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

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Parks Department Killing Trees

The following article was just published in the Queens Chronicle. It may seem unbelievable to people outside of New York City, but our Department of Parks and Recreation has a history of ineptitude. Whether it is because the department's administrators are unqualified for their jobs or just don't care is unclear, either way NYC taxpayers suffer in the long run:

Construction is killing the trees
Ridgewood Reservoir work will result in dozens dying if nothing is done

by Tess McRae, Reporter | Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 10:30 am

Construction at the Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park is harming 150-year-old trees there.

Along Vermont Place, construction for the “Ridgewood Reservoir Project,” which will provide new pathways, more handicap accessibility and lighting, as part of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC is underway, but with tools, machines and debris weighing on the ground, civic leaders and tree experts are worried what the arboreal effect will be.

“When soil gets compacted by machinery or heavy piles of material or even extreme foot traffic, it loses its structure,” said Morgan Potter, a horticulturalist with the Queens Botanical Garden. “Not only are the roots being squished, but they are losing the environment necessary for regrowth.”

As the work goes on, dozens of London plane trees are surrounded by a chain-link fence which sits directly on top of many of their root systems. Compacted soil prevents a tree’s roots from accessing nutrients from water and soil. But trees can take years to show signs of stress because they are such large organisms. That causes a major problem with construction projects because once building is finished the trees may appear normal.

“I can say with certainty that these trees will be negatively affected by this project,” Potter said. “Whether they succumb to the damage depends on their vigor and any measures taken to remedy the problems after the project is over.”

“The consequences may not be seen for years down the line,” local tree expert Carsten Glaeser said. “Trees are the largest organisms on the planet and I’ve seen this happen time after time. Whether it’s because of building developers constructing a building or a situation like this, it’s always the same and the tree eventually dies.”

The Parks Department responded by saying it is working on the issue and hopes it will be resolved soon.

“NYC Parks is currently working on a course of action at the Ridgewood Reservoir site involving tree protection, adding additional wood chips, pruning to the existing trees along the roadway, and decompaction within the construction area,” Phil Abrasmson, a Parks Department spokesman, said. “In order to build a required ramp, the contractor piled fill near trees along Vermont Place due to the tightness of the space, and we are processing a change order to decompact around those trees.”

The Parks Department could not say when those changes will go into effect.

Glaeser said that though the Parks Department is not always right, all city agencies get it wrong when it comes to tree care.

He also says that the solution does not involve programs such as MillionTreesNYC, the city initiative to plant and care for one million trees across the five boroughs over the next decade.

“We need to protect the trees we have have rather than planting new trees,” he said.

Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, agrees.

“Trees in the reservoir are a natural resource,” Holden said. “You can’t replace a 60- or 70-year-old tree. With pollution and air quality in recent years, the trees won’t even get that large.”

Send us an email

Friday, March 15, 2013

Dam Hazard Classifications

Below is a link to a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation document that outlines dam hazard classification:

I find it curious that the DEC believes that the Ridgewood Reservoir could cause catastrophic damage to the surround area if there was a dam failure when two of the three basins are empty of water and have remained that way for decades since they were drained. In addition, we've been told many times by individuals in the Natural Resources Group that the water in the central basin in merely inches deep and the result of collected rain water. Is it only a coincidence that the parks department has been talking for years about breaching the basins to give vehicle access to their planned recreational facilities within the basins? A plan that the surrounding communities has very vocally opposed.

In coming days we will be researching decommissioned reservoirs in New York State and report back whether the NYSDEC required those to be breached to "protect" the public.

Send us an email

Colossal Waste of Taxpayers Dollars

The NYC Department of Parks and Recreation have revealed their plans to breach the walls of the Ridgewood Reservoir. In what can only be viewed as a colossal waste of taxpayers dollars, they plan on spending $11M to, essentially, destroy an amazing feat of historic civil engineering. Given the parks department's terrible track record, one can only assume that if allowed to proceed, the project will cost much more, take much longer and cause many "unforeseen" problems. The Times Newsweekly just published the following story:

Panel: Too Invasive To Reforested Basins
by Robert Pozarycki

The Parks Department’s proposal to create a runoff system at the Ridgewood Reservoir was panned by members of Community Board 5’s Parks Committee at its meeting last Monday, Feb. 25, in Glendale, who charged that it opened the door for trespassers to gain access to ecologically-sensitive areas of the greenspace.

