The reservoir's historic structures & ecosystems are an opportunity to create a unique environmental education center for our children & their future.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Urban Wilderness Community

While searching the Internet for something unrelated to the Ridgewood Reservoir I stumbled on an excellent urban nature blog. The name of the blog is "Nature Calendar" and there is a really good posting about the Ridgewood Reservoir issue written by Erik Baard here.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Jamaica Bay Task Force meeting

I thought that the following information would be of interest as the Ridgewood Reservoir is a key component of the Jamaica Bay Watershed:

Jamaica Bay Task Force Meeting
Tuesday, July 1 - 6:30pm

Ryan Center

Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn


6:30 - 6:35: Introductions: Dan Mundy, Don Riepe (co-chairs)

6:35 - 7:00: Gateway NRA Resource Mgmt. Plan update - Doug Adamo, National Park Service

7:00 - 7:35 : Jamaica Bay Restoration Projects update - Len Houston, US Army Corps of

7:35 - 8:05 : Oyster Restoration in Jamaica Bay - Dan Mundy, JB EcoWatchers & John

McLaughlin, NYCDEP
8:05-8:15 : Nitrogen Abatement in Jamaica Bay - NYSDEC invited, no response as of date

8:15 - 8:35 : "Operation Clean Bay " - John Daskalakis, National Park Service

For further information contact
Don Riepe or Dan Mundy

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Press Release

The following is today's press release from the New York City Comptroller's office. It is very good news. Feel free to leave your comments on this post:

June 26, 2008

Jeff Simmons, (212) 669-2636


Citing concerns about the environmental impact, increased truck traffic, and the vendor selection process, New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. today announced that his office has rejected a contract by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to develop a portion of the Ridgewood Reservoir into sports fields.

In a letter to Parks’ Chief Contracting Officer, the Comptroller’s Office returned the contract “to allow additional time for your agency to respond to our concerns pertaining to potential scope changes due to environmental review uncertainties and for administrative issues.” You can view the letter at "".

Parks submitted the $3.3 million contract forged with Mark K. Morrison Associates LTD (MMA) for registration on May 29. The agreement called for MMA to provide landscape design services for the reconstruction of Highland Park at the Ridgewood Reservoir site in Queens.

Parks has been considering a $50 million “renovation” project that would replace a large swath of Ridgewood wilderness with sports facilities athletic fields, claiming that the project is necessary to help combat child obesity. However, Thompson has consistently urged the City to rethink its plans to develop the 50-acre site.

The contract rejection was based on a number of concerns. Thompson noted MMA’s proposal to partially or completely fill Basin No. 3 at the site would require 27,500 large truckloads of fill to be transported through the adjacent neighborhoods. Thompson said that even if this is partially filled, it would require about 11,700 large truckloads of dirt to be transported there.

“Either of these options would have significant negative impacts to the areas surrounding the park, which will have to bear the brunt of the noise, emissions and traffic disruptions for many years,” the letter said. “For comparison purposes, it took six years to bring 1.7 million cubic yards of fill to Ferry Point Park in the Bronx.”

Thompson also cautioned that Parks was in the process of meeting with agencies regarding environmental assessment issues, and that an Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) EAS could be included as a separate fee in any proposal. That information would help in determining whether adverse effects on the environment may be significant enough to warrant further analysis.

The Comptroller further questioned the selection process. The vendor was selected from among three participants through a quasi-competitive process. Thompson noted that changes to the design that may arise from the environmental and public assessments may significantly impact the vendor’s proposal.

“Given the sensitive ecological nature of the location, we strongly believe that the environmental assessment process must have maximum transparency,” the letter reads. “In that light, we are also concerned that it may be a conflict of interest to have the EAS vendor be a subcontractor to the architect, who has a vested interest in pursuing the construction.”

Last Thursday, Thompson testified at a New York City Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee hearing on the future of the Ridgewood Reservoir. Earlier, in an opinion piece published in The New York Times last month, Thompson and environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. warned against destroying “this extraordinary natural habitat” on the Brooklyn-Queens border.

“This plan flies in the face of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s widely hailed environmental blueprint, which bemoans the loss of the city’s natural areas,” they wrote. “The Parks Department’s own scientific consultants have warned against disturbing the reservoir, an area they call ‘highly significant for the biodiversity of New York City and the region.”

The reservoir was built in 1858 to provide drinking water to Brooklyn residents. It was converted as a back-up reservoir in 1959 and taken offline in 1989. Since then, trees, plants, turtles, fish, frogs and more than 137 bird species, including eight rare ones identified on the National Audubon Society’s “Watch List,” thrive on the land.

Comptroller Thompson maintains that the City’s money could be better spent improving Highland Park, immediately next to Ridgewood Reservoir. Highland Park has plenty of ball fields to serve its neighborhood, but they are in such deplorable condition that few people use them.

Additionally, Thompson recommends that the trail surrounding the perimeter of the reservoir be upgraded with benches and rest areas as well as signage calling attention to its unique flora and fauna, and believes the area around the reservoir should be opened for guided nature walks.


