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

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Commissioner Benepe Strikes Again

The following article was just published in the Staten Island Advance. It appears that parks commissioner Adrian Benepe has struck again, bulldozers and all. This gives one an idea of what could be expected if he is allowed to "develop" the Ridgewood Reservoir basins.

Bike path plan has some enthused, others rattled
by Jamie Lee

Thursday August 28, 2008, 2:06 PM

The city Parks Department has commissioned a bike trail to be built through western LaTourette Park.

The bike path is meant to not only provide a safe environment for cycling enthusiasts, but also to help promote the area as an appealing attraction for tourists and locals alike.

Beginning at the end of Old Mill Road near St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Richmond, the path winds three-and-a-half miles through woods bordering Great Kills before eventually emerging near the Richmond Avenue-Forest Hill Road intersection in New Springville.

But local conservationists say that, unfortunately, the construction, once so promising, has already begun to destroy pieces of the area's fragile ecosystem.

In a statement released last week, the Sweetbay Magnolia Conservancy alleges that creation of the roadway "has had numerous negative impacts on existing freshwater and tidal wetlands, at least two state-endangered and/or threatened plant species, and a steep slope in the area of a wooded ravine."

And it would appear that the state Department of Environmental Conservation agrees with those allegations, or at least some of them.

After following up on the Sweetbay complaint, the agency issued an administrative summons "to Ravine Contruction for violating the conditions of the Tidal Wetlands permit issued to the Department of Parks & Recreation," according to DEC spokesman Arturo Garcia-Costas.

"The violation involves clearing and grading beyond the scope of the permit," continued Garcia-Costas, who added that the "full nature and extent of the violation is under investigation."

Under the permit, a number of special conditions were put in place to minimize the impact on the wetlands and natural areas through which the bike trails are designed to run.

According to Garcia-Costas, any violation of these conditions represents an unacceptable situation that could damage these sensitive ecosystems.

But according to Sweetbay botanist Richard Lynch, some of that damage has already taken its toll.

"If this were in Central Park, it wouldn't look like this," Lynch said. "The permit allows them to work in a 20-foot-wide space, but in places it stretches out 30, 40, even 50 feet."

Lynch added that the company was also "bulldozing in sensitive areas" and had uncapped a small landfill, used in the 1940s and 1950s, leaving the debris scattered along the trail's edges.

But the real victims are native plant and animal life, according to Lynch.

The botanist noted that a large portion of Gamma Grass, or Tripsacum dactyloides, was completely removed during the construction.

The remaining portions of the grass, listed in the state as threatened, have also been put into peril by the re-routing of the Hessian Spring, a freshwater source that is now being channeled through PVC piping and a bed of crushed stone.

The state-endangered colony of American strawberrybush, the largest pocket of the Euonymus Americanus in the state, has also been put into severe danger.

"The clearing and grubbing activities associated with the road construction have destroyed many hundreds of stems," said Lynch, who estimates that over 70 percent of the cluster has been eradicated. "Other colonies were destroyed by being filled over with soil taken from road-cutting excavations."

In all, Lynch feels that the roadway is currently being "constructed without the kind of environmental protections warranted."

When contacted about the situation, the Parks Department declined comment, except to say that "the ticket requires the contractor to meet with DEC on September 3. At which point, we will know more about the specific violation for which the ticket was issued."

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tour of the Reservour

The "Forum South & West" posted a really good write-up of a recent tour at the reservoir. Present at the tour were Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Congressman Ed Towns.

Journalist Nicole Turso writes:

"A forgotten reservoir reclaimed by the wilderness has become a natural wildlife and flora preserve where residents, community groups and elected officials gathered on Tuesday for a tour and to petition for its integrity."

Read the entire piece here.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Then and Now

The New York Public Library has an aerial photograph of Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir taken in 1924. I created a small movie to show the location of the original Keeper's House and Pump House. The Pump House still exists but the parkway run through the area where it appears the Keeper's House was built. There also seems to be a large building in the area that is now baseball fields.

The following two illustrations are from "The Brooklyn Water Works and Sewers. A Descriptive Memoir D Van Nostrand 1867".

