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

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Helen Marshall Testimony

On June 19th, 2008, the New York City Council, Committee on Parks and Recreation held a public hearing. The purpose was to decide if the Ridgewood Reservoir should be protected as wetlands or allowed to be developed by the Department of Parks and Recreation. One of the strongest opponents to Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 designs to develop this unique area was Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. Below is a transcript of her testimony:

"Good morning members of the New York City Council, Parks and Recreation Committee Chair Foster, Commissioner Adrian Benepe from the Department of Parks and Recreation, and other distinguished guests. Before I begin, I would like to thank the City Council for holding this oversight hearing and affording us the opportunity to voice our concerns regarding the Ridgewood Reservoir and Highland Park."

"Let me first begin by saying that I oppose the Department of Parks and Recreation's plans to convert the historic landmark into ballfields. Rather, I am a strong advocate to preserve the unique and important ecosystems that have developed in Ridgewood Reservoir. Ridgewood Reservoir and Highland Park total approximately 142.5 acres of woodlands, lakes, wetlands, and picnic areas and is located on the Brooklyn/Queens border within Highland Park. The Ridgewood Reservoir is an important area for resident, migratory and nesting birds and can serve as a place for environmental study, bird watching or simply just a place to enjoy the wonderful fruits that mother nature has to offer. In addition, the existing topography of Highland Park is not only permissable to scenic and serene walks, but if reconfigured and properly maintained, this area could serve for the site of many different sporting events, and help discount the need to build additional sports facilities. Unfortunately, Ridgewood Reservoir holds the distinction of being one of the eight "underdeveloped destination parks" to be completed under Mayor Bloomberg's plan. To that end, I support and recommend the following: (1) creation of an ecology research center and museum which would be available to students in the surrounding areas; (2) preserving all historic natural areas and ensuring that they receive the same treatment as historical landmarks; (3) installation of security lighting, new fencing, rehabilitation of walkways and railing, and the creation of a security system to protect the reservoir from unauthorized entry; and (4) establishment of an ongoing maintenance program for existing sports facilities located on Jamaica Avenue in Lower Highland Park as well as the four baseball fields located in Upper Highland Park."

"In closing, I know I have support from the community boards, as well as, various civic and sports related groups and the Parks Services Committee when I ask that we work together with the Mayor's Office, the City Council and the Department of Parks and Recreation to save the Ridgewood Reservoir and restore Highland Park. Through a jointly collaborative and cooperative effort, I feel we can maximize the full potential of this storied piece of land."

"Thank you once again for allowing me testify on this important issue."

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Less Money to Destroy Ridgewood Reservoir

I thought that I was stating the obvious then I pointed out in a recent posting that Mayor Bloomberg was planning to cut the NYPD & FDNY budgets while going ahead with a ridiculous waste of money at the Ridgewood Reservoir. Well, according to a report in today's NY Post, it appears all bets are off for the Department of Parks & Recreation, as well. In the story, it was revealed that Mayor Bloomberg cut the department's 5 year capital budget by $338 million. How will that affect Ridgewood Reservoir (or Highland Park, as the DoPR keeps referring to it despite the fact that none of the money would be spent on Upper or Lower Highland Park)? Here is a quote from the article:

"...while a $50 million plan to restore Ridgewood Reservoir and bring new athletic fields to Highland Park fell to $19.8 million."

Perhaps leadership within the parks department will make an astute observation and come to the conclusion that they could use the remaining funding to fix up Highland Park proper. Better yet, a project to maintain and upgrade the current fields so they could finally be used more frequently and by more people. Nah...

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Birding tour

Tomorrow, Saturday, May 23rd, Steve Nanz will be leading a birding walk at the reservoir. The event is free and open to the public. Meet Steve at the Upper Highland Park parking lot at 8am.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

NYC Wetlands Conservation

The following article just appeared in the "Queens Chronicle". It is relevant to our efforts to protect the Ridgewood Reservoir wetlands, especially since Mayor Bloomberg would have us believe that he is the "environmental" mayor.

