Tuesday, September 9, 2014

DEC/Parks Department Reverse Ridgewood Reservoir Culvert Plan

The decommissioned Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park is a natural oasis on the Queens-Brooklyn border.  Activists were worried that a state-mandated plan to cut culverts in the reservoir would have impacted the natural beauty of the area. Citizens were concerned that this could pave the way for future development.  (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) click on images to enlarge.


By Geoffrey Croft

For years the community fought vehemently against Mayor Bloomberg's $50 million PlaNYC proposal to clear out 20 acres of one of the basins for ballfields and develop the natural area for active recreation. 

It appears these efforts may finally be paying off. 

In what was one of the last remaining hurdles, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Parks Department are reversing course on a controversial $ 6 million dollar, two-year plan to cut large holes (culverts) into the three basins in Ridgewood Reservoir.  The move comes as pressure from environmentalists, area residents and elected officials were mounting to preserve the area exclusively as natural parkland.  

The State DEC has classified the Ridgewood Reservoir's three basins as a "Class C" High Hazard Dam, critics disagreed.   State officials originally mandated that the Parks Department cut culverts as part of an anti-flooding plan, a move which drew wide-spread criticism. 

The Parks Department is expected to submit a new application to the DEC shortly requesting the site be reclassified as a non-hazardous dam.  Plans are also in the works to map the basins as wetlands a move advocates and naturalists fighting to preserve the decommissioned dams requested four years ago.

Invasive species tower over the decommissioned Ridgewood Reservoir in Highland Park. Advocates want the $ 6 million dollars re-purposed and used to clear out invasive species and replace them with native flora which will among many things increase bio-diversity. 

In July, eight local elected officials sent a letter to Governor Cuomo requesting the plan be scrapped.  

Last week DEC Commissioner Joe Martins sent a letter to the elected officials informing them of the State's decision.  

"The Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance is cautiously optimistic that the reservoir will finally be getting the protection from development that the community has been fighting for since 2007," said Rob Jett,  HPRRA member and the Save Ridgewood Reservoir blog founder. 

"The next important follow up step will be the NYSDEC performing the promised wetlands mapping promised this fall. We had submitted an application for wetlands mapping to the state 4 years ago. In addition, the Ridgewood Reservoir habitats support over 150 species of resident, breeding and migratory species of birds. Many of those are Endangered, Threatened or of Special Concern by both state and federal agencies. For that reason we are asking that the state designate the reservoir a "Bird Conservation Area

The HPRRA will continue to work with the community, politicians and parks department to assure that our vision of Ridgewood Reservoir becoming a world class Urban Nature Sanctuary is realized," said Jett.

The environmental law firm Super Law Group were retained by HPRRA and played a key advisory role in the proceedings, acting as a liaison between the community and the Mayor's office, DEC and the Parks Department.  

Edan Rotenberg, a lawyer at the firm gave credit to the community and the elected officials for working together.  He looks forward to helping the community achieve further conservation goals via NY State DEC including  getting wetland status and recognition for endangered species. 

The DEC is being pressed for three things:  to map the wetlands in the Reservoir on its official state map of wetlands; recognize the Ridgewood Reservoir as an official Bird Conservation Area; and have DEC's "New York Natural Heritage Program" officially recognize the existence of rare and threatened plants and animals in the Ridgewood Reservoir.

American redstart at the Ridgewood Reservoir. (Photo: Steve Nanz)

New York Natural Heritage maintains New York's most comprehensive database on the status and location of rare species and natural communities. The information is used by public agencies, the environmental conservation community, developers, and others to aid in land-use decisions.

"We have an oral commitment from the DEC that they will map the wetlands in the park this Fall," said Edan Rotenberg.

"They are going to go through all three basins and look at the wetland to determine what parts of the basin or whether the whole basin should be classified as wetlands.  This is an environmental hot spot. There aren't many regional wetland forest habits left in New York City period. 

There are a number of endangered species in the reservoir, its important the state recognize this," he said.

What's Next?

Advocates are also pressing that the $ 6 million dollars be reallocated for much needed improvements. 

Community members and environmentalists have long advocated for the repurposing of two existing gate house buildings located on the basin's perimeter for an environmental center and Parks Enforcement Patrol and Ranger facility to help ensure the long-term viability and safety of the area.  

"We are glad that the NYC Parks Department finally recognized that the Ridgewood Reservoir is a habitat that should not be disturbed by construction and that it took the step of requesting reclassification to a low hazard dam," said Christina Wilkinson. 

"The money that was to be used for this project should now be re-purposed to clear out invasive species and replace them with native flora. Building a nature center and PEP command will go a long way to ensure the reservoir Highland park are properly used and safe." 

The community is pressing to use two of the reservoir's gatehouses located along the basin's perimeter to be used as an environmental center for public programs and a Parks Enforcement Patrol/ Ranger facility to help ensure the long-term viability and safety of the area.

Invasive vines are pervasive in Highland Park due to a lack of maintenance.  A long-term restoration and maintenance plan for the severally neglected park is vital.

Read/View More:

Parks Officials Say State Wants Ridgewood Reservoir Basins to Be Safer
NY 1 - July 10, 2014 - By Agnes Chung 

Plan To Cut Into Historic Ridgewood Reservoir Has Activists Fuming - 
Fears This Will Lead To Development
A Walk In The Park - July 6, 2014

A Walk In The Park - October 5, 2012 

A Walk In The Park - January 13, 2012 

A Walk In The Park - May 27, 2010 

A Walk In The Park - January 6, 2010 

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