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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Nature and history tour of the Ridgewood Reservoir

On Sunday, October 5, Newtown Historical Society will be offering a special nature and history tour of the Ridgewood Reservoir starting at 9am in the main parking lot on Vermont Place at Highland Park. We will view the historic structures in the recently renovated park, observe the natural world and discuss its future.

You can take public transportation to Highland Park. The B13 bus stops along Cypress Hills Street and the Q56 stops along Jamaica Avenue. The Cleveland Street stop on the J train is 3 blocks from the park. Or, you can drive or bike.

This tour will be led by special guest Rob Jett, author of The City Birder.

This tour is 100% FREE and will be a great experience for children and adults alike. For more info or to RSVP, write to or call 718-366-3715.

It is suggested that you bring sunblock and water. You may also wish to bring binoculars and cameras.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

More Media Coverage

We even got our story covered in Nowy Dziennik (Polish Daily News)!

Read the fairly accurate Google Translate version of the article here.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Walk in the Park blog article

"A Walk in the Park" just posted a really good reservoir piece today:

DEC/Parks Department Reverse Ridgewood Reservoir Culvert Plan

The decommissioned Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park is a natural oasis on the Queens-Brooklyn border. Activists were worried that a state-mandated plan to cut culverts in the reservoir would have impacted the natural beauty of the area. Citizens were concerned that this could pave the way for future development.


By Geoffrey Croft
For years the community fought vehemently against Mayor Bloomberg's $50 million PlaNYC proposal to clear out 20 acres of one of the basins for ballfields and develop the natural area for active recreation.

It appears these efforts may finally be paying off.

Click here to read the entire story.

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Another Queens Courier Article

The following article was just published in the Queens Courier:

New hope for Ridgewood Reservoir
By Salvatore Licata |

The Ridgewood Reservoir is gaining some dam support.

The head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation told lawmakers that the city Parks Department requested his agency reclassify the reservoir as a “low hazard” dam, which would obviate the need for a $6 million construction project to prevent flooding.

The reservoir has been listed as a major flood hazard with potential to do damage to its surroundings. In order to minimize the risk of flooding, the Parks Department planned to connect the reservoir’s three basins by creating three large breaches in the reservoir’s surrounding berms.

“If reclassified, the Class A [low flood threat] designation will allow Parks to maintain the reservoir as a dam, without necessitating breaching the structure and all the associated intrusions, such as access-road construction, tree removal and habitat disturbance,” DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens wrote in a Sept. 2 letter.

Martens said his staff felt the downgrade “may be technically justified,” and that the Parks Department is “in the process of submitting additional information to justify this reclassification,” raising the possibility that the reservoir can be fully preserved.

“We share your view that the reservoir is a unique, historic site that over the years has reverted to nature and has become a haven for wildlife, as well as local residents seeking respite from urbanized surroundings,” Martens wrote.

The letter also said that the DEC is developing a schedule to map the wetlands in the three basins of the reservoir, starting early this fall.

This initial work will identify the exact boundaries of each of the wetlands and what conditions exist there.

Even though the letter is a step forward in the fight to save the reservoir, state Sen. Joe Addabbo remains skeptical.

“I will not rest until there is an A classification [low flood risk] letter from the Parks Department in my hand,” Addabbo said. “I am optimistic we will get what we want but just something more definitive.”

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Revamped Plan Article

The following article was published in DNAinfo New York:

Revamped City Plan Would Preserve Ridgewood Reservoir
By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on September 8, 2014 1:14pm

QUEENS — The state and the city are considering a plan that would allow Ridgewood Reservoir to remain untouched and preserve its ecosystem.

The man-made structure, a historic source of water supply, surrounded by lush greenery, and located in Highland Park, has become a battleground in recent months.

Local park lovers and several elected officials disagreed with a Parks Department plan to build breaches, which would allow flood waters to drain, and roads at the site of the reservoir, while also cutting down nearly 500 trees.

The $6 million plan, the Parks Department said, was meant to comply with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations, put in place after Hurricane Katrina.

The goal was to address the potential for flooding in the area of the reservoir, which the state DEC classified as a “high hazard” dam.

Under that classification, a failure of the reservoir could result in "widespread or serious damage...such that the loss of human life or widespread substantial economic loss is likely."

It was not clear when or why the Ridgewood Reservoir was given that classification.

Earlier this year, local activists started a petition protesting the plan and have garnered nearly 1,000 supporters as of Sept. 8.

In July, several elected officials, including Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, Rep. Grace Meng and state Assemblyman Mike Miller sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressing their concern that the proposed work would affect the park’s ecosystem.

“We are deeply concerned these changes will significantly harm the natural and largely undisturbed habitats of the animals that currently live there," the letter reads.