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The High Line Park plan revealed

Queens Crap has an interesting post on the new plans for Manhattan's "High Line". It's not too surprising that the city's $120M plan uses some of the same logic to protect the High Line as it has to rationalize destroying the Ridgewood Reservoir.

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More support from the City Comptroller

The following just appeared in today's Daily News:

Controller balks at reservoir site design

By Lisa L. Colangelo

Daily News Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 25th 2008, 5:30 PM

The city's plan to redevelop the Ridgewood Reservoir suffered a setback this week when city Controller William Thompson rejected a Parks Department contract to design the site.

The agency should not have awarded the $3.3 million contract without "a full understanding of all the issues pertaining to any new development" of the environmentally sensitive area, according to a June 23 letter from the controller's office to the Parks Department.

In addition, having an architect selected by the agency also oversee an environmental assessment of the site could be a conflict of interest, the letter states.

Geoffrey Croft of New York City Park Advocates, who believes the reservoir area should remain untouched, said Thompson is doing the right thing by "nipping the contract in the bud."

"Unfortunately, once you pay a designer it's often hard to undo plans in the Parks Department world," said Croft.

Four years ago, the city Department of Environmental Protection turned over the 50-acre, defunct reservoir site - located next to Highland Park at the Brooklyn-Queens border - to the Parks Department.

Parks officials are floating several plans to redevelop the area, currently filled with dense shrubs, trees and wetlands. Under one scenario, an old basin would be filled to create ballfields and other recreational facilities. The idea has some activists up in arms.

Thompson said that would require up to 1 million cubic yards of fill being trucked in through local streets, causing years of noise, pollution and traffic woes.

Parks officials have said they will weigh community concerns before finalizing designs.

"We plan to review the controller's concerns and meet with the controller so that the design contract and the planning can move ahead on this great park," a Parks Department statement said yesterday.

One of the key goals of PlaNYC, Mayor Bloomberg's sweeping environmental initiative, "is to ensure that every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park or open space," the agency added. "Highland Park in Queens is one of eight large parks being redesigned to help achieve this goal."

The agency has also pointed out that local church leaders have been urging the city to provide more ballfields for children.

Thompson, who is eying a run for mayor next year, has been vocal in his concerns about the site.

Last month, he and environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. penned a column for The New York Times heralding the reservoir an "accidental wilderness" rarely seen in the five boroughs.

Thompson and Kennedy said the city should instead spend the money on improving ballfields at Highland Park.

With John Lauinger

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Another Reservoir Project

I realize that this may not be directly related to the Ridgewood Reservoir and Highland Park, but it does give one an idea of New York City's track record with regard to community concerns and keeping promises. The following is from an article in the Daily News:

News of explosives use at Jerome Park Reservoir spreads shock waves
By Bill Egbert
Monday, June 23rd 2008, 3:45 PM

Residents around the Jerome Park Reservoir say they're getting the shaft, but the city still plans to have a "blast" there this summer.

The Environmental Protection Department dropped a bomb last week at a meeting of a citizens' committee monitoring work on the controversial Croton Water Treatment Plant when it revealed plans to use explosives to excavate a shaft near the reservoir.

Though the city said blasting would be faster and cheaper than drilling, locals said it goes against DEP's promise to limit explosives use on the massive hole being blasted out of the Mosholu Golf Course for the plant.

It also departs from the project's Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which explicitly states "there would be no surface drilling or blasting" at the reservoir.

The statement assumed the city would bore the shaft upward from the underground tunnel to the surface. The rubble then would be removed via the tunnel linking the reservoir to the filtration plant site before being trucked out.

Worried that the change in plans could mean more noise, dust and additional truck traffic in their neighborhood, residents near the reservoir now think a new impact statement should be required.

But the department contends that blasting would actually cause less noise than alternative methods.

"The primary reason DEP is raising the possibility of blasting is because the noise impacts will be far less on the community," said DEP spokesman Angel Roman.

The city plans to surround the shaft site with a 20-foot-tall, noise-reducing barrier like the one shielding blasting noise at the main construction site.

Though DEP has yet to award a contract, it also believes blasting will cost less and significantly reduce construction time.

Community activists, who have opposed putting the filtration plant in the Bronx from the outset, complain that even 16 weeks of blasting is too long, because it would extend eight weeks into the school year - with the Bronx High School of Science across the street from the shaft site.

"The real question is how those 9,000 cubic yards of debris will be removed," said Karen Argenti, a local activist. "A typical dump truck operating on city streets might carry 20 cubic yards - that's 450 truck trips."

Last Thursday's meeting didn't answer many of the community's questions about the change of plans, she said.

"They said at the end that they'd take our questions," said Argenti, "and that's all they did. They took them and left."

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Interesting Link

This link brings you to the New York City Economic Development Corporation's "Current Projects" page. I might be a good place for keeping an eye open space issues.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Parks Department Working Against Itself

The citywide, public-private program "Million Trees NYC" doesn't just give the impression of working cross purpose to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe's activities, it is blatantly obvious. A clear case in point is their "Trees for Public Health Neighborhoods" initiative. The following is from their website:

When planting one million new trees in a city as large as New York City, you have to start somewhere. The Parks Department has established six target neighborhoods that have been identified as neighborhoods of greatest need for trees. The six neighborhoods—referred to as Trees for Public Health neighborhoods (TPH)—were selected because they have fewer than average street trees and higher than average rates of asthma among young people. It is believed that additional trees in these neighborhoods will reduce the pollutants that trigger respiratory disorders, and contribute to healthier living standards.

