Friday, November 17, 2017

At Last Night's Town Hall, EPA And Congresswoman Velázquez Update Community On Gowanus Canal Superfund

On Thursday evening at the Wyckoff Gardens Community Center
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez
Peter Lopez, EPA Regional Administrator
EPA Community Involvement Coordinator Natalie Loney
Gowanus: From tidal
Walter Mugdan, Director of the Emergency and Remedial Response Division 
for the EPA's region 2 office 

Christos Tsiamis EPA Remedial Project Manager for the Gowanus Canal Superfund

Last night, the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group (CAG) hosted a town hall meeting on the Environmental Protection Agency 's $506 million Superfund clean-up of the 1.8 mile toxic canal. Representatives from EPA Region 2 were on hand to give the public an overview and an update on the environmental remediation and to answer questions from the public.

The key note speaker was Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, who was one of the first elected officials to support the designation of the Gowanus Canal to EPA's list of most toxic sites in the country in 2010, despite pressure from other electeds, including then-mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"I remember getting calls and letters under the door to my house telling me that if I proceeded to support the Superfund nomination for the Gowanus Canal, I would pay the consequences because it would bring the real estate value around the canal down," she recounted "Really?" she told the people in the audience, who broke out in laughter.

To Mayor Bloomberg's request not to support the nomination, she response was:
"Your Honor, in all due respect, I am not a scientist. I am an elected official. I will wait for the scientists to let me know what is the best way to clean-up and restore the canal." Last night, she told those in attendance: "The rest is history."

"I am so proud. Not only has this been a community driven process, but the EPA has been on the forefront of this process. One of the first actions taken by the EPA was to form the Gowanus CAG, which has been meeting monthly for so many years now."

Addressing Washington's new administration, she reassured local residents. "I know that you were concerned when President Trump sent the EPA budget to us. As we all know, the President proposes;  for that is his duty. but it is our privilege as members of Congress to dispose of the budget. When they cut the Superfund program by $360 million, we restored the funding. In 2017, the budget for the program was $1.08 billion. We are on track this year to approve a similar amount, or even slightly higher for 2018. No one should be concerned that the Superfund program will not have the money to continue this work."

The Congresswoman mentioned that she will call on the EPA to create a Superfund job training program so that "we can train able-bodied residents from this area so that they can reap the rewards of the economic activity that is going to happen here."
"We are cleaning up the canal the right way, in a manner respectful to the community's needs," she concluded. "I want to take this opportunity to say 'thank you' to the members of the CAG and to everyone in the community for being active participants throughout this process."

Velázquez then introduced Peter Lopez, the new EPA Region 2 Administrator, who echoed the Congresswoman by saying that commitment and engagement by local residents is vitally important.
He also took the time to acknowledge "the very capable team" responsible for the clean-up and to "thank the professionals who have been working here."

He called Walter Mugdan, Region 2's Superfund Director, a Renaissance man. "What I value most in Walter is his heart, his compassion and his commitment. I am very glad to have him as an ally and to help me understand this project more fully."

He also acknowledged Christos Tsiamis, the Gowanus Canal Superfund project manager: "He is hands on, very dedicated, and relentless in his pursuit in making this canal a shining star for the community."

Lopez also gave a shout out to Brian Carr, the team's legal council and to the project's Community Involvement Coordinator, Natalie Loney.

He concluded: "I would like to thank you on behalf of the EPA. We are committee to serve you. want this community safe, we want people to have a quality of life. They say that without vision, people perish. What I see in this room is tremendous vision and tremendous energy. We want to work towards this vision."

Natalie Loney gave a brief presentation on the history of the canal from Gowanus creek in new Amsterdam to a man-made waterway in the mid-1800s, which served as a major industrial transportation route, to its current status as a Superfund site.
For decades, three Brooklyn Union Gas Manufactured gas plants (MGP), paper mills, tanneries and chemical plants, which once operated along the Canal, discharged wastes into it. The resulting sludge at the bottom of the canal contains high levels of contaminants, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls and heavy metals, including mercury, lead and copper. In addition, contamination flows into the Canal by way of New York City's Combined Sewer system, which discharges sanitary waste from homes and rainwater from storm drains.
(You can access a similar presentation given by Natalie a few years ago at TEDxGowanus conference.)