Setting the Stage for Conservation
by Willow Belden, Assistant Editor


New York City used to have over 300,000 acres of wetlands; today, less than one-tenth remain, due to development projects that have taken place over the past 150 years. Various federal and state laws regulate development in wetland areas, but there are gaps in the rules, which means many of the city’s marshy areas fall through the cracks.

To try to close the regulatory loopholes, the City Council recently passed a bill requiring that the city identify and document all remaining wetlands and develop a comprehensive conservation strategy for them. The goal is to prevent further net loss of wetlands in the city.

The bill passed unanimously in the council, and the mayor is expected to sign the legislation on Tuesday.

You might think the bill isn’t proposing anything that new. After all, don’t we already know where the city’s wetlands are?

“No, we don’t,” said Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), chairman of the Environmental Protection Committee and author of the bill. “We know generally where they are, but generally knowing where they are is different than making a precise inventory and doing a detailed delineation of them.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation inventoried and mapped the city’s tidal wetlands in 1975 and did the same for freshwater wetlands twice in the 1980s. But that was the last comprehensive documentation, and in 30-some years, the size and quantity of wetlands can change significantly.

Documentation is the first step in developing a conservation program for wetlands, according to Dan Montella, chief of the wetlands protection team for the Environmental Protection Agency Region 2.

“You can’t protect them if you don’t know where they are,” Montella said.

Documenting wetlands isn’t as easy as it sounds, though — in part because you don’t always know a wetland when you see one.

Wetlands are transition areas between water and land — places with enough surface or groundwater, enough of the time, to support vegetation that is “adapted for life in saturated soil conditions,” according to the bill.

“You know when you’re in a wetland if you’re up to your ankles in water,” Montella said, “but the boundaries can be difficult to discern,” especially since water levels typically fluctuate depending on the season.

Aerial photography and satellite imaging are often the first steps in identifying wetlands, but to determine exactly where the marshes begin and end, it’s necessary to examine soil characteristics and plant and animal life, Montella explained.

Documentation of the wetlands is to be completed by September 2010, according to the bill. After that, a conservation strategy can be developed.

Various federal regulations already govern wetlands. Most notably the Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants into “navigable waters” and prohibits dredging and filling without a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Anyone who wants to fill a wetland has to show why they have to fill that wetland,” Montella said. “It can’t just be because it’s convenient.”

Those who fill in wetlands also have to mitigate the impact of the development, for example by creating or restoring wetlands elsewhere.

But the Clean Water Act doesn’t apply to all the city’s wetlands, because many aren’t considered “Waters of the United States.” For instance, small, isolated freshwater wetlands, such as the ones found in many of the city’s parks, aren’t generally considered WOTUS, Montella said. During the Bush administration, the scope of what qualifies as a federally protected wetland became even narrower, according to DEC Regional Spokesman Arturo Garcia-Costas.

State regulations pick up some of the slack left by federal law, but again there are loopholes. Most notably, the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act of 1975 doesn’t apply to wetlands smaller than 12.4 acres or to unmapped wetlands.

The size threshhold is “kind of ridiculous, because there are so many wetlands that are just under that acreage,” said Doug Adamo, chief of natural resources at the Gateway National Recreation Area, which encompasses the wetlands in Jamaica Bay.

At the local level, the city launched the Waterfront Revitalization Program in 2002, which seeks to prevent the net loss of wetlands. The city has also designated several areas — including Jamaica Bay — as “Special Natural Waterfront Areas,” which are recognized as having special natural habitat features “that should be considered in connection with any waterfront activity.”

But according to a report issued by PlaNYC, the oversight of wetlands mitigation is uneven, so the city’s standards do little to close the gaps in state and federal regulations.

The goal of the legislation by the City Council is to reverse that problem by creating a city conservation strategy, to be completed in 2012.

“What we really need is a local regulatory program to complement the federal and state plans and also in some cases to strengthen them,” Gennaro said.