The six Trees for Public Health Neighborhoods include:

* Hunts Point, Bronx

* Morrisania, Bronx

* East New York, Brooklyn

* East Harlem, Manhattan

* Rockaways, Queens
* Stapleton, Staten Island

Tree Planting Strategy

During the spring and fall tree planting seasons, the Parks Department will conduct block-by-block street tree planting in the six TPH neighborhoods, while New York Restoration Project and other non-profit partners coordinate tree planting on other public, institutional and private land, as well as engage in public education and community outreach activities. The goal is to completely green an entire neighborhood with an abundance of newly planted trees on both public and private lands.

While we are targeting neighborhoods of greatest need, MillionTreesNYC remains a citywide initiative. The Parks Department will continue to respond to individual requests for street trees, while NYRP and our many public and private partners engage community-based organizations and volunteers in every neighborhood throughout New York City’s five boroughs to plant and care for new trees.

I created the very long Google satellite image on the far left by piecing together several smaller sections. My intent was to give a more realistic view of the existing trees within the East New York section of Brooklyn. The simplified "Trees for Public Health" graphic lacked the authenticity necessary to show the dearth of trees outside of Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir. The dense concentration of trees and other vegetation in and around the reservoir is located at the top of the Harbor Hill terminal moraine directly above the neighborhoods defined as needing trees. The final image on this page is a Google Earth close-up of the Ridgewood Reservoir. It clearly shows that the area within the reservoirs has the highest concentration of trees (by a wide margin) within the "target neighborhood".

I have just one, very simple question for our city administrators. Why in goodness name would Commissioner Adrian Benepe think that removing any of the forests from that neighborhood be beneficial to anybody? The decision to remove a forest anywhere within New York City is, clearly, not based on scientific recommendations, logic or common sense. I suspect that any investigative journalist worth their college degree could get to the bottom of this issue and it probably won't be a pretty picture.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Adrian Benepe in print

The following are some choice comments made by the NYC Commissioner of Parks & Recreation, Adrian Benepe, regarding Highland Park's Ridgewood Reservoir. In a couple of articles, he relied on a spokesperson to take the heat. Mr. Benepe was appointed commissioner in 2002.

On April 3, 2004, "The New York Times" published an article about budget problems halting the planting of trees in parts of the city. "Dispute Halts Tree Planting In Three Parts Of the City", by Diane Cardwell, brings to light an interesting fact about the lifespan of New York City trees.

''Hundreds of trees won't get planted, which is a bad thing, but the worst thing obviously is that the price will increase dramatically, which means we'll be planting fewer trees at higher costs,'' Mr. Benepe said.

The department has been planting from 7,000 to 10,000 trees a year citywide, he said, just ahead of the 7,000 or so trees that die. ''We were staying ahead of the dead-tree curve,'' he said. ''The bottom line is there will be more trees dying than replaced.''

Now that we know how quickly trees die in New York City, it begs the question, does that number includes trees that Mr. Benepe has removed to accommodate the demands of private interests in public parks?

When the Department of Environmental Protection handed over the deed to the Ridgewood Reservoir to parks, the Department of Park & Recreation released a statement on July 07, 2004.

Department of Environmental Protection To Turn Over 50 Acre Site Of Decommissioned Reservoir To Parks & Recreation

“It’s not everyday that we can celebrate the addition of over 50 acres to our network of City parkland,” said Commissioner Benepe. “We look forward to this land becoming a place for New Yorkers to recreate, relax, and enjoy the outdoors. In the meantime, it will be an informal nature sanctuary.”

Does that comment assume that New Yorkers are unable to "relax and enjoy the outdoors" in a "nature sanctuary"?

Lisa Colangelo of the New York Daily News broke the news of the parks department's acquisition of the reservoir on July 8th 2004. In the article "50 Acres Greener Ridgewood Reservoir Slated To Be Park Annex" Commissioner Benepe made his first public comments regarding the future of the reservoir's bog, lake and forests.

"This is a great gift to the people of New York City, the Parks Department and to the people of East New York and Ridgewood and Cypress Hills," said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

"As you can see, probably some it should remain in a natural state as a wildlife sanctuary, but there are some possibilities for ballfields and for a lot of other things."

Benepe said the city will work with the community to determine what is best for the park, but said some ballfields will almost certainly be part of that plan.

Notice that a decision for ballfields was already in place 4 years ago and that the commissioner's plan seems to trump any future community input.

On July 8, 2004 an article was published in New York Newsday entitled "Mayor Gives Birth To New Park", by Dan Janison. The commissioner uses language that sounds like he wants to persuade the community to his idea, not the other way around.

