From a recent interview out at the reservoir:
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Friday, July 25, 2014
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
After over 7 years of Brooklyn and Queens residents fighting to prevent the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation from needlessly spending millions of taxpayer's dollars to destroy an environmentally significant 50 acre site, it appears that we are nearing the end of the road.
On Monday, June 30, 2014, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, along with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, held a public meeting at St. Pancras School in Glendale, Queens. The purpose of the meeting was to answer questions about the imminent decommissioning process of the Ridgewood Reservoir, which, according to the parks department application to the NYSDEC, would involve creating three very large breaches in the reservoir's surrounding berms. In fact, one would be large enough to allow trucks to enter the basins and drive along a roadway that will be constructed. You can read some of the media coverage of the meeting here. I was not completely happy with the coverage as most of the reporters seemed to have overlooked some of the most significant revelations during the question and answer period.
The meeting represented the climax of the parks department's campaign of misleading the community about their intentions and being completely disingenuous over the past 7 years when it came to responding to the community's desires and concerns. In 2007 the parks department began a series of public meetings entitled "Community Listening Sessions Regarding Future Plans for the Ridgewood Reservoirs". What, on the surface, appeared to be a genuine interest in the public's aspirations for their future use of this unintentional nature sanctuary, soon became clear was merely lip service as they had already decided on the area's long term development. When the community unequivocally declared that they did not want the reservoir basins developed, the parks department responded by having a second set of surveys filled out by a group who was shilling for their plan. It should come as no surprise to anyone that, despite past assurances, the parks department will be breaching the basins, creating roads and ramps to allow truck access and giving permission to the contractors to "dewater" (drain) the work basins as needed. All this will happen despite the fact that the parks department's own contractors determined that not only is the site ecologically significant, but certainly wetlands and that the basins contain at least 3 endangered species of plants.
Here is a summary of the June 30th meeting:
Joelle Byrer, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Queens Capital Team Leader
Jonna Carmona-Graf, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Chief of Capital Management
Thomas Panzone, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Regional Citizen Participation Specialist
Alon Dominitz, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Chief of Dam Safety
Venetia Lannon, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Region 2 Director
Steven Zahn, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Regional Natural Resources Supervisor
Also present but did not participate in the meeting was NYC Department of Parks and Recreation park administrator Debbie Kuha.
Moderator: Thomas Panzone
The meeting began with an introduction by Venetia Lannon. Two years ago Ms. Lannon visited the reservoir with members of Queens Community Board 5. I was present for the tour and while speaking positively about the site's habitat, she made no commitment to her agency responding to our wetlands mapping application.
Ms. Lannon gave a brief intro pertaining to the purpose of the meeting, which was mainly to hear the community's concerns about the decommissioning process. This was motivated, primarily, by all the letters they received from community groups and political leaders questioning the reservoir's designation. She started by describing the physical properties of a dam as being any structure that can impound water. According to her, the reason why the Ridgewood Reservoir's basins were classified as "Class C, High Hazard" was that in 2009 the standards were upgraded following Hurricane Irene. However, after the meeting I was informed by a lawyer from the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project that, in fact, standards were actually raised after the September 11th attacks out of fears of terrorists targeting dams. Ms. Lannon continued that the plan by engineers hired by the parks department is to prevent the dam from holding any water. She tried to assure us that the plan would not change the hydrology of the area. That assurance was contradicted later in the meeting when Alon Dominitz of the NYSDEC claimed that the basins held water because of the design's clay liner, which would be punctured during the construction (or deconstruction). I'm not an expert, but I'm guessing puncturing the clay liners would significantly alter the site's hydrology.
Venetia Lannon's brief presentation was followed by a 4 slide slideshow from Joelle Byrer, the parks department's Queens Capital Team Leader. She began with a description and overview of the three basins. One of the main points of contention would be the creation of an access road through the basin. This road would run directly through the wet meadow and wetland habitat at the south end of the basin. When the breaches are completed the road will continue to be used to remove invasive trees and other plant species and to allow their replacement with native plants. Ms. Byrer also presented three slides of the elevations and plans for each breach. I would have requested copies of those slides for this posting, but given past experience, was concerned it would take too long:
At the conclusion of this segment Thomas Panzone moderated a question and answer period. Here is a summary of the more important questions.