Joelle Byrer and Katie Raschdorf of the Parks Department explained the details of the plan, which is being done to satisfy a request by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to formally decommission the long-inactive greenspace as a “high-class hazard C dam.”

Ridgewood Reservoir was taken completely out of the city’s water system nearly 25 years ago, and over time has evolved into a natural habitat. However, the reservoir—in which only one of its three basins has water—is nonetheless considered by the state DEC as a dam. The state had mandated that by 2014, all structures recognized as dams be fortified to modern standards for retaining water or breached if no longer used for such purposes.

Since Ridgewood Reservoir is in the process of being transformed into a public park, Byrer stated, the Parks Department is working to create a series of outlets within the three basins. Electing to maintain the reservoir as a dam would have required the Parks Department to make repairs and remove plantlife in the basins.

In order to decommission the dam, Raschdorf explained, the Parks Department will need to “poke holes in the walls so that under no circumstances— no catastrophic weather events—that this structure will not impound more than six feet of water at any time.” The center basin— which has water no greater than five feet deep, Raschdorf noted—will remain in tact.

“What our goal has been all along is to maintain that water level in the center basin,” Raschdorf added. “We’re working with our design consultants in order to do that, and the DEC is okay with that, because we understand the importance of it.”

To accomplish this task, the Parks Department will install culverts (openings) in the walls separating the three basins which comprise the reservoir, as well as the outer wall of the westernmost basin adjacent to Vermont Place. The aim is to have runoff flow through the culverts along the topography of the site, from its highest point located near the Jackie Robinson Parkway and Salem Field Cemetery to the low point at the corner of Vermont Place and Highland Boulevard.

The breaches in between all three basins would be located on the northern end nearest the Jackie Robinson Parkway. Raschdorf explained the location of the breaches are important in order to maintain the sensitive ecology in the easternmost basin.

Once runoff exits through the culvert adjacent to the corner of Vermont Place and Highland Boulevard, Raschdorf noted, the water will flow into nearby catch basins and through the city’s sewer system. But she pointed out the only scenario under which water would flow through the Vermont Place culvert would be a weather event of apocalyptic proportions.

“There will be way more global catastrophic before you would see any water draining onto Vermont Place,” she said, adding that there was no heavy flooding reported in the reservoir during recent weather events such as Hurricane Sandy.

Installing these culverts, however, will require crews to enter into the reservoirs themselves. To accomplish this task with minimal effects on the natural habitats of all three basins, Raschdorf explained, crews will make a path running along the northern and western perimeters of each basin wall.

Heavy machinery will not be required to enter the basin to install the pre-cast concrete culverts, she noted. The path also gives the Parks Department the opportunity to enter each basin and remove invasive plant species and replace it with new plantlife native to the area.

Committee members took issue with the size of the culvert planned between the exterior wall of the Ridgewood Reservoir’s western basin and Vermont Place, which is planned to be 11’-high, 14’-wide and 46’ deep. All of the culverts will be gated and locked.

“We’re spending millions of dollars to do this,” said Parks Committee Co-chair Steve Fiedler. “After a while, with a lack of maintenance, it’s gone. I don’t want to see something like this built and then all of that soil and grass washed away, and it looks like crap. There’s no reason for that if they install a drainage system.”

Fiedler also expressed concern about the size of the culverts, which he claimed would allow trespassers to gain access to the location.

“I don’t want 11 feet. I don’t think vehicles should ever get in any of these basins,” he said, suggesting that the Parks Department instead make its entrance from the nearby Jackie Robinson Parkway.

“There’s no security patrol up there. It’s a free for all at night time. Those gates are going to be broken and walked into,” Fiedler added.

It was noted that this project will be done separate from the current improvements being made to the perimeter of the Ridgewood Reservoir. That project, Raschdorf noted, is expected to be completed this spring.

In all, the work is expected to cost $11 million, which will be funded through the Mayor’s office, according to Byrer. The committee was asked to offer a letter of recommendation for the Parks Department’s plans, which will likely be brought before the full board for a vote at the board’s Mar. 13 meeting.

The Parks Department reps also outlined renovation plans for the area of the reservoir adjacent to Salem Field Cemetery. As explained by Raschdorf, this includes improving very steep slopes which were created through illegal dumping by the cemetery over the years.