"The work remains ahead, to figure out how best to program it, and figure out how make it into great parks," Benepe said. "Probably some of it will remain in its natural state as a wildlife sanctuary. But there are some possibilities for ballfields and for a lot of other things depending on what we can do with the communities."

Access on foot now involves getting past a trash-strewn wooded area that was being cleaned and up broken stone steps that once led to a mainstay of the 19th century water system in the once separate city of Brooklyn. New York City decommissioned the last of 3 basins in the reservoir more than a decade ago, and it has been a fenced-off wetlands since.

It has been 4 years since that statement and the "broken stone steps" for this historically significant site are still very much broken.

The New York Times looked at the Ridgewood Reservoir from a different perspective in their July 8, 2004 article, "As Old Reservoir Becomes a Park, a Camper Gets an Eviction Notice", by Corey Kilgannon. of the last wildernesses of New York City, was to become a city park. ''Today is Christmas in July,'' [Benepe] said. He said that the property would remain ''an informal nature sanctuary'' for now, and that department officials would evaluate it and seek community comment and was likely to consider possible uses like ball fields, recreational areas and bike and jogging paths.

''Probably some of it should remain in its natural state,'' [Benepe] said.

The basins are roughly 40 feet deep with steep sloping sides and have a wide variety of animal and plant life.

Note that the reservoir is already encircled by a 1 mile jogging path.

It was nearly one year after the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation's celebration at the edge of the Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park that any public reference to the area resurfaced. It was in the revealing July 6, 2005 New York Times article, "Parks Even the Parks Dept. Won't Claim", by Timothy Williams.

"That park is not a park," Mr. Benepe said, referring to University Woods. [...] He added, "Just because something is in our inventory doesn't mean it's worth taking care of."

Mr. Benepe bristles at the suggestion that the Parks Department favors certain areas of the city over others. "The reality is that across the city in every neighborhood, the parks are better," he said. And while he says there is no formal two-tier system when it comes to maintaining city parks, he acknowledges that some are better cared for than others.

Just how many of the city's 1,700 public parks, playgrounds and recreation facilities are not actively maintained is not clear, but Mr. Benepe said that a limited number of city parks would "never be great parks" because they are on land unsuitable to be developed as parkland, or because they are in neighborhoods that are no longer significantly residential.

[...] Despite their unkempt pockets, some parks, like Aqueduct Walk Park in the Bronx, are heavily used. Many others, however, are similar to University Woods, and attract few visitors. Large swaths of Highbridge and Fort Washington Parks in Upper Manhattan, Soundview, Ferry Point and Pelham Bay Parks in the Bronx, Highland Park on the Brooklyn-Queens border and Idlewild Park in Queens, among others, have been designated natural areas by the Parks Department, to preserve wetlands and other natural habitats. Such areas require less rigorous maintenance than others. Some of these are now impassable for all but the most determined parkgoer due to overgrown trails, poison ivy, homeless encampments and garbage. Abandoned cars and boats have been left in some of the parks.

What these parks have in common is that they rely almost exclusively on city money, while the city's best-maintained parks - Central Park, Bryant Park and Prospect Park among them - are managed in part by private conservancies that raise money and hire workers independent of the Parks Department. The neglected parks also lack the community support and involvement present in the neighborhoods around the city's most successful green spaces.

[...] "This is a big system and you can't address every little problem," he said. Mr. Benepe said a lack of resources was not an issue either. "The challenge is how to spend all the money we've been given," he said.

In all, the Parks Department's 28,800 acres take up about 14 percent of the total land mass in the city's five boroughs. About 12,000 acres of parkland have been designated natural areas, though some, like Central Park's Ramble, are well maintained and free of the trash and invasive species that plague the natural areas of other parks.

Mr. Benepe, who expressed both skepticism and surprise at the park's condition when told about it, said the city's plan was: "Let nature take its course." "Trees are growing, insects are buzzing, oxygen is being produced, and there's nothing wrong with that," he said.

It wasn't until 2007 that the future of Highland Park's Ridgewood Reservoir was mentioned by some New York newspapers. The New York Sun, on August 2, 2007 published the article, "Brooklyn Park To Undergo $40 Million Renovation", by Tessa Frissora.

In a statement yesterday, the mayor said he was committed to ensuring every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park or open space. "Completing these regional destination parks in all five boroughs will make them the jewels of our park system and increase usability and access for thousands of New Yorkers," he said.

"Parks like Dreier-Offerman have shown extraordinary recreational potential for years. Thanks to PlaNYC, the new design for Dreier-Offerman will greatly enhance the opportunities for recreation and the quality of life for residents of south Brooklyn," the parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, said.

Other parks slated for redevelopment include Highbridge in Manhattan and the Bronx, Soundview Park in the Bronx, Fort Washington Park in Manhattan, Highland Park Reservoir and Rockaway Beach in Queens, and Ocean Breeze Park in Staten Island.

By October, community activists concerned about the future of Ridgewood Reservoir began getting the attention of the media. New York Daily News, on October 21, 2007, published "Forest Fans Howl Over Plans To Raze 20 Acres In Ridgewood Reservoir", by John Lauinger.

Bring On The Bulldozers!