Steve Fiedler, the chair of the parks and conservation committee of Queens Community Board 5 wanted to know why they needed such a heavy handed approach, referencing the 11' x 15' tunnel into basin 3 and construction roadway within it. The response only reiterated that they needed to decommission the "dams" and that they planned to use the roadway afterwards to remove invasion plants.
Tom Dowd of the Earth Society Foundation expressed the frustration that many in the community have been feeling when he demanded of the NYSDEC why after 3 years they have still not responded to the application for wetlands protection. He followed with, "How much rain do they expect it would take to destabilize the reservoir?" Steven Zahn, NYSDEC Regional Natural Resources Supervisor, said he never acted on the wetlands protection application because they were understaffed and that Hurricane Sandy issues had made Ridgewood Reservoir a low priority. Regarding the second question, NYSDEC's Chief of Dam Safety, Alon Dominitz responded that he didn't know.
A second question by Steve Fiedler inquired exactly how many trees will be removed from basin 3. Parks representatives estimated 262 "invasive and non-viable trees". He later asked, "You plan on removing over 208 mature trees, how old will the replacement trees be?" Jonna Carmona-Graf of parks Capital Projects replied that they will be an average of 2 - 3 inches in diameter.
Annie Wilson, a lawyer with the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, asked the NYSDEC representatives, "Where does our application stand in the cue and how long will it take to follow up?" NYSDEC Regional Natural Resources Supervisor Steve Zahn replied that there are currently no other applications ahead of us, but that he didn't know how long it would take. Following up, Ms. Wilson asked if they can hold off on the breaching for the wetland mapping to be addressed. Jonna Carmona-Graf of the Department of Parks and Recreation replied, "No", although this question was asked to NYSDEC. Mr. Zahn did not respond to this question.
When asked if there were any future projects planned for the basin's interiors, Ms. Bryer responded that there is currently no funding for any development.
Representing the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance, I pointed out that Round Mt. Ecological, LLC., contractors hired by parks, identified the south end of basin 3 as wetland habitat. My question was, "Did you not refer to that report before designing the roadway through the south end of the basin?" Jonna Carmona-Graf replied that they looked at the basin again and it's not really a wetland anymore. I should also point out that during a meeting at Oak Ridge in 2007 I asked Ms. Carmona-Graf when we could receive a copy of the report from Round Mt. Ecological, LLC. She replied that they needed to read through it first then decide what they'd be releasing to the public. Thankfully we were able to acquire a copy through another source.
Charles Monaco of the HPRRA asked, "Will the decommissioning design take into consideration the historic architectural features and artifacts of the basin?" Responses from both Ms. Byrer and Ms. Carmona-Graf were vague and seemed to indicate that they would not take them into account. What their answers did reveal, however, was that the construction process would also include building an earthen ramp into basin 1 to allow truck access. According to both the Round Mt. report and a report by NYS certified wetlands delineator Mickey Cohen, basin 1 contains the most sensitive habitat of the entire site.
Steve Zahn of the NYSDEC was asked why hasn't this decommissioning application caused his agency to push the wetlands protection application further along. His answer was appallingly unprofessional, as well as, non committal. He said, "Nothing led them to believe that the environment was in danger of imminent development." Followed by, "We will take a hard look at basin 3."
As an admitted virtual outsider attending his first meeting, Brooklyn Bird Club President Rob Bate tried to understand the dynamics of mistrust between the various factions. He explained that, what he inferred from all the published material, was the community didn't want active recreational facilities within any of the basins and that they didn't trust the parks department's commitment to that desire. His question to the parks department was, "Do we have your assurance that no active recreation facilities will ever be built within basin 3?" Ms. Carmona-Graf's response was very significant. She replied, "At this time we don't have any plans." With further questioning she would only say that they don't have any capital projects planned short term, but wouldn't commit to anything regarding protecting the basins in the future.