The plans include cutting into the illegal slopes—which reportedly encroach beyond the cemetery’s property line and onto Parks Department territory—and installing an 8’-tall retaining wall. A 4’-high stone wall would be erected in front of the retaining wall, and the area between the two will be filled in with soil and planters.

Salem Field is reportedly funding the entire cost of the project, as per a requirement issued by the state DEC, Byrer added.

Above is an artist rendering of the proposed culvert to be constructed on the outer wall of the Ridgewood Reservoir near Vermont Place. Above is the map showing where breaches will be made to officially decommission the reservoir as a state-recognized dam. (courtesy of NYC Parks)

Send us an email

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

More Parks Department Incompetence

When the Brooklyn and Queens communities surrounding Highland Park were told that Phase 1 of the Ridgewood Reservoir project was going to proceed, they were happy, because new paths, handicapped access and better lighting were sorely needed. Everyone was assured that existing trees would not be harmed during construction, with oversight and protection provided so that they suffered minimal impact. However, that is not what is happening and this is just one more example of how the city agency tasked with being the stewards of our open spaces has failed us, either through apathy, ignorance or corruption.

The large 150 year old Planetrees that line Vermont Place at the edge of the Ridgewood Reservoir have had their wide spreading root systems compacted and then buried in 5-8 feet of fill and soils at the approval of the Parks Capital Project Administrator and the Capital Arborist. The Forest Park administrator is aware of this problem but "will not interfere with Capital".

Clearly unenforced is the department's Tree and Landscape Protection Plan. Below is an excerpt of the NYC Parks and Recreation: Parks Tree Preservation Protocols (Sept 2009) that present the rules and protocol by which construction operations shall occur when within proximity to and under the canopy of large public trees. Numerous large and impressive veteran parkland London Planetrees that line Vermont Place at the reservoir provide important ecological, environmental and social benefits to park users and the neighboring communities. The London Planetrees within a construction site are candidates for the extraordinary preservation (and protection) protocols needed and so outlined by this document.

Yet over the past 4-5 months Parks Dept. Capital landscape architect and engineering operations failed to see these veteran trees both in design and now during construction. And in the absence of effective protection fencing they have directed their general contractor, the movement of his machinery and the storage of soil atop of the tree’s critical root zones (CRZ, (see Tree Protection in Design, item d), with known consequences to tree health and stability.

The preservation of CRZ as part of Parks tree policy is essential for the organisms long-term well being. So that roots are to able to breathe, acquire nutrients, water resources and minimize risk by ensuring tree stability. More so are the environmental benefits offered by these trees in their ability to efficiently sequester carbon, absorb dangerous air-borne particles, off-set the heat island affect, ameliorate the climate and significantly reduce rates of childhood asthma. But by deliberate negative impacts from construction not only has tree health and stability been comprised but those essential environmental benefits as they affect human health and longevity, have been critically diminished and made so less efficient.

Vermont Place trees prior to contruction:

Vermont Place trees currently:


NYC Parks and Recreation Parks Tree Preservation Protocols (Sept 2009)

How Construction Hurts Trees
Trees grow in a delicate balance with their environment and any changes to that balance must be minimized if the tree is to remain in a healthy state and fulfill its useful life potential. Tree decline and death on or adjacent to construction sites frequently occurs due to the vulnerability of the root system. Roots are cut or damaged when installing utilities, sewers, foundations, driveways, curbs, sidewalks, etc. Roots are also lost due to grading, soil pollution and soil compaction. Other more obvious damage to trees comes in the form of physical wounding to bark and branches from vehicles, cranes, scaffolding, and storage of materials. Construction damage may take several years to become apparent in the trees affected and often results in their slow decline and death long after the project has been completed. It should be noted that younger trees and certain species can be more tolerant to construction disturbance than older trees.