The next two illustrations are from:

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Page Update

I've added a new element to the right sidebar. You can now download a PDF file of the draft environmental assessment of the reservoir. The link is at the top right and looks like this:

Download Draft Environmental Assessment

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Rappelling into the basin

On Tuesday morning, August 12th, I attended a tour at the Ridgewood Reservoir. Present for the walk were Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Congressman Ed Towns. Rep. Anthony Weiner was also scheduled to be present, but I guess something came up because he didn't show. You can watch a 6-minute video of Velazquez and Towns' comments before the tour posted here.

As part of the tour, Queens Parks Commissioner Lewandowski and the park's Natural Resources Group Chief Naturalist Mike Feller brought the congresspersons and several others down into basin 3 (the southwestern basin). This is the largest of the three basins and the one the parks department is eying for development. I pushed my way to the front of the group that was brought down into the basin where we were taken directly to a small meadow near the center of the basin. Mike Feller dug a small hole with a shovel and showed the group the layered earth; the top soil was very dark brown and covered a lighter section of what he called "puddling clay". He explained that because of the shallowness of the top soil most of the locust and birch trees in that basin that surrounded us would easily be toppled naturally, and in a short time. I gathered that that was their rational for a plan that included removing said trees. I asked him why it was, then, that there were relatively large maples and sweetgums within both basins 1 & 3. He explained that they, too, had weak roots systems and would also topple. I followed with, "Does that mean that under the soil and clay is bedrock? He said, "No" that it's glacial till. Mike never answered the question whether it was possible for mature hardwoods to grow in the basins, despite the fact that there are several areas where one can find very large sweetgums, maples and cottonwoods.

When I returned home, I researched "Glacial till" and discovered that nearly all of Long Island (Brooklyn and Queens) sits atop glacial till. I also sent a letter to a certified arborist and horticultural consultant and asked:

Does the fact that the basins rest on glacial till preclude the growth of healthy, mature trees?

I learned that:

"...tree failure depends on numerous factors - climatic, diseases and decay within trees, natural or anthropogenic soil disturbances and certainly shallow soils may be one of them." In addition, "trees along the Belt Parkway - Bay Parkway area (BK) finds numerous Robert Moses era Willow oaks at a height of 45-ft growing upon nutrient poor highly alkaline sandy soils with a minor layer of top soil and grasses. Towering oaks are even found across neighboring Forest Park, existing on the terminal moraine made up of glacial till."

The Ridgewood Reservoir basins could indeed be located on top of glacial till, but that does not mean that the trees are in danger of falling. Under the guidance and recommendation of NRG and Mike Feller, within the last year the Department of Parks & Recreation has authorized the deposition of thousands of yards of nutrient poor, rocky-sandy glacial till, 3-4-ft deep covering a few acre tract of the Kissena Corridor West adjacent to New York Hospital. This glacial till became the foundation upon which some 4,000 + young trees were planted by students under the DoPR sponsored 1-million tree planting initiative. Their intent within the Corridor is to establish a mixed stand forest, similar to what may be occurring naturally in the reservoir. The tree species planted were indeed oaks, tulips and sweetgums, to name a few.

It is important to note that Commissioner Lewandowski and Naturalist Feller never lead the group through any of the forested areas of the basin, just the small meadow. I got the impression that they wanted to get us in and out as quickly as possible without the congresspersons looking around too much. Does their misleading dog and pony show in the basin indicate an intent to remove trees, no matter what the community demands?

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Breaking Ground - 1856

The following was published in the "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" on August 1, 1856. The entire, very detailed article can be viewed here:

The Introduction of Water

The Ceremony of Breaking Ground.

Speeches of Mayor Hall, Rev. Drs. Bethune, Kennaday, Storrs, and Johnson, and Hon. Nathan B. Morse, &c., &c.