The whole issue of the Ridgewood Reservoir being designated by the NYSDEC as a Class C, High Hazard dam revolves around the agency's duty to protect the public from, in this case, torrents of uncontrolled water spilling through populated areas, destroying lives and property. To anybody familiar with the Ridgewood Reservoir, this concern seems utterly preposterous and the millions of dollars necessary to prevent that situation an incredible waste of taxpayer's money. The following question, which was likely on most people's minds was asked to Alon Dominitz, Chief of Dam Safety, NYSDEC. What scenario do you anticipate would create the catastrophic conditions that would cause the dams to fail and what is the probability of it occurring? Mr. Dominitz proceeded to describe the two most common types of failure mechanisms of earthen dams. One is "overtopping". Overtopping is self explanatory and involves more water ending up in a reservoir than it can contain. The second mechanism is called "piping". According to the website damsafety.org, piping is "internal erosion caused by seepage. Seepage often occurs around hydraulic structures, such as pipes and spillways; through animal burrows; around roots of woody vegetation; and through cracks in dams, dam appurtenances, and dam foundations." There is no permanent standing water in basins 1 and 3, and only 2 feet to 5 feet of water in basin 2 (nobody has actually done any water depth tests in basin 2), so concern for a catastrophe from piping action is absurd. He could not answer the question about the conditions that would cause either situations in the Ridgewood Reservoir basins nor the probability.
In an attempt to establish a historical context for the breaching of the Ridgewood Reservoir it was asked if there are there any Class D, Low Hazard dams within 25 miles of NYC and can they be visited. In addition, of these, how many were breached to become Class D? Alon Dominitz replied that he didn't know, but could probably provide that information. A follow-up question concerned who actually made the decision to classify the Ridgewood Reservoir as a Class C High Hazard dam? Was it the Commissioner of the NYSDEC? Mr. Dominitz replied that it was "a staff decision".
Based on information gleaned from the "FINAL Ridgewood Reservoir Permit" application, I asked, "What is the actual mechanism and purpose of the breaches? Is it to allow any built up water to flow from one basin to the other then into the storm drain on Vermont Place?" Nobody from the NYSDEC would volunteer an answer, but Ms. Carmona-Graf replied that "it is to create a breach". I tried to reword the question but she would only say that the purpose of the "breaches was to create breaches".
Annie Wilson from the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project continued her questioning about the wetland protection application that was submitted several years ago. She asked if we could revisit the classification process. Also, "What is the August deadline about?" According to the NYSDEC, not decommissioning the dam is a violation of the Environmental Conservation Statutes. When asked if we could we get a waiver, Mr. Zahn replied that there are extensions, but that the NYSDEC has never given one. He added, though, that he will take it into consideration.
Finally, Vincent Arcuri, Chair of Queens Community Board 5, asked if representatives of the NYSDEC and NYC Department of Park and Recreation would consider meeting with the community board to discuss an extension for the decommissioning process in order to allow for the application for wetlands protection and mapping to be completed. They responded that they would agree to meet with the community board.
It is unclear to everyone involved with trying to protect this natural gem on the Brooklyn/Queens border why the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is so set on destroying habitat rather than saving and enhancing it. At a press conference in 2004 when the NYC Department of Environmental Protection turned over the deed to parks, Mayor Bloomberg referred to it as an "untended wetland". The former mayor's PlaNYC 2030 called for a new wetlands initiative to expand and enhance existing state and federal wetlands protection. It seems as though that forward thinking concept has fallen by the wayside, at least with regard to the Ridgewood Reservoir's habitats.
This issue has attracted the attention of and assistance from a wide range of individuals, political leaders, community organizations and conservation groups. Throughout the past 7 years one question kept arising - Why would a city agency charged with protecting green spaces be trying so hard, and against the wishes of the people they are supposed to be serving, to devastate a nature habitat the likes of which New York City haven't seen in centuries? Many people think that, perhaps, a favor is owed to someone that will be repaid in the form of a lucrative contract. Others feel that it is merely the result of governmental mismanagement. There is even the theory that without this project some people in Capital Projects would be out of a job. Conjecture abounds, but I don't think we will ever know the truth behind this major screw up if it in fact does proceed as the parks department plans. The Ridgewood Reservoir would forever represent poor planning, mismanagement and lost opportunities in the annals of New York City government. This evolving urban hardwood forest, wetlands, wildlife magnet and the extraordinary educational opportunities it would have afforded New Yorkers will never happen again.
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Wednesday, July 2, 2014
It was just brought to our attention by one of our supporters that the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has no problem destroying wetlands. In their "FINAL Ridgewood Reservoir Permit" application is a section labeled Item No. XX, "TEMPORARY WATER CONTROL AND DEWATERING". In essence, it states that the contractor will have the discretionary power to DRAIN THE BASIN if the water is felt to be in the way of the intended work. Keep in mind that the parks department's own environmental contractor (Round Mt. Ecologic LLC) had deemed most of the area to be wetlands. We also hired an independent, certified wetlands delineator who arrived at the same conclusions.
