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

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Not so Green mayor

I get even more concerned about the future of the Ridgewood Reservoir when I read articles like the following. This is from Metro NY:

City has fuzzy math on Randall’s Island redo
Number of new fields lowballed, bypassing eco-review

By Patrick Arden / Metro New York

FEB 19, 2008

MANHATTAN. Arithmetic may be on the docket when the Bloomberg administration returns to court over its “pay-to-play” deal at Randall’s Island. And the most challenging question might be, what’s the difference between 13 and 28?

That’s because the city had originally declared the project wouldn’t need an environmental review based on its claim that only 13 new athletic fields would be built.

In a July 28, 2006, memorandum, Parks Department planner Joshua Laird said 64 new athletic fields “will replace 51 existing fields.” City attorney Lawrence S. Kahn later explained, “An [Environmental Impact Statement] is not required, because the construction of the fields constitutes ‘in kind’ replacement, rehabilitation or reconstruction of the ballfields on the same site.”

Yet at a Feb. 13, 2007, hearing of the Franchise and Concession Review Committee, which approved the deal, Parks Department Deputy Commissioner Liam Kavanaugh put the figure for existing fields at 36, bringing the number of new fields to 28, or more than double the 2006 claim. The city declined to comment after Metro mentioned the disparity to the Law Department.

“I don’t believe there were even 36 permanent fields on Randall’s Island,” said Geoffrey Croft of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates. Croft was once a photographer for the Randall’s Island Sport Foundation, which runs the public park, and at a community meeting in East Harlem last week he showed “before” and “after” photos to illustrate the full extent of the construction project. “They’ve wiped out most of the vegetation on the island,” he said. “They acted in bad faith to avoid doing an EIS.”

“It’s unbelievable, just total destruction, trees uprooted, everything demolished,” said City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was at the forum. “It’s pretty sad.”

Construction on the island has not stopped, despite a recent state Supreme Court ruling that the project should have gone through the city’s land-use review process. The judge hopes to now take up the issue of whether it also needed an environmental review.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

What's up with the parks department?

I have no intention to turn this blog into a NYC Department of Parks & Recreation flaming site, but I couldn't overlook the following article that was in the New York Times. It makes me question what kind of people parks hires. Also, if the worker did actually kill any species of gull (there's no such thing as a "seagull"), the crime is a violation of the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The park employee should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. If he was directed by his boss to kill the birds, that person should also be arrested and fined.

February 16, 2008
Parks Worker Is Charged With Trying to Kill Birds
By Eric Konigsberg and Al Baker

Around 3 p.m. on Friday, several people walking in Battery Park called 911 to report curious goings-on: a man driving a Parks Department golf cart was tearing erratically through a city park at 1 Whitehall Street.

As the calls came in, the police said, it emerged that the cart’s driving pattern may have been reckless, but it was not without purpose. The driver was apparently trying to run over as many birds as he could.

Officers responded, “and over the course of the investigation we uncovered videotape,” a Police Department spokesman said. Five birds were killed, the police said: three pigeons, two seagulls.

The authorities said the man at the wheel of the golf cart was Martin Hightower, a 45-year-old Parks Department employee. He was arrested and charged with two misdemeanors, reckless endangerment and intentional injury to animals. A Parks Department spokesman said Mr. Hightower had been suspended.

Mr. Hightower has been employed by the Parks Department since 2005 and was working as an enforcement patrol officer, said Adrian Benepe, the parks commissioner.

“They primarily concentrate on quality-of-life issues: illegal vending, not cleaning up after a dog,” he said. “They can make arrests and issue summonses. I haven’t seen the videotape yet, and I don’t want to prejudice the case, but if it’s true, it’s outrageous. In the Parks Department we’re supposed to be protecting nature and wildlife.”

He went on: “I can’t recall anything like this. Occasionally we’ll write a ticket for somebody who’s letting their dog chase pigeons. A few years ago, there was an employee at the zoo who was scalding monkeys. This is something we take very seriously.”

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Friday, February 15, 2008

ATV follow-up

Apparently, the local precincts aren't very serious about reigning in the illegal ATV usage at Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir. A day after the last incident, an entire family was seen tearing up the area on ATVs and dirt bikes. Below are photographs of the license plates for both the truck and trailer that belongs to one of the ATV owners that was questioned by the officers of the 75th precinct last time. Let us know if you observe the same vehicles in the parking lot next to the reservoir. Also, it should come as no surprise that the Queens Commissioner of Parks, Dorothy Lewandowski, never accepted our invitation to accompany us to the park to see, first hand, the blatant abuse by ATV owners.