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe delivered a shock to nature lovers and community activists last week when he said the city is planning to level more than 20 acres of dense forest in Ridgewood Reservoir to make way for recreational facilities, attendees of the meeting said.

The brief disclosure came at an under-the-radar meeting at the Parks Department's Manhattan headquarters in which Benepe highlighted some of the $400 (sic) million in park upgrades proposed in Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC initiative.

The thick forests that now cover most of the terrain provide ideal habitat for many species of wildlife - in particular, more than 120 species of migratory birds, some of which are rarely found nesting in the city.

[...] Benepe told the Daily News on Friday that the $46 million plan is not a "done deal" - but then spent several minutes explaining why recreational facilities are needed at the site. "We have a very strong obligation to provide sports and recreational facilities so that kids can get exercise and avoid problems like diabetes and heart disease," he said.

[...] Benepe said the city has a shortage of "first-rate" recreational facilities, and said Queens is "blessed with thousands of acres of parkland that is mostly natural."

But community activists said replacing more than 20 acres of forest with AstroTurf sports fields contradicts Bloomberg's much-publicized plan to plant a million trees in the city by 2030.

"It's very hypocritical for them, on their own property, to cut down thousands of trees and then boast about how they're planting trees on the sidewalk, which they're making residents pay for," said Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society.

Benepe strongly disagreed.

"These are really accidental landscapes that have grown up out of lack of maintenance and lack of use," he said.

Neither Benepe nor the Daily News pointed out that Highland Park, which surrounds Ridgewood Reservoir, is already well within the Mayor's "10-minute walk to a park" for several neighborhoods. Highland Park currently contains 6 baseball fields, 13 tennis courts, 2 playgrounds, 1 soccer field, handball courts, 12 basketball courts, picnic areas, a children's garden and a running track...all of which are poorly maintained.

Less than a week later, on October 25th, Metro New York printed the article "City wants to plant 1M trees, but...", by Amy Zimmer. Mr. Benepe wasn't directly quoted in the article, but he had a spokeswoman explain his position.

The Bloomberg administration wants 1 million trees planted over the next 10 years as part of its long-term mission to improve the environment. But many New Yorkers want to know what the city is doing to save existing trees.

They’re worried possible Parks Dept. plans to raze 20-acres of dense forest at the 50-acre Ridgewood Reservoir to put down artificial turf ballfields is antithetical to the eco-friendly agenda.

[... ] Plans haven’t been finalized yet, the Parks Dept. said, and completed designs will be presented to community boards in Brooklyn and Queens, since the park sits on the border.

“Among the many goals of PlaNYC, we are looking to expand recreational opportunities for both children and adults and are investigating the possibility of using one of the three basins for recreation,” Parks spokeswoman Abigail Lootens wrote in an e-mail.

[...] Queens Councilman Tony Avella will tour the park on Sunday.

“Why not spend the money where there are opportunities for ball fields where you don’t need to destroy natural areas?” asked Avella. “What [Mayor Michael Bloomberg] says is different from what the agencies are doing.”

The Times Newsweekly also came out with an article about the Ridgewood Reservoir on October 25th. Journalist Robert Pozarycki penned, "From Trees To Timber? Parks Dept. Mulls Plan For Athletic Fields At Reservoir". Once again, Mr. Benepe used a "spokesperson" to reply to the journalist's questions.

Though plans for a renovated Ridgewood Reservoir remain in design, the Department of Parks and Recreation is reportedly considering a plan to clear one of the basin’s three chambers to make way for numerous athletic fields.

A spokesperson for the Parks Department informed the Times Newsweekly that the agency is deliberating a proposal to bring “active recreation” such as baseball and football fields to the new 50-acre park that is being created on the reservoir site straddling the Brooklyn/Queens border.

[...] The spokesperson cautioned that “nothing is set in stone,” adding that the department continues to look at all input received during several listening sessions held in Queens and Brooklyn on the site. The representative noted that the department has determined there is “still an interest in preserving a reservoir” while adding other activities.

[...] After the reservoir was taken completely out of the water system by the Department of Environmental Protection in 1989, the land remained dormant through 2004, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed an agreement that transferred the 50-acre property from the DEP to the Parks Department. By then, the area had evolved into a natural wetland and habitat.

By the time journalist Emily Brady of The New York Times wrote her November 25, 2007 article, "Amid the Willows and Chickadees, Bird-Watchers Spot a Red Flag", Mr. Benepe had decided that cutting down trees was his "moral obligation".

[...] But the reservoir, which is nestled within Highland Park, is also one of eight areas designated for conversion to parkland under Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to have a park within 10 minutes of every New York residence by 2030.

For his part, the parks commissioner, Adrian Benepe, said that although the city has allocated $50 million to improve Highland Park and incorporate the Ridgewood Reservoir into it, construction and design plans are not final. “The bulldozers aren’t warming up,” he said.

But Mr. Benepe did say that “some small portion” of the Ridgewood Reservoir area, probably about 30 percent, will be used for recreation. “Any time you build a park, especially in an area that is overgrown, you have to remove some trees,” he said.

