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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Commissioner Lewandowski's Response

Below is Queens Parks Commissioner Lewandowski's response to City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley:

A 4' fence for unobstructed views? Why doesn't the parks department have a problem with the 8' around the Hallett Nature Sanctuary in Central Park? For reasons yet to be uncovered, Ms. Lewandowski (and the entire parks department, for that matter) is deceiving the public. Also, Ms. Lewandowski is incorrect - The historic fences exist not only between basins 2 & 3, but also basins 1 & 2. Notice her carefully worded "replicated fences will be used at the overlook areas". You can be certain that their plan is to remove the remainder of the 1/4 mile of historic fences and ONLY install a few yards of replicas at the overlooks.

It doesn't take much thought to understand that placing a 4' fence around ANYTHING does nothing to protect it. When the parks department took over ownership of the reservoir from the Department of Environmental Protection in 2004, there were homeless encampments throughout two of the three basins. Parks employees eventually removed these people, cleaned up their mess of garbage and built an 8' fence around the three basins. More recently, the parks department also spent considerable man hours clearing out truckloads of garbage from illegal paintball courses which had been set up in the basins. Currently, maintenance crews repair holes in the surrounding fence on a weekly basis. Last year, representatives of the organization "World Science Festival" requested permission to enter the basins to carry out a scientific bioblitz. Park Administrator Debbie Kuha denied them permission on the grounds that it would be too dangerous for people to enter the basins.

For 6 years the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation have been restricting access to the Ridgewood Reservoir basins because of various safety concerns, but now think that it would be perfectly acceptable to remove an 8' protective fence and replace it with a 4' fence. Once that happens, if anyone decides to step over the fence and enter the wooded basins, there will be no patrols by either the Parks Enforcement Patrols or NYPD to monitor potential illegal activities. It would become the only 50 acre park in New York City without a law enforcement presence! What is now a unique, nearly pristine grouping of natural habitats will quickly devolve into an unenforced, hidden, no-mans land where anything goes. How long will it take before bodies begin to turn up in the basins? When crimes within the basins do become rampant, will Ms. Kuha and Ms. Lewandowski merely suggest that the forests be cut down and wetlands drained to eliminate illegal activities? Maybe that has been the plan all along.

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More Fencing Debate

The following article was published in the Times Newsweekly:

CB5 Parks Chair: Proposal for Fencing Falls Short
Hopes study scuttles reservoir project build
by Patrick Clark

The Parks Dept has agreed to include historical replica fencing in its design for the Ridgewood Reservoir project, but the chairman of Community Board 5's Parks Committee does not think that the city agency is going far enough.

Parks' design for $7.6 million Phase 1 of the project originally called for standard 4'-high wrought iron or chain-link fencing throughout the reservoir, a fact which does not sit well with many community members, including Board 5 Parks Chair Steven Fiedler.

In a telephone interview with the Times Newsweekly, Fiedler said that the 4' fencing would do little to deter would-be trespassers, and replacing the historical fencing amounted to "throwing away our heritage."

In a letter dated May 28, City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley took up the cause, imploring Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski to preserve the architectural feel of the original fencing.

Noting that in the past, the city has used examples from the Ridgewood Reservoir to model replica fencing, Crowley asked Lewandowski to "ensure that a fence much like the one that was installed in Central Park in 2003 is placed along the main basin at the Ridgewood Reservoir."

In response, Lewandowski assured Crowley, in a letter dated July 15, that "replicated fence will be used at the overlook areas between basins 2 and 3 to maintain the historical integrity of the site."

Fiedler, however, is not satisfied.

"It's nothing," he said.  "We have 3,000 ft of historical fencing.  They want to throw it all out and put in a few feet of replica."

"All I'm asking them to do is give us a price assessment on taking it out," Fiedler continued, "sandblasting it, and putting it back in. If the cost turns out to be prohibitive, I can accept that."

Fiedler also expressed hope that a state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) study currently underway would prevent Parks from getting started on Phase 1 of the project.