I'll be posting a summary of Monday's public meeting with the NYCDPR and NYSDEC shortly. In the meantime, here is Section XX from the permit application:
CITY OF NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF PARKS AND RECREATION
ITEM NO. XX TEMPORARY WATER CONTROL LUMP SUM AND DEWATERING
WORK: This section specifies the removal and control of all water in the work area in order to permit all excavation, construction, installation, and related decommissioning activity to be performed “in the dry.” The work under this section includes the furnishing of all labor, equipment, supplies, materials and utilities required for the operation, maintenance and supervision of the control of all water, including surface water and groundwater, such that all construction within this Contract can proceed unhindered by water and flow into or through the work areas. All work shall be performed in accordance with the Contract Documents and to the satisfaction of the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR) and its Resident Engineer.
Ridgewood Reservoir was formerly utilized as a water supply distribution reservoir by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), but is no longer in service. The reservoir basins have been disconnected from the water distribution system and drained. The Contractor should be aware Basin 2 (Middle Basin) continues to impound an area of standing water. The Contractor is hereby made aware that the NYCDPR has no control over inflows into the work area. Major rainfall events may cause the water level in the basins to rise and lead to potential inundation of the work site.
The Contractor shall be responsible for determining the need for and the means and methods of implementing water control, including dewatering, during the work of the Contract, except as specifically stated herein and in other Sections. The Resident Engineer will monitor conditions at the site and the effects of water levels and flows on the Work. If, in the Resident Engineer’s opinion, the presence of water has the potential to create a deleterious effect on the Work, then the Contractor shall take measures to control such water to the satisfaction of the Resident Engineer at no additional cost to the NYCDPR.
The Contractor shall remove all pumped water away from the work area, and provide sedimentation controls in accordance with all applicable local codes and law as well as the Sedimentation and Erosion Control and Surface Water Control Sections of the Contract Documents. Effluent shall be discharged back into the basins. The Contractor shall take all necessary precautions to prevent flow or seepage back into excavations. All handling and disposal of surface water shall be in accordance with regulations set forth by federal, state, and local agencies. Discharge into storm drains is specifically precluded.
ADHERENCE TO REGULATORY CONDITIONS: All work shall comply with all codes, rules, regulations, laws and ordinances and executed in conformance with any permits, licenses etc., as issued by the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR), the City of New York, and all other authorities having jurisdiction within the project areas. All work necessary to make the work site comply with such requirements shall be provided without additional cost to the NYCDPR.
The Contractor shall procure all other required permits and licenses, (except for those to be obtained by the NYCDPR as stated herein), pay all charges, fees and taxes and shall give all notices necessary and incidental to the due and lawful prosecution of the work under this Contract. The cost thereof shall be included in the prices bid for the various items specified herein for the work of this Contract. Copies of all required permits and licenses shall be filed with the NYCDPR prior to the beginning of the work.
The Contractor shall be responsible for submitting a Notice of Intent (NOI) General Permit for the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (Construction Stormwater General Permit) – NY SPDES. As part of this process, the Contractor shall be responsible for developing a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) for the Project Site, which shall be submitted to the NYCDPR for review and comment. In any event, the Contractor shall be required to develop and submit an Erosion and Sediment Control Plan in accordance with the Contract Drawings. The Plan will encompass the implementation of sediment, erosion, and water control performance specifications. All temporary dewatering and water control measures must be installed and maintained in accordance with the approved sediment and erosion control plan (or SWPPP).
1. Not less than ten (10) days prior to the scheduled start of work, the Contractor shall submit his proposed method of controlling surface water, groundwater, and maintaining dry conditions, to the Engineer for review. The submittal shall include as a minimum the following items:
• The Contractor's proposed design, sequence of operation, maintenance and supervision of the surface water and groundwater control systems, as needed for each phase of the work, and coordination with temporary groundwater control and temporary cofferdams.
• Design of temporary cofferdams, if necessary.
• The Contractor's proposed contingency plan for additional water control and dewatering
measures for all systems in the event of cofferdam or pumping system failure.
• Scheduling requirements with regard to Sedimentation Control and temporary cofferdam installation.
