Advocacy by Voice Of Gowanus Prompts IG Investigation of Sewage Tank Delays

The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has opened an investigation into why officials at EPA Region 2 have failed to enforce the timely construction of sewage retention tanks in Gowanus. This issue is crucial because the EPA has the enforcement tools — including the full weight of the Justice Department — to impose remedies and restrictions on the City and State of New York but have nevertheless allowed the City to delay tank completion for at least a decade. 

The probe was triggered by an extensive complaint submitted by Voice of Gowanus that outlines how EPA’s lack of compliance enforcement in Gowanus has imperiled the remediation of the area’s toxic pollution and put the health & safety of our community at further risk.

A team of senior OIG investigators — who are supposed to be insulated from political pressures and special interest groups — is now pursuing an aggressive inquiry with the power to impose corrective actions. The federal inquiry was announced in this recent OIG Memo putting EPA Region 2 officials on notice, and was further confirmed during a lengthy briefing between the OIG investigation team and VoG members. 

OIG investigators pointed to the “lack of ambiguity” in multiple EPA Administrative Orders that require the City of New York to complete construction of the retention tanks before the allowance of any additional sewage from the new residential redevelopment of the area. But the tanks won’t be operational for at least another decade and the redevelopment is well underway.

The OIG investigators outlined an expedited timeline for the issuance of their findings and indicated that this initial scope is just the tip of the iceberg; parallel investigations and follow-on probes of involved parties such as National Grid may be necessary. We are advocating for common sense restrictions, including a sewer hook-up moratorium, that will freeze construction activities until the City stops polluting our neighborhood.  

Our pending litigation against the City (currently on appeal) contends that the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) conducted for Gowanus was fraudulent and illegal. The City and the EPA both knew that the faulty analysis in the EIS was based on sewage tank completion prior to redevelopment. The IG has the power to hold the EPA accountable for its failure to fully participate in the EIS as required by law.