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Part of the million trees program?

This just appeared in the "Queens Courier":

Jamaica trees whacked
By Victor G. Mimoni

Wednesday, February 13, 2008 1:09 PM EST

A phone call on Martin Luther King Day - when most city offices are closed - is credited with saving nine trees in Jamaica Estates from mutilation, and has shaken up the system for permitting private contractors to touch street trees.

It all started when a resident noticed that a Long Island contractor, New York Tree & Shrub, was cutting much of the top off several trees on 80th Drive, between Kent and Chevy Chase Streets in Jamaica Estates.

Posted notices indicated that the contractor had a permit to do the same to a total of 15 trees on the quiet residential block, which runs westerly from the foot of a small hill.

Suspicious because the work was being done on the holiday, and because none of the homeowners on the block knew who had hired the contractor, the informant contacted the office of City Councilmember James Gennaro, who chairs the Environmental Protection Committee, on Monday, January 21. Fortunately, staffers were there to take the call, and knew Gennaro was in Park City, Utah, attending the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, promoting a pro-sustainable fuel documentary, “Fields of Fuel” in which he appears.

He contacted top officials at the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation on Tuesday morning, and by Wednesday, January 23, the saws were silenced.

According to a letter delivered to about 40 residents of the block from Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, the permits were “improperly issued.” Furthermore, “the six trees were not pruned according to [Parks Department] standards,” he said.

Benepe also indicated that the Forestry Division had completed a damage report, and was assessing the damage to the trees and “possible related fines.”

The revelations came at a sparsely-attended public meeting at the Hillcrest Public Library on Thursday, January 31, at which Gennaro, Dorothy Lewandowski, Queens Parks Commissioner, and members of their staffs explained the situation and steps being taken to prevent a repetition in the future.

The method used by the contractor is called “pollarding” according to a Parks Department specialist. It involves pruning to control size and not shape. The procedure, common in Europe, is not approved in New York City, except in rare cases, said the source.

“We pollard trees around the landing approaches to airports to keep the lights cleared, but that’s about it,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s a high-maintenance method, like the ‘V-trim’ Con Edison has to use around its power lines,” Lewandowski said, adding “Some types of trees don’t do well afterwards.”

Lewandowski explained, “It was a gray area in the procedure, and we’ve suspended issuing permits citywide, until all the boroughs can coordinate a policy to make sure this never happens again.”

Normally, a homeowner can hire a contractor to prune the street trees in front of his property.

A weakness in the current system, according to Lewandowski, was that it is the contractor, not the homeowner or homeowners, who is the applicant of record. “An application to prune 15 trees is highly unusual,” she said, admitting that the area should have been inspected before a permit was issued.

“It’s one of the things we have to iron out,” she said.

Gennaro added that it “sounded very irregular to me that someone would pay to prune 15 trees on a block where they didn’t live.” He said that the person who hired the contractor “lived on a hill two blocks away,” and surmised that “apparently, they wanted an unobstructed view of Manhattan.”

Fortunately, the type of sycamore tree on the block, “London Plane Tree,” is resilient and they may recover from the procedure. “They really sprout back,” Lewandowski said.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New Links Section

There is a new "Education Links" section in the lower sidebar. I'll continue to add relevant websites over time. Feel free to email me your favorites. I've started off with the following:

Acorn Naturalists offers many resources in the natural sciences for teachers and parents.

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum allows students to look up specimens in there collections and find out more about them.

EcoKids offers children some fun online natural science activities with an ecological slant.

The National Arbor Day Foundation website has fun and education games and an animated online Field Guide to Trees for children.

The Electronic Naturalist is a site for teachers and kids containing lots of good information about many natural science subjects.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Daily News Article

An article about Comptroller William Thompson's tour of the Ridgewood Reservoir is in today's Daily News:

Thompson walks Ridgewood Reservoir
By John Lauinger Daily News Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 5th 2008, 4:00 AM

City Controller William Thompson has become the latest official eying higher office to take notice of a preservation battle being waged over the Ridgewood Reservoir.

Thompson, a Democrat long rumored to be running for mayor next year, joined locals last week on a 2-mile hike through the densely wooded reservoir on the Queens-Brooklyn border.

His bodyguard in tow, Thompson emerged with a newfound appreciation for the 50-acre woodland slated for a $50 million upgrade in Mayor Bloomberg's sweeping PlaNYC initiative.

"It's an amazing space," Thompson said, marveling at the vastness and serenity of the landscape, which has regenerated into a rare urban forest since closing as a water source in 1989.