• The Contractor's proposed contingency plan for potential flooding of the work area. The contingency plan should address, but not to be limited to: handling flooding of the work area, emergency signaling procedures, health and safety plan, and removing equipment and materials from the work area.
2. New York State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (General Permit for Stormwater Discharges from Construction Activity) – NY SPDES. The NY SPDES Construction General Permit is available at the NYSDEC website: (http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/43133.html#Permit).
PUMPS, HOSES, SIPHONS, CONDUITS: Conduit, pipes, or siphons used at the site shall be sized accordingly and shall be maintained in good working order by the Contractor. Other pumps or hoses, if any, used by the Contractor shall be sized appropriately and also maintained in good working order by the Contractor.
Pumps shall be operated in a manner which does not create a nuisance to abutters (i.e. quietly and without significant exhaust).
Fuel for pumps and generators must be located such that fuel cannot be released. Secondary containment shall be provided for gasoline or diesel-powered electrical generators and pumping equipment.
Pipes used for water control and/or diversions shall be sized appropriately and shall be in good condition without leaks or cracks. Pipe pressure ratings shall be adequate for static head loading when pressure flow is expected. Pipe joints shall be watertight and installed as per the manufacturer’s recommendations.
EXECUTION: This section defines the intent of water control work, but the Contractor shall ultimately be responsible for means and methods and compliance with the specification will be judged on a performance criteria. The Contractor shall submit a water control plan to the NYCDPR for review and may, at that time, propose alternative water control strategies. The Contractor’s water control plan must however satisfy the terms and conditions of all permits issued to the project.
The Contractor shall maintain ready access to back-up electrical generators, fuel, pumps, hoses and related equipment and supplies with output capacity sufficient to maintain continuous operation of the primary water control system and backup system in the event the original dewatering or water control equipment or power source(s) which is in use becomes inoperable. The back-up generator, pumps and necessary equipment and supplies shall be capable of rapid deployment for replacement of the inoperable equipment.
The Contractor shall take all reasonable and prudent precautions during construction to provide and maintain proper equipment and facilities to control and divert water. Extra vigilance in monitoring any cofferdam structure is vital since dislodgement of such a structure could cause injury to workers within.
If necessary, water control systems shall be operated continuously during all construction specified herein. The operation time may include breaks, nights, weekends, holidays and other times when work is not otherwise being performed on the site. The Contractor shall be responsible for protecting his equipment from damage due to vandalism.
Where the Contractor proposes to remove water from the bottom of the work area by sumping as approved by the Resident Engineer, the intake must be placed within a perforated pipe and the annular space between the pipe and the sump pit (as well as the bottom of the pit) must be filled with Crushed Stone as submitted by the Contractor. Filter fabric may also be used if necessary. Pumping from sumps which remove fines from the soil shall be immediately terminated and the dewatering method revised accordingly.
Pumps, siphons, pipes, channels, etc. shall be sized appropriately. Any cofferdam / barrier shall be constructed of such materials and to such extents that it will withstand the forces and pressures exerted by flows and depths of a reasonable expected magnitude. The cofferdams / barriers shall be compatible with other dewatering, water control, and sedimentation control procedures. Dewatering equipment shall be provided as needed to remove water from subgrades as well as the interior areas of any cofferdams / barriers.
All cofferdams / barriers constructed by the Contractor shall be completely removed upon the completion of the Project. All material shall be legally disposed of off-site at the Contractor’s expense. No material shall be left within the Work area.
The Contractor shall make provisions to prevent flow through excavations or work areas exiting the basins expeditiously in the event of a flood which threatens to overwhelm the water control system or cause increased water levels which might lead to damage at the embankments, or other property outside of the basins.
Pumps must be operated in such a way as to not disturb abutters (e.g. noise). Adequate noise suppression shall be provided. Generators, pumps, or other equipment shall adhere to the limits of New York City regulations governing noise. Pump intakes shall be placed so as to reduce the potential for sediment entrainment and pump discharge points shall make provisions for reducing erosion potential through energy dissipation, riprap protection, etc.
Dewatering systems shall be operated continuously and groundwater levels monitored and maintained at specified levels during all construction specified herein. The operation time is to include breaks, nights, weekends, holidays and other times when work is not otherwise being performed on the site. The Contractor shall be responsible for protecting his equipment from damage due to vandalism.