Walter Mugdan then spoke on the environmental remedy laid out in the Record Of Decision (ROD), which was signed in 2013. He also updated the community on what has been accomplished, what the next steps are and, most importantly, the timetable.
Currently, the EPA is about to begin a dredging and capping pilot study at the 4th Street basin, across from Whole Foods.  Future steps will include the restoration of the First Street Basin, construction of a cut-off wall on the eastern side of the canal from the Head of the Canal to the Union Street Bridge, the clean-up of the former Fulton MGP site under Thomas Greene Park, as well as the construction of  two CSO tanks by the City of New York to capture 'the first flush' of sewage and rainwater during rain events keep it from discharging into the Canal until it can slowly be pumped to the wastewater treatment plants after the storm.

Dredging along the length of the Canal will begin by 2020. Work will continue sequentially along the canal in three sections, starting at the Norther end.

"I want to stress that this is an unbelievably complicated project," Mugdan told residents. "Problems will arise, but we have a top notch team working on this project."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Picture Of The Day: Way Up High

I think this is the tallest ladder I have ever seen.
I hope it was used to hoist material up to the roof, not to climb on.

Residents Of Second Street Near Bond Street Are Sick Of Dealing With Sewage Backflow In Their Basements

NYC DEP crew working on Second Street on November 11
photos above by Elizabeth Kinney
This afternoon on Second Street between Hoyt and Bond Streets
DEP worker checking on the sewer pipe on Second Place after back flow into people's homes this morning
This morning, several unfortunate residents of Second Street between Smith Street and Bond Street awoke yet again to find their basement flooded with raw sewage due to a back up in the City sewer line on their block. It was the second time this week. On Saturday November 11, at night, local residents had to deal with the same mess and spent their evening calling NYC DEP to get a crew out to unblock the pipes.

Though sewer back-ups have always been an unpleasant reality for residents living so close to the Bond Street sewer and to the Gowanus Canal, these backups are becoming more frequent, especially when rain coincides with high tide at the Gowanus Canal.   Many homeowners have installed back flow systems and check valves, but if one's neighbors have not done the same, the dirty, smelly water just seeps through the common walls anyway.

This morning's episode prompted Second Street resident Elizabeth Kenney to call DEP once again and to follow up with a letter to Community Board 6 to ask for help. Elizabeth writes:

I am a homeowner on (the 100 block) on 2nd Street between Hoyt and Bond Streets and am writing to report we currently have no sewer service on our block due to a backup in the city sewer line. Raw sewage is backing up in neighborhood homes and no sewage can go out.

311 was called and DEP alerted at 7:22 AM this morning. To compound problems, DOT is currently resurfacing our block.

The sewer backed up on 10/11 and DEP was on the scene and reported they were unable to unclog the street line and would send a crew on 10/12. No crew arrived to our knowlege and with the rain last night, we awoke to sewage in our basements.

I personally have reported the city sewer line backed up on nine occasions I have email documentation for - going back to 2013. I know other neighbors have called other times as well.

Our immediate need is to have sewer service restored. We also need to have this ongoing problem addressed. DEP agents told me Saturday pressure needs to be put on the mayor's office to have this line replaced because it is in poor condition and can't handle all of the influx of development.

They also reported on three occasions that the line was clogged with excessive amounts of kitchen grease likely from restaurants on Smith St who do not have grease traps. We would appreciate your help getting the appropriate authorities to inspect the restaurants between 1st Place and 2nd St on Smith. 

Lastly, the DEP agent Saturday said he saw a large amount of road debris in the line and thinks the DOT work on our block may have cracked the sewer line in which chase it would need to be dug up entirely. Hence him saying he would put in paperwork to have a camera crew come out the next day which we don't believe happened.

