Brooklyn Boro

Rep. Velázquez’ Statement on Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning City Council Hearing

October 18, 2021 By U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn)
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U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) speaks at a hearing on Capitol Hill.
AP photo by Susan Walsh

This statement was made at a City Council hearing on Oct. 14.

As I have said in the past, New York City’s infrastructure is not where it needs to be to withstand climate change. Tragically, we saw this again with Ida. In Congress, I’m fighting to pass the Build Back Better Act which will dedicate the resources needed to lead the charge on climate resilient infrastructure. Today, we are here to discuss the future of Gowanus, a neighborhood we all love and I’m proud to represent in Congress.

I support the goals of creating an integrated neighborhood with affordable housing, but it is vitally important that it is truly affordable, safe and that we do it right.  I have concerns over the Gowanus Neighborhood Rezoning. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), as prepared by the city, was fraught with inconsistencies and contradictions, and most importantly, it does not properly take into consideration the impacts of climate change on the Gowanus community and on the ongoing cleanup of the Gowanus Canal, which is an EPA Superfund site.

In a letter with Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, I asked the city to revisit their Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Gowanus rezoning. We highlighted EPA’s comments on the DEIS related to the Gowanus Canal Superfund cleanup, which EPA sent to Marisa Lago, director of NYC Department of City Planning, on August 8.  EPA has yet to see direct responses to its comments and questions, which are not adequately addressed in the FEIS.  We must receive formal responses to concerns raised.

The EPA Superfund Record of Decision issued in 2013 requires that any future development under the  city’s purview not compromise the environmental cleanup remedy.  It specifically states that redevelopment projects must prevent additional sewer load.  High-density residential development can put more pressure on old sewers risking overflow contamination of the cleanup and spillover effects.

While the Unified Storm Water Rule is a good step for new development, we must also take sanitary flows – black water – into account. In order to ensure that the rezoning does not increase combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into the canal and surrounding area, the city must comprehensively study the sewer system, drainage and hydrology and implement tools to guarantee that new development does not add to the problems but is effective at solving them.

The city claims in its EIS that the rezoning would not increase CSO loading but decrease it.  However, the EPA points out that the city relies on dated 2008 rainfall data, when more recent data is available, and neglects to incorporate its own climate change and sea level rise projections.  This must be adequately addressed.  If you undercount by 50%, your projections will not hold water. Rainfall data for storm frequency, intensity and duration are critical, and needs to drive infrastructure improvements.

An aerial view of the Gowanus Canal, showing part of the area slated to be redeveloped.
Photo by Jason Scott Jones/THE CITY

Moreover, the city is out of compliance with many of EPA’s latest orders on CSO controls, yet the city assumes in its EIS that those measures are a done deal.  The city had in July responded to EPA that it cannot meet set deadlines for completing the tanks or come up monitoring and reporting requirements. We have yet to see a formal update to this position. The city DEP negotiating with EPA on its orders, and “continuing future discussions” doesn’t cut it. The City Council can require that this city agency complies with EPA orders as a starting point, as opposed to continuously moving the goal posts.

The City Council should require that the  city fully comply with EPA’s Superfund orders as a condition of rezoning. These conditions should include the timing for constructing the CSO retention tanks and ensuring appropriate implementation of stormwater regulations, stormwater separation and treatment, monitoring, and reporting. Many groups including Community Board 6 have also called for the creation of a Task Force – with a 15-year funded facilitator – to hold the city and all parties accountable for any commitments made through the rezoning process. No such commitment has yet been made.

Our city, which has already felt the consequences of climate change, cannot afford projects that fall short of protecting human health and the environment. The events of last month should make clear to everyone that the effects of climate change are not just projections but are here and becoming more frequent. The city needs to adequately account for the fact that much of Gowanus is a flood zone.

The city also needs to do more now to ensure responsible development.  This is an issue of environmental justice, a sustainable future, and as Ida has proved, it could not be more important.  I cannot support the rezoning as it currently stands without stronger commitments.

Thank you for your consideration on this matter.

 


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