But last Wednesday, the Parks Department said that it has decided not to pursue the plan and is working to get the site reclassified as a “low hazard” dam.

The Parks Department said the new plan would eliminate the need to build culverts and roads in the park.

Lori Severino, a spokeswoman for the DEC, said the agency "will carefully consider the anticipated reclassification request.”

Local activists said they welcome the new plan.

“It makes sense and it should have happened originally,” said Gary Comorau, president of the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance, a local advocacy group that promotes the site.

“It’s so spectacular,” he said about the park. “You don't feel like you're in New York City and we want to keep it this way.”

Several years ago, the park also underwent renovations which included repaving of pathways. A new handicap-accessible ramp was also added.

"After having recently invested millions to revitalize the Reservoir, it would be a crime [to] destroy and disturb the thriving natural wildlife," said Crowley, who called the site an "ecological gem."

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Friday, September 5, 2014

New York Daily News Article

The New York Daily News also just published a good story about recent developments with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation:

Ridgewood Reservoir could keep its wild appeal under new state plan

Advocates for the green oasis on the Brooklyn-Queens border have been fighting to preserve the natural parkland. State officials say the city may not need to cut culverts as part of an anti-flooding plan they originally mandated. State Department of Environmental Conservation will consider reclassifying the site as a non-hazardous dam.

BY Lisa L. Colangelo
Thursday, September 4, 2014, 8:33 PM

The Ridgewood Reservoir may get to stay wild.

The city may not need to cut culverts and roads through the green oasis in order to stave off the potential risk of flooding, state officials said this week.

It marked the first sign of victory for the activists who have been battling for seven years to protect the untamed 50-acre site, which has grown into a natural woodland since the reservior was closed more than two decades ago.

“There aren’t wild places left like this is New York,” said activist Robb Jett, who founded Save the Ridgewood Reservoir. “There’s more to gain to keep it as a natural area.”

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens told lawmakers the area could be reclassified as a low-risk dam, a distinction that would eliminate the need for flooding mitigation measures currently required by state law.

The state will make that decision after it completes a review of information provided by the city Parks Department.

The news comes in time to head off a $6 million Parks project — mandated by the state — that opponents said would destroy the reservoir’s delicate ecosystem.

More than 150 species of migratory and resident birds use the lush area, Jett said.

Another activist, Christina Wilkinson, convinced eight local lawmakers earlier this year to sign a letter to Gov. Cuomo detailing the importance of preserving the site.

“This new plan will be great for the community because it preserves the natural environment of the park, prevents any new development,” said Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who signed the letter. “And most importantly, (it) saves our taxpayers over $6 million.”

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Queens Chronicle Story

Good news travels fast! This article was published late this morning in the Queens Chronicle:

Ridgewood Reservoir to be reclassified?
by Christopher Barca, Reporter | Posted: Thursday, September 4, 2014 10:30 am
Ridgewood Reservoir to be reclassified?

Activists fighting for the reclassification of the Ridgewood Reservoir shouldn’t uncork the champagne just yet, but they may have scored a victory this week.

The Parks Department will apply to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for a redesignation of the reservoir, within Highland Park on the Glendale-Brooklyn border, from a Class C “high hazard” dam to a Class A “low hazard” dam, according to agency spokesman Zach Feder.

That could negate the need for a project that residents say would destroy the park by requiring the cutting down of almost 500 trees and the construction of roads that would negatively impact the habitat of many of the park’s wildlife species.

“Parks has discussed the prospect of instead reclassifying the reservoir as a Class A “low hazard” site with DEC, which would eliminate the need to create any breaches,” Feder said. “Parks is currently working on a package that we will submit to DEC in support of this reclassification.”

If the state DEC approves the agency’s reclassification application, the proposed two-year, $6 million culvert creation project mandated by the DEC will be deemed unnecessary and terminated.

The planned construction work would include creating large culverts in the embankments between the three basins of the park, one of which is filled with water.

According to the DEC, such work would reduce the risk of a breach of one or more of the basins during an unprecedented storm, which might lead to severe flooding in the surrounding areas.

However, residents and Community Board 5 have claimed that it would be nearly impossible for enough precipitation to fill the basins to a point where a potential breach will seriously threaten the surrounding area.

In recent months, area elected officials and activists have petitioned for the reclassification of the reservoir in their own way.

In a letter to Gov. Cuomo dated July 24, Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), Councilmembers Elizabeth Crowley (D-Glendale) and Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn, Queens), state Sens. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and state Assemblymembers Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Cathy Nolan (D-Sunnyside) expressed their concern over what the proposed work would do to the park’s ecosystem.