The Contractor may stage his dewatering plan such that dewatering and groundwater control is limited to areas where work is or soon will be occurring. Groundwater control may cease when the Contractor and NYCDPR and its Resident Engineer are satisfied that groundwater will no longer affect the Work of the Contract or the integrity of the structure in the area.
Groundwater levels in excavations shall be maintained at least two feet (2’) below subgrade.
Discharge water shall be passed through sedimentation chambers, basins, “Silt socks,” “Dirt Bags,” or other proprietary devices which mitigate turbidity delivered to receiving waters. These devices should have a supplemental perimeter line of turbidity curtains or siltation barrier.
MEASUREMENT AND PAYMENT: No measurement will be made for temporary surface water control and dewatering. The bid item under this section is a single LUMP SUM quantity.
The price bid shall be a LUMP SUM and shall include the cost of all labor, materials, equipment, testing, and incidental expenses necessary to complete the work in accordance with the Contract Documents, to the satisfaction of the Engineer.
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Friday, June 27, 2014
The next few months will determine the ultimate fate of the Ridgewood Reservoir. After 8 years of dedicated hard work by dozens of concerned individuals, community groups, community boards, politicians and conservationists, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation may finally get their way and destroy the unique historic and environmental habitat of the three reservoir basins. If they succeed, it will not be through the use of transparent, honest governance and regulation, but rather a "three card monte" game of obfuscation and subterfuge of which the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is now complicit.
Below is an open letter from Steve Nanz, one of the people who has been active in the effort to protect the Ridgewood Reservoir since 2007. Steve does a great job of encapsulating this long struggle and the current "legal" issue that the parks department is using to trump all arguments for protection. I can't stress enough the importance of attending Monday's meeting and making your voice heard. You can also share this page by copying and pasting the following link into a webpage, an email or text message - http://tinyurl.com/kce3zhu
By now you may be aware of the upcoming Ridgewood Reservoir community meeting which will be held by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR) to explain the proposed plan to decommission the reservoir. It will be held this Monday June 30, 2014, from 7:00 pm – 9:00pm at:
St. Pancras School
6820 Myrtle Avenue
I will unfortunately be out of town but I encourage as many people as possible to attend that meeting.
About eight years ago the Ridgewood Reservoir, located on the Brooklyn/Queens border, became a battle ground between the NYC Parks Department and a group of environmentalists and concerned citizens in the local community. The Parks Department had initiated a plan to develop parts of the Ridgewood Reservoir as an active sports facility. I first became involved with the issue in 2007 when Jennifer Monson, Artistic Director iLAND, contacted my wife, Heidi Steiner, through the Brooklyn Bird Club, to see if there was interest in conducting a breeding bird survey of the Reservoir. The hope was to dissuade the city from developing the basins as ball fields by demonstrating its environmental significance. Heidi and our friend, Rob Jett, with the help of many other volunteers did in fact conduct the survey and identified 38 potential breeding species of which 20 were confirmed (see Breeding Birds RR 07.doc). The list includes as confirmed American Woodcock. Those concerned citizens formed the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance with Heidi as its first president. The current president is Gary Comorau. The Alliance has a website, maintained by Rob Jett, which contains just about everything one would want to know about the Reservoir and its history at:
Additional information can be found at:
I have uploaded many additional documents to my FTP server and they can be accessed at:
The Parks' development plan was ultimately rejected in 2008 by then New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. on the grounds that it might adversely affect both the environment and the surrounding community. Instead, the plan was altered to simply conduct renovations and to fully decommission the reservoir. The renovation phase has happened and the result is in my opinion very good. In fact they are beautiful. However, the Parks Department has now embarked on the decommissioning phase.
According to the Parks Department website (see above link), the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP, not to be confused with DEC) decommissioned the site in 1990. However, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which oversees the state's system of dams, continued to list the Reservoir as a Class "C" or "High Hazard" dam. The Parks Department and DEC claim that for safety compliance reasons, work is required to reclassify the reservoir as a Class "D" or "Negligible or No Hazard" dam.
There are two central issue which I believe need to be addressed. The first is that I and others believe that the current Class "C" designation is in error. We believe that it already qualifies as a Class "D" dam. The second issue is that the construction plan, as it currently stands, will adversely impact a wetland habitat. To be clear, this second point is not a personal belief as may be the first. It is a fact which was determined by multiple experts including those from the Parks Department.