Speaking to residents at the Citizens for a Better Ridgewood meeting on Monday, July 26, Fiedler expressed his belief that Parks would hold off on awarding the contract until the DEC had determined whether the reservoir would be designated as a wetlands.

"That changes the whole scheme of things for the city," Fiedler said.  "If it's declared a wetland, the city can't design anything without state approval."

Parks spokesperson Trish Bertuccio told the Times Newsweekly that the department is currently reviewing proposals for the project, and that Phase 1 is unaffected by the State's wetlands study.

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Audubon Society Support

The New York City Audubon Society has strengthened their stand on protecting the Ridgewood Reservoir by adding a section to their "Get Involved" webpage. In their latest newsletter they called on their membership for assistance:


Help Save Ridgewood Reservoir!

The natural area within the former Ridgewood Reservoir is a thriving mosaic of bird habitat. Although plans are currently on hold, New York City Parks and Recreation intends to build ballfields within a portion of the basins. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation will soon be reviewing the site to determine whether the wetlands that have formed on the site qualify as protected under state regulations.

As part of Highland Park, Ridgewood Reservoir lies between Brooklyn and Queens and was last used as a water source during the drought of the 1960s. The reservoir was drained and decommissioned in 1989 after the expansion of New York City's Catskill and Delaware water systems. A stopover for migratory songbirds and seasonal shorebirds, it is also home to a variety of non-migratory and breeding birds. To date, over 150 species of birds have been recorded at the reservoir.

NYC Audubon is asking you to support the protection of Ridgewood Reservoir. Please go to our website for more information about how you can help.


The webpage includes a sample letter to the Commissioner of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Visit their website here.

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Habitat Protection for Endangered Species

The following article published in the "Times Union"  is relevant to the Ridgewood Reservoir's habitats because several species of endangered, threatened and special concern designation have been identified within the basins.

Habitat Protection New Possibility for Endangered Species
By Brian Nearing - Staff Writer

ALBANY -- For the first time, the state is spelling out rules that would treat a potential threat to an endangered species' habitat as if it were a direct threat to the animal itself.

State rules have long protected endangered animals from being killed or harassed due to new development. A proposal released Thursday by the Department of Environmental Conservation would formally extend that protection to lands that such animals rely upon to live, feed and reproduce.

There are 53 endangered species of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, insect and mollusks in the state. Some are well-known, like the Karner blue butterfly and the peregrine falcon; others remain obscure, like the bog buckmoth and gilt darter fish. Another 35 species are considered threatened.

DEC intends to create a new process, which would produce an "incidental taking permit," to consider potential habitat damage that might harm these animals before deciding whether development can go forward.

"With this proposal, we are codifying practices that had been in place for several years as a result of court decisions over the past decade," DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said in a statement. "While improving the protection of rare species, these revisions also will benefit landowners, developers, local planners and others by providing clear guidance and predictability in planning and designing projects."

"This is a positive step," said John Kostyack, director of wildlife and global warming for the National Wildlife Federation. "Endangered species laws are evolving around the country to recognize that (a threat) is not just pulling out a gun and shooting an animal, but also destroying its habitat."

Chris Amato, DEC's assistant commissioner for natural resources, said the agency has been considering habitat impacts for endangered or threatened species on a case-by-case basis since 2007, but had no formal rules in place.

"People have been confused over what the requirements for endangered and threatened species were -- whether they needed a permit and how to get one," he said. "These regulations are designed to inform the public exactly what the process is."

Amato said that the permit will depend on a "biological judgment call" of whether land was an occupied habitat of a particular species. That area would have to fulfill an "essential behavior," including "breeding, hibernation, reproduction, feeding, sheltering, migration, movement and overwintering," according to the proposed rules.

Developers could choose to either steer around such lands, or get a permit that would also require a mitigation plan, such as acquiring other suitable habitat elsewhere for conservation purposes.

"The overriding purpose of these rules is to protect these species' survival and foster their recovery, so they can be taken off the lists," Amato said.

Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or by e-mail at nearing [AT]

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