“The proposed work consists of breaching the berms that separate the Ridgewood Reservoir’s basins, building permanent access roads into this habitat, and cutting down at least 470 trees,” the letter reads. “We are concerned these changes will significantly harm the natural and largely undisturbed habitats of the animals that live there.”

Additionally, the preservation group Save Ridgewood Reservoir started a petition on the social change website to rally support for its cause in July. As of Wednesday, 793 people had signed it.

Many of the petition’s signatories are from the area, including Queens Civic Congress President Richard Hellenbrecht and New York City Audubon President Harrison Maas, but some from as far away as Kentucky left messages of encouragement.

“This is a rich environmental habitat,” Hellenbrecht wrote, “and offers a unique perspective of NYC history and must be maintained in its natural state.”

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Letter From Commissioner Martens

We just received a copy of the response letter from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens. It appears that pressure from our elected officials, our petition and hard work from everyone in the community may finally be paying off. A success party may still be a bit premature, but this is the best bit of good news that we've had in a long time:

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Budget Hearing Article

Here's a recent article from the Times Newsweekly that mentions community support for funds to preserve the reservoir:


Neighborhood Participates In Funding Process For First Time
by Noah Zuss

Residents attended a participatory budgeting info session at the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council (GRYC) on Wednesday, Aug. 13 to engage in the process that allows individuals to choose which capital projects to fund in their district.

This fourth session––held at the GRYC Summerfield Street headquarters––was organized by City Council MemberAntonio Reynoso to engage the community and educate residents on the process that will determine how to spend $1 million in discretionary funds.

This year marks the first time the process will used in the district, which covers Ridgewood south and west of Myrtle and Forest avenues and parts of Bushwick East Williamsburg and Williamsburg. Council members allocate a portion of discretionary funds to the process––Reynoso chose to earmark $1 million, but can choose to increase that number.

The meeting last Wednesday represented the infancy of the process, Ava Farkas, director of community organizing for Reynoso’s office, said. At the session, volunteer sign-up sheets and a presentation on how participatory budgeting works were distributed so residents could get involved, and learn more about the instrument.

The overarching goal of the process is to increase community involvement in budgeting decisions, it was noted.

“Public budgets are your money,” Farkas said.

After a lawmaker chooses to allocate a certain amount of money, neighborhood assemblies are held, which will begin in September and run through November; then delegate meetings to develop proposals on what projects the community wants funded will run through February; project expos to explain the various projects will be organized through March; and a vote will be collected from March through April.

Members of the community 16 years of age or older are eligible to vote, and will be given a list of five projects to choose the ones they want funded. The process is now used in 1,500 cities and towns, with nine council district’s last year, and 23 this year, Farkas stated.

“There is a million dollars at stake that Council Member Reynoso wants to spend in the district,” GRYC President Bob Monahan said. “You’re going to get to decide how it’s spent on a capital perspective.”

Those in attendance were asked to present their ideas on capital projects to fund.

Ideas from the groups included funds to preserve the Ridgewood Reservoir in it’s current state and not to breach it as the Parks Department has planned, more playgrounds in the area, more Greenstreets and green spaces in the district, funds for more and better bathrooms at local parks and a community garden atop the former Joseph Garity American Legion Post, which will soon house GRYC programs and services.

“We want to preserve the Ridgewood Reservoir,” Tom Dowd, a long-time resident, said. “It’s a good place to do real science. It’s still an incredibly beautiful place. We think that’s one good project.”

Another resident proposed a recreation center for kids that offers sports programs.

Participatory budgeting was first used in Porta Allegre, Brazil, and has since been implemented in Chicago, Toronto and Vallejo, Calif.

In the last cycle, $12 million was spent in council districts using participatory budgeting, Farkas said.

Farkas and Kevin Worthington, also of Reynoso’s office, presented an exercise to outline for residents what is meant by capital versus expense funding.

After using projects examples to define the differences, Worthington told attendees, “You’re ready for P. B., congratulations.”

Capital funding is brick and mortar projects that will ast at least five years. Only capital projects that cost over $35,000 and less than one million can be nominated, Farkas stated.

Only residents of the 34th District may vote in the election, it was noted.

To become a budget delegate, an individual must be at least 14 years old. They must live, work, own a business, go to school or have a child in school in the district. Immigration status is not a factor.

Many ways to engage exist, Worthington and Farkas noted, including coming to a neighborhood assembly, becoming a budget delegate, voting on projects and spreading the word. Volunteers are also needed for phone banking, translation services, child care. Food for meetings, and meeting spaces are also always needed, Worthington said.

“Being a volunteer really means outreach and spreading the word,” Farkas said.

District committee meetings will begin this week, she noted.

“You can really make an impact in the community,” volunteer Heather Hatton said. “You can really do anything if you have the votes.”
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