With respect to the first issue, I agree with Mike Miller, Assemblyman for Distract 38, who in his letter of March 28, 2014, requested Commissioner Martens reconsider DEC's position noting that Parks will as he puts it "...destroy the unique ecology of the site as well as waste $11-million dollars in funding..." Since the basins were drained, no significant amount of water has been impounded. This should be no surprise. The three basins which make up the reservoir were constructed using puddle clay and rocks from the surrounding area. When the reservoir was decommissioned, the pumps were removed and the pipes sealed. The basins were drained and no water can get in except for rain fall directly onto the reservoir as is noted in the Parks' Permit Application (see Ridgewood_Permit.pdf in the Permit Aplication folder). From Wikipedia: "The puddle is laid about 10 inches (25 cm) thick at the sides and nearly 3 ft (0.91 m) thick at the bottom of a canal, built up in layers. Puddle has to be kept wet in order to remain waterproof so it is important for canals to be kept filled with water." An exhaustive description of the process implemented at the Reservoir as well as an OP-ED piece to the NY Times, authored by William C. Thompsan Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., can be found at:
The basin floors and walls are now covered with trees, their roots penetrating severeal feet. They have been through 24 dry seasons since the basins were drained. I suspect that nature has already decommissioned the dam. It would seem likely that the reservoir is a failed dam which no longer materially impounds water and does in fact qualify as a Class "D" dam per DOW TOGS 3.1.5 – GUIDANCE FOR DAM HAZARD CLASSIFICATION (see DAM HAZARD CLASSIFICATION_togs315.pdf) which states:
(4) Class "D" or "Negligible or No Hazard" dam: A dam that has been breached or removed, or has failed or otherwise no longer materially impounds waters, or a dam that was planned but never constructed. Class "D" dams are considered to be defunct dams posing negligible or no hazard. The department may retain pertinent records regarding such dams.
The plans call for placing culverts between basins 1 and 2 (east and central) and between basins 2 and 3 (central and west). Basin 3 will be breached at the south west corner and a road will be constructed from there to the north east end where the converts will be located. According to the Environmental Assessment, water is unlikely to ever flow through the basin 3 breach. The Permit Application concludes that a storm dropping 39.1 inches in 72 hours would not cause this to happen. That amount of rain exceeds the annual rainfall. The Reservoir is designated Class "C" due to it's potential to impound water. It does not seem to have that ability anymore even if it could be demonstrated that enough rain could fall in order raise the water to hazardous levels were the basins sealed. The Environmental Assessment speculates that water from municipal source could raise the water level but gives no evidence. The reservoir is the highest point in Long Island and the pipes going in are filled with cement.
• With respect to the second issue, I have been told by DEC that at some point in the future it will designate wetlands in the east and central basins but the west basin will never gain that status. When asked why wetland designation does not happen prior to construction, I was told that DEC resources are required for Sandy projects. I pointed out that both a certified wetland delineator (see Mickey Cohen Wetland Report.pdf) and the Parks' own Preliminary Assessment (see Ridgewood Reservoir Draft Assessment.pdf), prepared by Round Mountain Ecological LLC, indicted the existence of a wetland in the west basin as well as the environmental significance of that wetland but was told that it was the opinion of DEC that no wetland of environmental significance existed. After my my conversations with DEC, I received a copy of the recently released Environmental Assessment Statement (see Environmental Assessment.pdf). It confirms the existence of a wetland in the west basin sighting the work of Round Mountain. It should be noted here that the Round Mountain survey identified endangered and threatened plant species in that basin. The EAS also sited the results of its own wetland delineation survey conducted in 2011 by GZA GeoEnvironmental and field visits by ecologists from NRG in 2014 both of which confirmed "characteristics and native wetland species" in portions of basin 3.
Although the EAS admits that wetland habitat will be adversely impacted by the road construction, it makes the claim that it does not matter because the wetland is under 12.4 acres per ECL Article 24 (see ECL ARTICLE 24.pdf) and even if it were over 12.4 acres, DEC may not need to give it protected status. Since the reservoir has not yet been decommissioned according to the DEC, it remains a reservoir and "...Reservoirs are not considered to be jurisdictional wetlands according to the NYSDEC." No reference is given for this and I was unable to find its origin and again, NYCDEP considers the reservoir to be decommissioned. However, the statement seems to conflict with 24-0103. Declaration of policy of the ECL which states:
"It is declared to be the public policy of the state to preserve, protect and conserve freshwater wetlands and the benefits derived therefrom, to prevent the despoliation and destruction of
freshwater wetlands, and to regulate use and development of such wetlands to secure the natural benefits of freshwater wetlands, consistent with the general welfare and beneficial economic, social and agricultural development of the state."