Mr. Benepe also emphasized what he described as his “moral obligation” to provide New Yorkers with space for recreation, especially children who suffer from a lack of exercise, and the need to balance the needs of a community.

Note the commissioner's clever twisting of the truth with respect to the $50 million. Our group was told in a face to face discussion with the Queens Commissioner of Parks, Dorothy Lewandowski, that "None of the money allocated to the reservoir project can be spent outside the reservoir on Highland Park."

December 20, 2007 appears to be the last time the commissioner's plans for the reservoir were referenced by the mainstream media. The following is from the Queens Chronicle article "City Mulls Three Options For Ridgewood Reservoir", by Colin Gustafson.

Dense foliage and vegetation have sprouted in the Ridgewood Reservoir, creating a lush habitat for migratory birds and some endangered plant species.

City officials say they’re still mulling the possibility of axing acres of lush vegetation in the Ridgewood Reservoir in order to clear space for new athletic facilities.

[...] Now, officials from the Department of Parks and Recreation are considering clear-cutting a portion of the third and largest basin under one of three options for redeveloping the 50-acre reservoir.

[...] At the reservoir, the most extreme development option calls for transforming the third basin — home to dense forest and vernal marshland — into an “active recreation center,” replete with running tracks, soccer fields and cricket courts, officials said.

A second option would preserve much of the reservoir as a “naturalistic park” with some outdoor “adventure type recreation,” according to Parks Department spokeswoman Abigail Lootens.

[...] Not to worry, Parks officials assured this week. “The portion where we would possibly remove trees is of lower habitat value because it hosts many non-native trees,” Lootens explained. “We believe this will not displace or harm the bird or plant populations.”

However, even if the wildlife remains out of harm’s way, preservationists still believe the idea of wiping out as much as 20 acres of forest runs counter to one of the mayor’s key reasons for refurbishing Highland Park: to make trees, grass and others green space more accessible to the public.

Last month, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe argued in favor of building new athletic space, arguing that Queens is home to plenty of parkland already, but suffers from a shortage of recreational opportunities.

He believes the creation of new public athletic spaces at the reservoir will help combat pervasive health problems, like heart disease, obesity and diabetes, especially among children.

Despite the parks departments implied "leave it all alone" third option, they have made it very clear that they still intend to breach a significant section of the western basin's retaining wall. That process would include the removal of at least 60 mature trees that are growing outside of the reservoir.

Commissioner Benepe's only recent public statements about the future of the reservoir came in the form of an op-ed reply to William Thompson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s piece in the New York Times. You can read that statement and my comments here.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another supportive article

The good folks trying to save Washington Square Park from the axe-wielding Commissioner Benepe just posted a good piece about the NY Times Op-Ed:

NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe responds to NY Times’ Op-Ed on Ridgewood Reservoir

You really have to read between the lines when New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe speaks about plans he wishes to implement in our city parks.

Last week, the New York Times printed Commissioner Benepe’s letter in response to the excellent Op-Ed that Robert Kennedy Jr. and NYC Comptroller William Thompson Jr. wrote defending the natural beauty of Ridgewood Reservoir which lies on the Queens-Brooklyn border.

Click here to read the entire article.

Gotham Gazette article

The "Wonkster" weighs in at the Gotham Gazette:

The Battle Over Ridgewood Reservoir
June 12th, 2008

Located on the border of Brooklyn and Queens in Highland Park rests the Ridgewood Reservoir, a 50 acre enclave reclaimed by nature. It is a series of three abandoned reservoirs that have become the home of trees, birds, and insects over two decades of idleness. In 2004, the mayor turned over the bucolic area from the hands of the Department of Environmental Protection to the Parks Department. Then last year, as part of PlaNYC 2030, Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed converting one of the reservoirs for recreational use while setting the others aside as nature preserves.

Click here for the entire piece.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Op-Ed Article Comments

Here are some comments generated by the supportive New York Times Op-Ed piece by city comptroller William Thompson Jr and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.:

via Latest comments on Article "A Wilderness, Lost in the City" by Gresehover, Williamsburg, Brooklyn on 6/7/08

I love natural areas (I work for one), and believe that a little wilderness can really broaden a city kid's horizons, but with some experience of community boards and the pressures put on the Parks Dept. by their users, I imagine that residents in the area are overwhelmingly in favor of having nice, easy to maintain athletic fields, which will end up providing more use to more people in the community. I imagine that what the Parks Dept. is doing is following the will of the people. Why else would they do this? Just to spend money? Trust me, Bloomberg has been kinder to the Parks Dept. than any mayor in recent memory, but it's not like they're rolling around in money.

via Latest comments on Article "A Wilderness, Lost in the City" by m, Seattle, wa on 6/7/08

as a child growing up in Newark, NJ, I sought the tiny spots of wilderness that could be found in vacant lots and on the edges of city parks. This is truly to quote a once famous song; paving paradise and putting up a parking lot.
Let the fat kids walk on the sidewalks!!! worked for me.
PLEASE New York, take care of your wild side. There is almost none of it left.