Thank you for your help with resolving this ongoing problem.

I met Elizabeth in front of her house this afternoon and she pointed to a house several doors down.  where a homeowner was pumping several feet of sewage out of his basement.

Elizabeth believes that her block on Second Street is not the only one that deals with back-ups and that the main problem seems to be the wholly insufficient Bond Street sewer  pipe, coupled with the recent construction of the 750 unit Lightstone Group development at 363 and 365 Bond Street, which appears to have aggravated the situation.  "It is a case of weak infrastructure aggravated by new construction" she feels.

Just two blocks further, on Union Street between Bond and the Canal, another owner seemed to be dealing with  his building's own sewage problems this afternoon, supporting the idea that other blocks feeding into the Bond Street sewer have issues as well.
If you live close to Bond Street and are dealing with sewage back flow in your basement, Elizabeth and PMFA would like to hear from you. Please leave a comment on the blog or on PMFA's Facebook page.
You might also want to join the Voice Of Gowanus Facebook Page to join others in the neighborhood who have the same issue.

The Former Hans S. Christian Kindergarten, One Of Carroll Gardens' Sweetest Buildings, May Soon Be Altered Forever

Drawing of the building from The Brooklyn Eagle, November 21, 1897
The Hans S. Christian Kindergarten at 236 President Street today
Drawing of the building from The Brooklyn Eagle, November 21, 1897
Carroll Gardens Contextual rezoning map
Who has not stopped to admire the small beige brick home at 236 President Street, between Court Street and Clinton Street here in Carroll Gardens? It's ornateness and size make it quite unusual for the neighborhood.

The two-story, stand-alone structure was designed by Hough & Duell and built in 1897 as the Hans S. Christian Memorial Kindergarten in tribute to Hans S. Christian by his widow. A Norwegian immigrant, Christian lived at 231 President Street and owned a lime and brick factory on Second Street in Gowanus.

The building's uniqueness was mentioned in a November 1897 article in the Brooklyn Eagle, which covered the Kindergarten's dedication. "It is the only building of its kind in Brooklyn, so far as known, and one of the very few in existence in the City."

Though built exclusively as a kindergarten, complete with cloak room, teachers' parlor, matron's quarters, pantry, janitor's room and sun-filled classrooms, the building was transformed into a residence decades ago.  

The current owners listed 236 President with Alex Calabretta of Douglas Elliman in June for $5.399 million. The price was eventually lowered to $4,950,000. According to the web site,  a contract has recently been signed.

One can hope that the new owner will love and appreciate the home's uniqueness and history, but the structure may be in real danger of being torn down or altered forever.
Here is why:
When Carroll Gardens was Contextually Rezoned in 2009 by NYC Department of City Planning, most of the neighborhood was given an R6B zoning, with height limits of 50 ft.  However, City Planning rezoned some pockets of Carroll Gardens, notably along Clinton Street and Court Street, as R6A, since the agency felt that many of the buildings on those blocks  already exceeded bulk and height compared to the rest of the other neighborhood. R6A allows for 70ft. height.

Unfortunately, 236 President Street, sandwiched between a row of very large buildings, is now zoned R6A, which means that someone could add 5 stories to the existing 2.
A listing for the house on Trulia makes reference to that fact:
"Live in this truly unique home while developing a project that could fund your retirement. This extremely sturdy, 2 story structure could potentially support an additional 5 floors of living space totaling over 10,000 sq. feet. With possibly up to 16 dwelling units this property could provide a sellout of over $15,000,000 at today's market prices for new condos in the area. Bring your Manhattan developers looking to dip their toes into coveted markets - Carroll Gardens."

Apparently, neighbors on the block are worried about exactly that scenario. Whether the house has been bought by a developer who will turn it into a 70 ft multi-unit luxury condo still remains to be seen. One can only hope that the new buyer appreciates history."

It would be unfortunate to lose another piece of Carroll Gardens History. Too bad the building was not landmarked long ago, together with more of the neighborhood.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Picture Of The Day: Night Falling On Hoyt Street

Try as I may, I have still not gotten used to the darkness at 5 pm.
Have you?