To be clear, DEC is calling this a reservoir because it has not been decommissioned in the sense that it believes that it has the potential to impound water at potentially hazardous levels even though it has not impounded water since it was decommissioned 25 years ago. It therefore is not obligated to protect the wetlands despite the ECL Article 24 Statement of Policy.
Furthermore per ECL Article 2:
Section 24-0301. Commissioner's study.
The commissioner shall, as soon as practicable, conduct a study to identify and map those individual freshwater wetlands in the state of New York which shall have an area of at least twelve and four-tenths acres or more, or if less than twelve and four-tenths, (a) have, in the discretion of the commissioner, and subject to review of his action by the board created pursuant to title eleven of this article, unusual local importance for one or more of the specific benefits set forth in subdivision seven of section 24-0105 or...
Subdivision seven of section 24-0105:
7. Any loss of freshwater wetlands deprives the people of the state of some or all of the many and multiple benefits to be derived from wetlands, to wit:
(a) flood and storm control by the hydrologic absorption and storage capacity of freshwater wetlands;
(b) wildlife habitat by providing breeding, nesting and feeding grounds and cover for many forms of wildlife, wildfowl and shorebirds, including migratory wildfowl and rare species such as the bald eagle and osprey;
(c) protection of subsurface water resources and provision for valuable watersheds and recharging ground water supplies;
(d) recreation by providing areas for hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, bird watching, photography, camping and other uses;
(e) pollution treatment by serving as biologicO and chemical oxidation basins;
(f) erosion control by serving as sedimentation areas and filtering basins, absorbing silt and organic matter and protecting channels and harbors;
(g) education and scientific research by providing readily accessible outdoor bio-physicallaboratories, living classrooms and vast training and education resources; and
(h) open space and aesthetic appreciation by providing often the only remaining open areas along crowded river fronts and coastal Great Lakes regions; and
(i) sources of nutrients in freshwater food cycles and nursery grounds and sanctuaries for freshwater fish.
I see at least three points which apply: b, d, and g. Although under 12.4 acres, this wetland should be protected
In conclusion, whereas I lack the expertise to determine with 100% confidence the dam classification, loss of important wetland, I believe, is inarguable. DEC and Parks seem to be on the path of shoot first and ask questions later. But perhaps all the points I have raised will be addressed in Monday's meeting to the satisfaction of reasonable people. I do not see how that is possible without mapping the actual wetland by an unbiased neutral party, something which I do not believe has been done to date. I would like to be wrong, because the plan calls for the long term environmental rehabilitation of the Reservoir.
Thank for your interested in this matter.
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From the Queens Chronicle:
Ridgewood Reservoir meeting on June 30, 2014
State DEC to discuss dam decommissioning
Thursday, June 26, 2014 10:30 am
Plans for the decommissioning of dams at Highland Park’s Ridgewood Reservoir will be discussed at a community meeting on Monday, June 30 at St. Pancras School in Ridgewood.
The meeting will be hosted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the city Department of Parks and Recreation.
The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
As part of the decommissioning process, the state is requiring the city to build culverts through the walls of the old water basins as a hedge against having them flood and possibly fail during a hurricane or a major storm.
Area residents have expressed reservations about the plan, particularly its potential impact on local flooding and the possibility that vandals or other people might use the structures to congregate.
St. Pancras School is at 68-20 Myrtle Ave. The entrance is on 68th Street.
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014
The Newtown Historical Society has a tour of the neighborhood adjacent to the reservoir this coming Saturday. From their website:
Flag Day Tour of Ridgewood
Join us for a fascinating look at the town of Ridgewood. We'll visit former theaters, an old courthouse, see part of a former trolley line and learn about the different styles of yellow brick rowhouses, among other things! Event will end with an optional tour of a brewery.
Date: Saturday, June 14, 2014
Meet: at M train at Forest Ave
Cost: $20 for non-members, $10 for members
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