Not living in New York does not preclude me from realizing the value of this remarkable property. Please do not let it go the way of so much of our wetlands. The bits of wetlands that still exist have made it possible to maintain some of our bird and marine life diversity. Without that we, as humans, are doomed.

via Latest comments on Article "A Wilderness, Lost in the City" by David R., Columbia, MO on 6/7/08

I was born and raised on Long Island and spent a lot of time with relatives in Queens. I now live in the middle of Middle America and thrive on the idea that NYC is still home. What most Americans do not believe is that New York has parks other than the rectangle in the middle of Manhattan Island. The Bronx once had one of the great trout streams in the United States. That New York City is not all concrete with styroform rocks and astroturf.

If it takes a congressional act, state or federal, to maintain this sancturary of wilderness in the mist of the Big Apple, I will support it. 50 acres of wildlife is more important to the health of the city than a couple of new baseball fields.

via Latest comments on Article "A Wilderness, Lost in the City" by JohnnyAloha, Whitestone, Queens on 6/7/08

The fact that this area has exploded with life in such a short time is an example of how quickly nature can recover if we simply leave it alone. The "neglect" that the author names as a factor is better expressed as "laissez-faire" environmentalism. No need now for the parks department to invite visitors in with benches and tours. The absence of humans is what allowed this park to flourish. Let's fence it off and leave it alone.

via Latest comments on Article "A Wilderness, Lost in the City" by Charles Nydorf, Manhattan on 6/7/08

While I appreciate the Parks Commission's concern over childhood obesity, they are overlooking the fact that wild parks may be the very thing that prevents and cure this problem. I know this from personal experience. My own brush with childhood obesity came when I was 12 and living in Queens. Preparation for my Bar Mitsvah kept me sedentary (I was never the world's greatest Hebraist) and performance anxiety drove me to overeat (I wasn't the world's star chazan either). The result was a weight problem that even an expensive sports-oriented summer camp couldn't control.

As soon as my Bar Mitsvah left me with more free time I succumbed to the lure of nature in the form of Cunningham Park (also nearby Willow Lake, Pea Pond, Kissena Park and Alley Pond Park). My constant nature study excursions restored my lean physique. I can testify that my friends who were nature enthusiasts such as Bobby Avner and Raymond Yin also never had weight problems. It would be a great shame if Ridgwood Reservoir was sacrificed for the sake of a problem, childhoos obesity, that can be cured by nature study as well as by sports.

My most vivid memory of a long ago summer spent on Manhattan Island is of a group of kids watching a street excavation, and one of them saying with wonder, "There's dirt under New York!"

This parks issue has only one side so far as I can see. Let's not squander a great asset.

via Latest comments on Article "A Wilderness, Lost in the City" by Michelle Cook, San Jose, Calif. on 6/7/08

I'm willing to bet that the editors merely picked the first post that appeared to be in favor of the ballfields (Yonkers) to try and be "unbiased".

As for the woods, why would you ever considering taking down trees to build more athletic fields? Worried about the kids getting obese? Get them out for a hike! Let them see how quickly Mother Nature can heal herself when left alone to do so. Teaching your kids a love of nature is a better long-term solution for obesity than forcing them to play a season of little league where they might actually exercise for a total of 30 seconds per game, in between turns on the bench.

I agree that parks in New York City are a precious resource, but I just wanted to point out that the Ridgewood Reservoir really isn't that nice. I don't think that it should be replaced by baseball fields, but unlike many of the posters here, I am from Brooklyn and have actually been there, so I thought that I would point out that it is just a single path that goes in a circle. The highway is on one side, and the reservoir is on the other. The city shouldn't spend its money to destroy it, but the park will need some creative landscaping to live up to its description here.

via Latest comments on Article "A Wilderness, Lost in the City" by Bonnie, Arcata, CA on 6/7/08

The gain that is made by leaving well enough alone is something foreign to Americans. Let's face it, doing less sometimes is more. The well being of many creatures, including ourselves, is nurtured by a trip into nature. It is essential that we have these places to survive! I agree with the comment above, cleaning up old baseball fields and athletic venues sounds like a better idea that decimating a little bit of heaven.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

The Importance of Trees

I recently received the following email and attachment regarding the importance of the urban forest. Clicking the image of the document's first page will open the complete report in a new window. I apologize in advance for the image's large dimensions.

Community Members and Friends-

As tree protection matters have come to my attention, I've passed those matters on to you with hopes to bring to you a better understand for the need to protect and preserve our urban tree resource. I've only guessed that you are familiar with basic tree amenities- the utilitarian benefits and services that mature trees provide for us. Some of these amenities are ecology, economy and social- the amelioration of climate, a reduction of UV light, bioretainment of storm water run-off, beautification, the contribution to property values, improvement of BID climate and by bringing people together (under the hot noon day sun).

These are only a few known reasons why we must make an issue of protecting and preserving this resource. Yet, as I and others have recently found, public trees are not protected by any law within the City of New York. Can you imagine that! Public trees are up for grabs by real estate interests, engineers, planners, architects and their developers and are quickly to remove trees when perceived to be in the way. We have also found that the heads of the various Mayoral agencies, the public services that they run and the tree occupied public landscapes that they oversee have failed miserably to protect this resource (i.e., Department of Parks, School Construction Authority, Department of Design and Construction, Department of Environmental Protection, etc.).