You can read the entire article here. I recommend that you leave a comment at the end of the piece and let the city know how you feel.

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Fewer people spending time outdoors

An article on MSNBC references a recent study that concludes people are spending more time in front of their televisions and computers and less time outdoors:

Associated Press
updated 4:54 p.m. ET, Mon., Feb. 4, 2008

WASHINGTON - As people spend more time communing with their televisions and computers, the impact is not just on their health, researchers say. Less time spent outdoors means less contact with nature and, eventually, less interest in conservation and parks.

Camping, fishing and per capita visits to parks are all declining in a shift away from nature-based recreation, researchers report in Monday’s online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Declining nature participation has crucial implications for current conservation efforts,” wrote co-authors Oliver R. W. Pergams and Patricia A. Zaradic. “We think it probable than any major decline in the value placed on natural areas and experiences will greatly reduce the value people place on biodiversity conservation.”

Read the entire article here.

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Monday, February 4, 2008

So much for Capt. Green's promise

Only one day after my experience with the two ATV riders I received the following email:

Date: February 4, 2008 8:52:09 AM EST
Subject: Re: ATVs at the reservoir

There was a family of ATV's at the reservoir yesterday. What looked to be a couple on a large four-wheeler, a child on a little four-wheeler, and a teenager on a dirt bike, riding around like they owned the place. It's really getting tore up.

I also received this email from a former park ranger:

Date: February 4, 2008 10:11:58 AM EST
Subject: RE: ATVs at the reservoir

[ ... ] my experience as a park ranger was that often the guys riding the ATVs and the jet skis were off-duty cops, so they never got busted.

As a former park ranger herself, perhaps Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski is well aware of this fact. If she really wants to solve the problem and isn't just giving us all lip service, I invite her to go with me one Saturday or Sunday morning and stay until the ATVs arrive. After I call 311 to lodge a complaint and the police arrive, stay to see what happens.

It appears that we aren't making enough noise. For this problem to end, I recommend the following:

- Bring your camera and cellphone when you go to the reservoir.
- When the ATVs arrive, call 311 and say something like, "I was walking on the running path at Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park and there are ATVs chasing people off the path and tearing up the hillsides."
- Stay until the police arrive and lead them to the ATVs.
- Do not leave until the ATVs and police have left.
- Take lots of photographs.

If you don't want to call the police, just take photos and email them to the address below. Tomorrow I will post the names of the officers from the 104th precinct who responded.

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

ATVs at the reservoir

I went over to the reservoir early this morning to stretch my legs, take some photos and meet Sam. At 11:50AM, while I was walking along the jogging path parallel to Vermont Place, 2 ATVs drove up to the path from the parking lot. I had to get out of their way as they sped passed. Then I called 311, who transferred me to the 911 operator. She said that a patrol car would be dispatched. While I was waiting for them I decided to look for the ATVs.

I followed the noise of their engines and found them on the hillside across from Lower Highland Park, up from Forcetube Avenue. They were tearing up the turf in that area, they would also speed up the hillside and jump the sidewalk near the top of the stairs. When they were at the top of the hill they would do the same in the natural areas at the south end of basin #2. It didn't matter to them if people were on the pathways, they'd just blast by assuming that people would move out of the way.

I didn't hide the fact that I was photographing them and they left the area at approximately 12:25PM. No officers showed up, so I walked back towards the parking lot. At 12:39PM a patrol car turned on to Vermont Place as the two guys on the ATVs were tearing up the grass at the base of the hill in that spot. One guy actually flipped over in front of the police, who pulled over in front of the ATVs. About a minute later another patrol car pulled up.

They talked to the two guys for a long time. I planned to stay as long as necessary to see what the officers from the 104th precinct would do to the guys. From where I stood on the running path, they just seemed to be talking. Two of the officers walked back to the ATV that had flipped and looked it over like a car in a used car lot. Finally, at 1:29PM, one of the officers mounted the red ATV, drove it to the opening in the guardrail at the crosswalk, down Vermont Place, then made a right turn onto Highland Blvd. The patrol cars left, the second ATV owner drove his machine to his truck in the parking lot and the guy who just lost his ATV flipped off Sam and I and yelled, "Thanks a lot."

I can't say for certain if they really confiscated his ATV or they were putting on a show for our benefit. If the red ATV shows up at the reservoir again, we'll know because I've posted their photos for comparison.

This satellite image from Google Earth shows, very clearly, the extent of the damage to the habitat by ATVs at the Ridgewood Reservoir. I'll post images later that show the tracks within Highland Park.