The work of introducing water to the city, was formally commenced yesteday and under the auspices of the gentlemen appointed as Directors of the Nassau Water Company. Our readers are familiar with the history of the water question and the recent arrangements between the city and the Nassau Company. The Nassau Water Company in chartered by State Legislature with a capital stock of $3,000,000, with the privilege of increasing it to $6,000,000 - the city being authorized to subscribe $1,300,000. The company have contracted with H. S. Well, & Co., to prepare the reservoirs and aqueducts, build engine-houses, lay down 120 miles of pipe through the city, set 800 hydrants, &c., in consideration of the payment of $4,200,000. The contract guarantees the delivery, for consumption, of 10,000,000 gallons of water per day within two years, and 10,000,000 additional one year after. The capacity of the works now to be commenced is equal to 40,000,000 gallons, with the exception of the steam power. which is designed for the delivery of just one half that amount, which is probably as much as will be required for the next twenty years. The plan is to contract works on a scale amply sufficient for the present time, yet capable of being enlarged to any desired extent, as the demands of the city shall increase. The supplies of water available for this purpose are abundant. The present sources of supply are four ponds, all located within a distance of nine miles from Brooklyn, supplied by springs, and capable of furnishing 250,000,000 gallons daily. It is only necessary to extend the canal, or means of conducting the water, to procure additional quantities. The quantity necessary for the supply of New York is only 17,000,000 per day.

The principal reservoir, of a capacity equal to 150 000,000 gallons, will be about six miles from Brooklyn, near the Cypress Hills Cemetery, where there is already a natural basin, covering forty-eight acres of ground, elevated one hundred and fifty feet above the level of the sea. From this point to Baisley's Pond, six miles further from the city, the water will be conveyed in a covered aqueduct: and beyond the pond, by means of an open canal. From the reservoir to the city, iron pipes will be used. A second reservoir to contain 20,000,000 gallons, will be located on a hill one hundred nod seventy-five feet above tide ...

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Brooklyn Water Works Memoir

In 1867 the "Board of Water Commissioners" for the city of Brooklyn commissioned the memoirs of a former engineer for the Brooklyn Water Works. Google has made the document available as a PDF file. Entitled "The Brooklyn Water Works and Sewers. A Descriptive Memoir" it can be found at this link.

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NPR Story Follow-up

This is a follow-up from NYC Park Advocates regarding the NPR story:

High Temps on Turf Fields Spark Safety Concerns

See No Evil

Last January NYC Park Advocates (NYCPA) released a parks department (DPR) internal document which said they were moving away from using recycled tires in artificial turf fields. “We are suspending the use of rubber infill synthetic turf in all Parks Capital Projects,” said the design directive, dated Jan. 14, 2008.

However, within hours after the memo was revealed the city replied it had made a mistake. “I incorrectly made a blanket statement,” said Deputy Commissioner of Capital Projects Amy Freitag. “There is no change in Parks Dept.’s policy on synthetic turf.” (Freitag left the agency a few weeks ago)

For many years the parks commissioner had touted the "benefits" of using recycled rubber, stating this literally hundreds of times in press releases and in public statements. In today's NPR story (below) the DPR finally publicly admits they have canceled contracts using recycled rubber for infill and are moving away from it. Even after it was revealed the city recently cancelled a contract for St. Michael's field in Queens which is costing the taxpayers an additional 40% ($ 500,000) to switch to virgin rubber, the parks commissioner himself still can't bring himself admit this is due to health concerns.

Parks Fake Grass"

The contractor told a NYCPA source the switch was directly related to the controversy. The switch has also delayed the fields' opening by many months.

So Now We're Not Supposed To Play On Them

In another major development a spokesperson for the Synthetic Turf Council now advises the public in today's NPR story not to use these fields when its sunny and hot. "I don't think anyone in our industry would suggest its a good idea to play on a surface that that's hot." When addressing what to do when it gets that hot, the spokesperson said, {people} "need to reschedule or consider alternate surfaces to play on when its sunny." I.e when athletic fields are used the most. One of the main "reasons" why this product is being installed the public is repeatedly told is that the public gets more playing time. Interesting.

This statement echoes first deputy parks commissioner Liam Cavanagh comments made a few weeks ago regarding the dangers the extreme heat these fields produce when he said, "The temperatures can get very high during the heat of the day. But people are smart. They are not going to use a place that is uncomfortable to play on."

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Turf Story on National Public Radio

NPR covered the artificial turf issue on this morning's "Morning Edition":

Morning Edition, August 7, 2008 · Schools and coaches love artificial turf because it's easy to maintain, and the field stays in great shape all year. But the air around synthetic turf can reach 160 degrees on a 90-degree day. New York City has canceled contracts for turf that contains recycled tires, due to concerns that the rubber adds to the heat-absorbing effect.

Listen to the entire story here.

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