanus Canal, at the center of the neighborhood, is a federal Superfund site.

Signed by Doug Garbarini, chief of EPA’s New York Remediation Branch, the letter calls attention to contradictions in the city’s continued resistance to building legally mandated infrastructure to control its overburdened sewer system, according to Voice of Gowanus, a community coalition opposed to the city’s rezoning plan in the area.

EPA’s letter supports some of the same arguments made in comments also submitted yesterday on behalf of Voice of Gowanus. 

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Both sets of comments criticize the city’s failure to use accurate data, execute legally mandated cumulative analysis, execute climate change analysis and execute environmental justice analysis. 

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon have led the call for full and transparent environmental impact analysis and reviewing both sets of comments, Voice of Gowanus said. Sen. Chuck Schumer and his environmental staff have been fully briefed and is expected to weigh in. 

Other city officials, including City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, have yet to take public positions on the largest attempted rezoning of Gowanus area by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Administration. 

Without the issuance of Final EIS that substantively addresses these comments, the zoning action cannot progress to the City Council. 

Excerpts from EPA Letter


Wastewater/Stormwater Calculations

“The DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement) lacks adequate clarity in presentation and supporting information in the form of data, modeling inputs, and other assumptions for the CSO-related conclusions presented therein. As a result, it is unclear whether correcting and supplementing these items will allow the preparers to still conclude that the project would result in either no increase or a net reduction in CSO loading. Similarly, based on the information provided in the DEIS, EPA also cannot discern the effect that the City’s pending 2021 Unified Stormwater Rule will have in offsetting increased sanitary sewage loading and reducing CSO discharges.”

“Specifically, this document needs to clarify whether the inputs used in model development are consistent with earlier analyses and, if not, how updated model inputs were developed.”

Watershed Modeling in an Era of Climate Change

“EPA recommends that new watershed modeling be prepared for the Gowanus watershed that updates the analysis from the 2008 model storm year to something more representative of expected future climate predictions.

“In September 2020, the City released its updated “Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines” …. Of particular note for the Gowanus Neighborhood Plan, these projections include: 1) mean annual precipitation increasing between 4% to 13% by the 2050s and by 5% to 19% by the 2080s; and 2) sea level rising by 11 to 21 inches by the 2050s and by 18 to 39 inches by the 2080s. These climate change timeframes will overlap or follow those projected for the rezoning build-out.

“Sea level rise is of equal importance to increased future rainfall, as there are certain CSO outfalls that are currently inundated by seawater entering the combined sewer system during certain tide cycles, and this problem is expected to worsen.”

 City Noncompliance with EPA Orders

“For several years, the City has been in significant noncompliance with EPA Superfund administrative orders issued between 2014 and 2016 regarding the Site.

“One potential resolution for achieving the goal of a net zero increase in CSO discharges to the Canal, as stated by certain City elected officials and community groups, as well as avoiding negative impacts to the Site remedy, may be the inclusion in any final rezoning of a condition that the City fully comply with EPA’s Superfund orders.

 Environmental Justice

“EPA is cognizant that the Gowanus area includes environmental justice areas of concern, including the proposed affordable housing at Public Place and with respect to the many residents living in existing public housing. In the DEIS, Chapter 3 (Socioeconomic) touches on some of the same issues. EPA recommends an environmental justice analysis be incorporated into Chapter 3.”

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