Why is that? Mayor Bloomberg has clearly been misinformed and has bypassed making an issue of the importance of preserving large and mature trees because new tree planting is far more sexier and offers more political capital than large and mature trees do. Clearly his Commissioners, including their chiefs and directors follow lockstep to a drum beat that ignores the importance of those large and mature trees. Perhaps the ground swell of public protest has not been great enough. Perhaps the general public really does not care, until the axeman comes to take the tree down. By then it is already too late.

To better understand our place among the trees and the urban forest, find attached a current peer-review article by William Elmendorf, The Importance of Trees and Nature in Community. This article will clarify the necessity for having shade trees (and nature) inhabit communities such as ours.


Carsten W. Glaeser Ph.D

Executive Director

Kissena Park Civic Association,

Chair- Tree ( and Landscape) Protection SubCommittee

Queens Civic Congress,

Consulting Arborist

Queens Coalition for Parks and Greenspace

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Benepe's Op-Ed response

NYC Department of Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe responded to the recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times. After reading it, I wondered what would motivate this man to make misleading or untrue statements. William Thompson Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. supported our group's position using common sense. The commissioner's rebuttal seemed to ignore proven facts about the benefits of urban forests, but also lacked good economic judgement. Below is his Op-Ed piece (in red), interspersed with my comments (in black):

June 3, 2008
Plans for a Park in Queens

To the Editor:

Re “A Wilderness, Lost in the City,” by William C. Thompson Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (Op-Ed, May 29):

One of the key goals of PlaNYC, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s far-reaching plan to fight global warming and create a more livable city, is to ensure that every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park or open space.

In an early post, I linked to a study on New York City and the "Heat Island Effect". It was clearly visible in satellite imagery used by the scientists in the report, that the Ridgewood Reservoir was one of the coolest inland areas within the five borough. The study showed the cooling effect of trees and other vegetation, an effect that would be severely diminished if Commissioner Benepe cut down the trees and other plants within any of the reservoir's basins. at reservoir. In fact, an association of manufacturers of artificial recreational surfaces acknowledges that artificial turf surface temperatures can be as much as 30 degrees hotter than natural turf. In his haste to replace the city park's natural surface fields with artificial material, Commissioner Benepe is clearly working against his boss's stated goal.

Below is a satellite image from Google Earth. The red circle is .5 miles from the closest edge of the running track that surrounds the reservoir basins (the average person can walk about .4 miles in 10 minutes). Does it look to you like there are few recreational opportunities in that area? The facilities appear to be concentrated on the southwest side of the reservoir basins. That is because, rather than residential areas, the other sides are large cemeteries.

Highland Park in Queens is one of eight large underdeveloped parks where we are expanding access to help achieve this goal.

Highland Park is not underdeveloped, it's under maintained. Eric Goetz was a previous manager of Highland Park. In 2001 he submitted a report to his supervisors regarding the conditions in the park and reservoir, as well as, suggestions for improving the conditions. It has been 7 years since that report and many of the issues that he described still exist. Instead of fixing the obvious problems and improving an existing park, the city would rather spend $40 million on creating another park. If their track record is an indication of what can be expected, they won't maintain the new park either.

As with all of these projects, the city holds listening sessions with community residents to incorporate their input into the design. Many options have been discussed, including one with athletic fields in a small area of the 50-acre Ridgewood Reservoir, an area that is composed primarily of invasive trees and vines that threaten the park’s ecological balance.

The listening sessions were reported here and here. Any discussions about designs that involved breaching the reservoir's retaining wall to install active recreation were one-sided. The parks department came up with the ideas, not the communities.

Invasive species are in every park in NYC and, in some parks, are controlled by long-term management plans. I guess that concept hasn't occurred to the commissioner. The only thing that threatens this "park's ecological balance" is the removal of trees so that artificial turf fields can be installed.

As we begin the design process, we look forward to continued collaboration with the community and with all interested New Yorkers in order to build the best possible park.

Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir fall within Queens Community Board 5 and Brooklyn Community Board 5. Both boards recently voted to opposed development within the basins and support the mission of the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Artificial turf - early results

The following article was just published in "Newsday":

Report: Lead found in fields can be absorbed by body
June 4, 2008

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ New Jersey Health Department officials say lead found in artificial turf at three athletic fields can be absorbed by humans.

Since last year, elevated lead levels were discovered at Frank Sinatra Park in Hoboken, Lion Stadium at the College of New Jersey in Ewing and a field in Newark's Iron Bound district. Other fields tested have not had lead.

The Health Department says tests show lead from fibers and dust can be dissolved under conditions similar to human digestion.

State epidemiologist Eddy Bresnitz says the lead levels are not high enough to cause poisoning to people who play on the fields. But he says it could cause more damage for children already exposed to lead.

The state forwarded the findings to federal officials.

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Unfortunately, in light of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation's disregard for the public's welfare and demands, I don't foresee Commissioner Benepe putting a moratorium on artificial turf installation or tree removals any time soon.

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