By Aria Isberto
As an intern, I had the opportunity to attend a Community Advisory Group (CAG) meeting for the Gowanus Canal Superfund Site. Following Earth Day last month, days after activist Christopher Swain’s famed swim in the heavily polluted waterway, a spotlight was focused on the development of its ongoing cleanup. Members of the CAG and the community met, as they often do, to receive updates and to address vital concerns.
In the broadest sense, what I learned is that a CAG is one of the bridges between the federal agencies working on a Superfund site and its surrounding community. With a regularly held public forum, EPA and the CAG get to work together in the decision-making progress of the cleanup.
A CAG is made up of passionate community members of different backgrounds, representative of the diversity and interests of those affected. I observed that the meeting followed an agenda, led by a facilitator, with minutes taken and posted. The >Gowanus Canal CAG members are also organized into four sections of responsibility: Archaeology, Outreach, Real Estate, and Water Quality & Technical (but each CAG could vary depending on the need of its Superfund site).
I also discovered that there are two CAGs in New York City, 11 in EPA Region 2 and 66 nationwide. It is one of the most effective ways to connect, exchange information and meet face-to-face with the agencies responsible for the Superfund site. At the meeting I attended, EPA was represented by >Christos Tsiamis, Project Manager of the Gowanus Canal cleanup and Natalie Loney, Community Involvement Coordinator at Region 2.
After initial introductions, I knew I was in a room full of people with the same goal in mind: all wanted to make sure the cleanup of the Gowanus Canal happened, that it happened soon, and that there would be as few negative repercussions on the surrounding areas as possible. The room was represented by some staff from elected officials offices, groups such as Friends of St. Thomas Park, Langan Engineering (among many others – too many to list here!), as well as local residents.
People asked questions, voiced concerns, and presented a resolution to EPA, and I listened to the knowledgeable community members talk about the work on the Superfund site. The more technical details were immediately questioned and explained thoroughly. At the end of the meeting, it really struck me how important these CAGs are. Making sure that information about the Superfund site is accessible to all is a responsibility just as vital as the cleanup itself – and so is being aware about the matters that affect our communities!
To learn more about the Gowanus Canal Superfund site CAG, click here: the next meeting is on May 26th. Visit the EPA website to read about Community Advisory Groups, and find out how to be a part of one.
About the Author: Aria Isberto is an intern at the EPA Region 2 Public Affairs Division. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, she currently resides in Manhattan and is an undergraduate student at Baruch College. Her passions include music, writing and learning about protecting the environment.