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EPA Proposes Remedial Plan for Gowanus Canal Superfund Site

By: Jonathan Kalmuss-Katz

On December 28, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) released its Proposed Remedial Action Plan (“Proposed Plan”) for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site, calling for up to $500 million in sampling, dredging, and other remedial activities over the next seven years.  The Proposed Plan, which is currently open for public comment and is expected to be finalized in late 2013, is based upon more than two years of intensive environmental investigation at the 1.8 mile-long, Brooklyn Superfund site.

After analyzing a range of remedial options, EPA proposed dredging approximately 588,000 cubic yards of soft sediment that has accumulated in the Canal, stabilizing pockets of coal tar contamination in the native sediment below prevent their upward migration, and installing a multi-layer cap to avoid recontamination of the Canal from the native sediment.  EPA envisions the off-site treatment and beneficial re-use of the dredged sediment (e.g., as landfill cover), although it is also evaluating the possibility of a Confined Disposal Facility (“CDF”) where treated sediment could be disposed in areas surrounding the Canal.   

In addition to dredging and capping, EPA’s preferred remedy includes a variety of measures designed to control ongoing sources of contamination.  Three former manufactured gas plants responsible for much of the historic contamination in the Canal are currently being remediated by National Grid under oversight of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, with measures in place to prevent the continued migration of soil or groundwater contamination.  In order to prevent the overflow of untreated sewage during storm events, EPA has called for the construction of large retention tanks that would capture and hold releases from two Combined Sewer Overflow (“CSO”) outfalls until the sewage could be pumped to a treatment plan, at a cost of approximately $78 million.  New York City (which is responsible for the CSO controls) has opposed the Gowanus Superfund listing and voiced concerns about the regulation of CSOs through the Superfund program.  The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”), on the other hand, voiced support for EPA’s CSO performance goals in a recent letter to EPA and “concur[ed] with the alternative recommended” in the Proposed Plan.   

EPA anticipates that the finalization of its Proposed Plan and development of a more specific Remedial Design will take two years, followed by five years of remediation at total cost of $466.7-$503.7 million.  While EPA is expected to expend the funds needed in the near term, the agency will seek to recoup those costs and secure remedial funding commitments from potentially responsible parties (“PRPs”) who are or previously were located in the vicinity of the Canal.  EPA has notified 31 companies and other government entities it believes to be PRPs, although their ultimate liability and equitable share of the cleanup costs (if any) has yet to be determined.

EPA is accepting public comment on its Proposed Plan through March 28, 2013.  For more information on the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site, contact Daniel Riesel or David Yudelson.

Update: A prior version of this post misidentified the author of a letter to EPA, which was sent by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, not the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.


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