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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