Some progress has already been made. A comprehensive Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection bill was passed several years ago, setting restrictions for activities in the bay’s watershed area, which includes the bay, the wetlands and the drylands above the bay.

In addition, the City Council passed a bill requiring that public wetlands — those owned by city agencies — be inventoried. An effort is also underway to transfer most city-owned wetlands to the Parks Department for protection. Of the wetlands that have been transferred so far, 90 percent are in Queens.

So why are wetlands so important?

“Ecologically speaking, they’re the most precious lands that we have,” Gennaro said. “But back when we didn’t know any better, we filled them in.”

Two key functions of wetlands are water purification and flood control. Wetlands filter out pollutants, thus leaving the water cleaner as it flows from upland areas into estuaries and the ocean. They also help curb flooding by absorbing excess rainwater, and they control shore erosion and promote aquatic biodiversity. Finally, there’s the aesthetic factor; wetlands are often visually attractive and provide locations for birdwatching and other recreational activities.

Conservation of wetlands doesn’t mean they will never be developed, Gennaro said; it just means it will be more difficult to fill the areas, and it means more attention will be directed toward mitigation.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Highland Park Facilities Usage

There have been ongoing public discussions about the fate of the Ridgewood Reservoir since 2007. Much of the argument for destroying the unique habitats within the reservoir by the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation has been the claim that Highland Park needs more baseball fields. Despite the fact that there are currently 6 poorly maintained fields within the surrounding Upper and Lower Highland Park, Park Commissioner Benepe continues to push for more athletic fields.

We recently acquired the facility permit forms for Highland Park for the years 2007 and 2008. The purpose was to analyze field usage to determine if, in fact, those claims were correct. What we found was startling, but not totally unexpected. The usage calendar had even more holes in it than the parks department's arguments for destroying the reservoir habitats. To give you an idea; the longest period of time in one day that the parks department appears to give out permits for is 8am - 11pm. That was for a carnival, but for baseball games the longest period was from 8am - 10pm or 14 hours. Let's do the math:

6 ball fields x 14 hours = 84 hours per day of available time.
84 hours x 7 days = 588 hours of available time per week.

The earliest date that the department of parks scheduled use of the fields was on April 13th, 2007. The latest date was on September 29th, 2007. That is a total of 170 days or 14,280 hours available for ball field usage per season.

According to the 2007 permits issued by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, a total of 410 hours were approved. That means that just 2.8% of the season's available ball field time was approved for usage.

For the calendar year 2008, 753.5 hours of usage were approved. Note that of those 753.5 hours, 210 hours were allocated for a carnival held on the lower fields, so in reality only 543.5 hours were approved for athletic events. Field usage for the year 2008 went up 1% giving us a total of 3.8% facility usage for that season.

These results are especially disturbing given that Mayor Bloomberg is willing to spend $40 million dollars on a project that nobody in the community wants, is unnecessary, but more important, is at a time when he is also discussing closing firehouses and cutting the budget for the NYPD.

Click here to download a copy of the permits (PDF file).
Click here to download a copy of the facilities usage for 2007 and 2008 (PDF file).

*I just received the following email:

"For 6.5 years I worked in either Sunset Park or the Bus Command Center which is located at the end of the Jackie Robinson Pkwy. On my way to work I entered the pkwy at Vermont Place and on my way home I exited at Cypress Hills St. In other words I drove past upper Highland twice a day. I also never had weekends off. The only time the 2 fields in upper Highland were consistently used was Sunday afternoon and then it was adults (25+) not kids that were using it."

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ridgewood Reservoir Sourcewater

Here is a link to photos of Twin Lakes Preserve. According to the author, "Formerly the sourcewater for the Brooklyn Water Works (Ridgewood Ponds), now a nature preserve in Wantagh, NY consisting of Seaman and Wantagh Ponds."

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Queens Tribune Article

The following article appeared in the Queens Tribune. I couldn't find an online version, so this is a scan of the hardcopy.

Click to enlarge