A newly approved charter lays out the framework for how the Gowanus Superfund Community Advisory Group will navigate the long, hard road ahead as cleanup begins on the filthy canal.
Included in the charter is a line that will allow companies potentially responsible for the canal's sorry state to become voting members of the advisory group.
A 23 to 4 vote approved the charter last night at a CAG meeting held at the Jay Street offices of National Grid — one of the companies that the Environmental Protection Agency has named as a Potentially Responsible Party for the canal's pollution.
Some members of the CAG were reluctant to allow the stipulation to become part of the charter.
“I do think it would be quite wrong for us if we’re making a decision about the cleanup, if we’re pitted against the group that would be paying for it and they’re looking at the bottom line and their pockets,” said CAG member Marlene Donnelly.
“I know we want a working relationship, but I think we need to structure that differently," she said. "They should not be voting members on the CAG."
Members of the Operating Procedures Committee responded to the concern by pointing out that PRPs are members of the community as well, and that the charter’s conflict of interest clause, which dictates that members recuse themselves “from any CAG decision-making on matters in which they or their organization have a direct financial interest….” They also explained that the structure by which the CAG selects its members can prevent any one group from having an overwhelming voice on the CAG.
“I guess it’s important that everybody know that to our knowledge, no PRPs have expressed an interest in serving as a voting member on the CAG,” Craig Hammerman, District Manager of added. “We wanted to leave open that possibility should they want to sit at the same table with us and have an equal vote as any organizational or at-large members would.”
The EPA establishes CAGs in areas affected by Superfund cleanups to serve as a conduit of communication between the EPA and local communities, as well as to provide a forum for members of the public to express their concerns.
The Gowanus CAG, made up of representatives of community organizations as well as individual members, has been meeting since October 2010.
The charter’s purpose is to “offer more structure and predictability” in the group’s functions and to create “something that would be nimble yet effective in driving goals.”
Among other policies defined by the charter, the new document establishes membership criteria and responsibilities and lays out plans for transparency and communications with the larger community.
The charter also defines its expectations of the EPA, which include sending appropriate staff to CAG meetings, responding to CAG questions and requests in a timely fashion, providing support funds and resources to the CAG and offering presentations on technical and legal issues that arise during the cleanup.
As the meeting began, facilitator Jeff Edelstein reminded everyone to tidy up the room when the meeting was over. “If we can clean the room up afterwards then probably National Grid will clean up the canal well,” he joked.