Tree Protection in Design
Tree protection begins in the planning and design stages of every project. From decisions made about utility placement and grading, to the location of curbs and equipment and work staging areas, the amount of damage that trees sustain throughout the construction process is often determined on paper long before construction begins. A critical element of tree protection is the protection of the soil and the root systems growing within that soil. Root systems often extend far beyond the drip line of the tree canopy. Disturbance of the root system can result in severe injury to the tree. Each project should have a Certified Arborist Report (CAR) detailing the following:

a. A scaled plan of the area, including the existing and proposed locations of all building structures and utilities. Buildings should also include maximum vertical heights.

b. The locations of all existing trees identified by common and/or botanical name, condition and diameter at breast height. Condition assessment should follow the method detailed in the International Society of Arboriculture’s Guide for Plant Appraisal . The site plan should clearly identify which trees are to be retained, which are to be transplanted and which are to be removed.

c. The location of perimeter and protective fencing around each tree or group of trees.

d. The locations of all Critical Root Zones (CRZs), defined as the area for each tree which contains the estimated minimal amount of both structural and feeder roots that must be protected to minimize tree damage and retain structural stability. The CRZ for each tree is calculated based on the Tree Species Tolerance to construction impacts and age class, as outlined in the International Society of Arboriculture’s Best Management Practices: Managing Trees During Construction (K. Fite, T. Smiley, 2008). Although CRZs will differ by species and tree age, zones range from ½ foot per one inch DBH (diameter at breast height) to 1½ foot per one inch DBH. If the species tolerance is unknown, then the 1½ foot per one inch DBH standard is assumed. See detail No. 1.

e. The locations of all new plantings.

f. The location of storage areas and access routes within the site to be used during construction.

g. The location of any cranes, scaffolding, hoists and/or similar which would potentially interfere with tree canopies.

h. The location and design of any foundations adjacent to trees and also detailing any required overcuts.

i. Details of any grade changes.

j. Locations of utilities. All utility locations, depth, and size must be specified on plans. Utility installation and grading activities should avoid the fenced in areas; if working within the CRZ is absolutely necessary, however, then trenchless construction techniques must be specifiedto minimize root damage.

k. Locations of site activities. Construction site activities such as access routes, staging areas, materials and equipment stockpiling, truck or tool washing, etc. shall be located as to prevent disturbances to the CRZs.

l. Curb and pathway installation. Curb installation adjacent to existing trees should be avoided. Soft surfaces should be used for paths near trees. If curb replacement is necessary, consider using steel-facing without concrete curb adjacent to tree roots rather than excavating with machinery for mechanical forms.

General Requirements for all Work
The protection measures must be in place prior to the start of work, including demolition. The following requirements must be adhered to during construction:

a. Treatment of tree roots. No roots over one (1) inch diameter should be shaved or cut without the written permission of Parks. If small roots must be cut this should be done with a sharp implement to leave a clean finish. Use of heavy equipment such as a backhoe to cut roots is prohibited.

b. Pruning. All contact between equipment and overhead tree limbs should be avoided. Bending or breakage of limbs is prohibited. If clearance pruning is proposed, it shall not take place without the written permission of the Agency, and shall only be performed with professional equipment as per the Agency’s standards and specifications for such work. No trees shall be pruned or removed without the written permission of the Agency. Tree work is to be performed by an arborist holding certification from the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). The Agency is to receive notification 48 hours before any tree work is to begin.

c. Fencing. Fencing will be specified by the Borough Forestry Director. The minimum fencing material for low impact sites is four (4) feet orange plastic on flanged posts. Please see detail No. 2. For larger impact projects, five (5) foot chain-link on posts sunk into the ground with props may be more appropriate. Please see detail No. 3. Tree protection fences cannot be moved at any time without the written permission of the Borough Forestry Director. The fences must be maintained on a regular basis and repaired and/or re-staked as needed. Tree protection zone signs should be attached to these fences as shown in detail No. 4.

d. Tree guards. All trees within the construction area (outside of the protective fencing) shall be encircled with wooden tree guards built to Parks’ specifications. Please see detail No. 5.

e. Tree trunk protection. In addition to the tree guards, each tree must be wrapped with an appropriate protective material (as approved by the Borough Forester’s representative) as extra protection from physical wounding. Appropriate materials may be, but are not limited to, roadway drainage geocomposite.

f. Stockpiling of materials. Under no circumstances should equipment and materials be stockpiled within the fenced areas.

g. Disposal of wastewater and other debris. No contaminants or wastewater from construction activities should be disposed of within or around protected areas.

h. Parking. No vehicle shall be parked within or driven into the fenced areas.

i. Grade changes. All grade changes within the fenced areas should be avoided. If grade changes are called for within the CRZ, follow the specific requirements below.

Send us an email