Sean Josephs, former Owner Of Char No.4, At Travel Bar For Tasting Of His Pinhook Bourbon And Rye

Tonight, get on over to Travel Bar at 520 Court Street, is hosting a special tasting. In addition to the more than two hundred Whiskies offered at this wonderful local place, the bar has just added Pinhook, Bourbon and Rye.

Pinhook is the new venture of Sean Josephs, who many in the neighborhood will remember as the former owner of the very popular Char No. 4, which closed in 2015 and is still very much missed in Brooklyn. Jospehs will be at Travel Bar from 8-9pm for a tasting of his Whiskies and Travel Bar will offer $8 Pinhook cocktails from 8pm-Midnight.

Perhaps we can't get Char back, but having Josephs present his Bourbon and Rye in "neighborhood whiskey loving establishment", is definitely second best.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Picture Of The Day: Rainy Day Seating

Mondays are hard enough without rain, yet there is beauty in every moment.
I had to remind myself of just that while I was walking without an umbrella on Court Street today. When I spotted these wet outdoor tables and chairs, I knew I had to stop and take a photo.

"Tastes Of Brooklyn" Fall Food Crawl Event Will Take Place This Thursday

This Thursday, November 16 from 3 to 8pm, Tastes of Brooklyn will be popular restaurant crawl throughout Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill. Sample food and drinks at some of this neighborhood's best eateries and food purveyors, including Avlee, Stinky, Esposito and Bien Cuit.
From the organizer:
"Led by D'Amico Coffee Roasters, (est. 1948) and Caputo's Bakery, (est. 1904), Avlee Greek Kitchen, Scotto's Wine Cellar, Monteleone's Bakery, Stinky Brooklyn and more, we're promoting local - highlighting exquisite cuisine, specialty drinks, artisans and more. Celebrate our treasured longtime small businesses along with sampling the new."

Tickets are $20 for 4 tastes, $50 for 11 tastes. Tickets available online.
Proceeds benefit Brooklyn nonprofit Seeds in the Middle.

2017 Participating  businesses:
Ambrosial Granola
Avlee Greek Kitchen
Bar Bruno
Bar San Miguel
Bien Cuit
Beth's Farm Kitchen
Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain
Brooklyn Strategist
Caputo Bakery
Caputo's Fine Foods
The Chocolate Room
Cobble Hill Coffee Shop
D'Amico Coffee Roasters
East One Coffee Roasters
F. Monteleone Bakery and Cafe
F.O.B. Filipino BBQ
Fragole Ristorante
G. Esposito and Sons Jersey Pork Store
Granada Wines and Spirits
Marco Polo Ristorante
Scotto's Wine Cellar
Smith & Vine
Stinky Bklyn
Sunken Hundred
Travel Bar
Van Brunt Stillhouse
White Maize Arepas

As In Years Past, Veterans Day 2017 Ceremony In Carroll Park Was a Moving Event

Some of our neighborhood veterans.
Organizers Joanie D'Amico, Glenn Kelly, Mike Polanski and Assemblywoman Simon
76th Precinct Community Council President Jerry Armer, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon
Joanie D'Amico with Officer Asanesco
Police officers Maragini and Asanesco of the 76th Precinct with Vincent Raccuglia
Buddy Scotto

Carroll Gardeners made time this past Saturday to join neighborhood Veterans at a remembrance held in Carroll Park. In a deeply moving ceremony, a wreath was laid in front of the World War I Memorial in the center of the park.
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon were on hand to remind everyone that we owe thanks to our veterans for their sacrifice not only on Veterans Day, but every day.
It is all too easy to walk past the memorial in our park without taking the time to look at the names on the bronze plaques attached to its side. Each one memorializes a young man from our neighborhood who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his nation. This week, may I suggest you take a moment to acknowledge them, and shake the hand of one of the veterans pictured in the photos above?
The event was organized by Court Street Merchants Association and Friends of Carroll Park.