EPA to present on Superfund at Newtown Creek CAG meeting, this Thursday

by James Curcuru on

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will present the results of its Phase I evaluation of the Newtown Creek superfund site. Studies wrapped up in February of this year and focused on remedial investigation and project feasibility, including: shoreline assessment, creek-bed and fish community surveys, and the sampling of surface sediments and surface water.

Newtown Creek Superfund remedial project manager, Caroline Kwan, had originally been scheduled to appear in October to discuss the EPA’s findings, but the federal government shutdown forced a rescheduling. The EPA is expected to give this presentation at the upcoming Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) meeting:

Thursday, November 21, 2013
LaGuardia Community College (31-10 Thomson Ave.)
E Building, Room E501
6:30pm to 8:30pm
Please note, there will be ample time for questions and discussion about process, sampling, reports, and next steps.

October’s CAG meeting at the Newtown Creek Waste Treatment Facility’s visitors center marked several turning points for the group. Entering a transition period, much of the meeting was spent reflecting on the progress of the Superfund process, its current status, and how the CAG can best focus its energies moving forward.

CAG Agenda, Past Meetings

The CAG’s co-chairs, Kate Zidar and Ryan Kuonen, serve as the managers and facilitators of all CAG meetings, and are responsible for each meeting’s agenda, scheduling and logistics. Both Zidar and Kuonen devoted time to reviewing exactly what the CAG’s central roles and responsibilities are, including those of its Steering Committee and co-chairs. They also provided the larger group with a general timeline of the major Superfund events thus far, and later solicited the group for suggestions as to where it will go from here.

This meeting also marked the end of Kate Zidar’s tenure as co-chair. Mike Schade, nominated by the Steering Committee, introduced himself to the larger CAG with a summary of his professional background in environmental justice, and was then confirmed through a consensus vote of all CAG members in attendance. He is a Greenpoint resident, long-time environmental advocate, and has been a GWAPP content contributor.

Among other duties, co-chairs are expected to foster consensus on CAG initiatives. Co-chairs are nominated during meetings of the CAG’s 15-member core of “recognized community leaders,” known as the Steering Committee. Co-chair nominees are then confirmed by a consensus vote open to all CAG members in attendance at the next general CAG meeting.

Ryan Kuonen, will remain in her role as co-chair for the immediate future, but reminded the Brooklyn-heavy crowd that the CAG also represents Queens, and encouraged any interested Queens residents to get involved in the Steering Committee or to seek a co-chair position. According to CAG protocol, the ideal dynamic is having one co-chair represent Brooklyn, the other Queens.

A brainstorming session was then held to elicit ideas for future CAG meetings, which yielded a short list of topics to study, targeted environmental concerns, and similarly-minded initiatives in the area, like the Newtown Creek Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) Plan. This compiled list was then voted on by the full CAG membership. Each member was given two green stickers to place next to the topic(s) that were their highest priorities. The results will be used as a template for the agenda that the Steering Committee and co-chairs will formalize for the coming year.

CAG Topics

The list of topics, with number of votes in parentheses, is as follows in order of votes. The steering committee will discuss the highest ranked topics in order to develop strategies for addressing the topics (e.g., inviting speakers, forming subcommittees, conducting outreach and/or research):

  • Mayor’s office/Office of Long-term Planning/tide gates (13),
  • Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) (12),
  • Ultimate goals for Newtown Creek/BOA plan (7),
  • Community health effects, including NYS DOH update (5),
  • Eventual disposition of dredged material (4),
  • EPA biological census/ecological risk assessment (4), and
  • Aeration (3).

Finally, the CAG’s co-chairs also sought to clarify what the CAG does not do. For example, it does not give statements to the press meant to speak for the CAG as a whole. This policy is meant to reflect and preserve the diversity of interests and opinions found within the group. Another pressed point was the importance of pursuing clearly-defined goals and having realistic expectations. The CAG’s function is to provide the EPA with advice and input in regards to the study and cleanup of Newtown Creek–however, the EPA has no obligation to accommodate them.

The Superfund’s narrow scope, which is strictly limited to the study and cleanup of Newtown Creek and its sediments, was also reinforced. Therefore, it was stressed that the CAG was not the ideal venue to discuss other local issues, such as waterfront redevelopment or the newly-christened environmental grants program established as part of a settlement with ExxonMobil.

View the official minutes of the October 2013 CAG meeting [PDF]. View the CAG website.

James Curcuru

James Curcuru

James Curcuru is a Greenpoint resident interested in the overlap between the Newtown Creek Superfund process, Newtown Creek Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA), the Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund (GCEF) and the continuing redevelopment and demographic changes of the North Brooklyn area. He hopes to promote an awareness of and greater familiarity with the area's large array of community organizations, non-profit groups, business coalitions, and governmental agencies. He holds a B.S. degree in English from Fordham University and has taught English for the last 3 years.