Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Residents Support Nature Preserve at Ridgewood Reservoir By Michael Lanza - Queens Tribune

West Queens residents overwhelmingly supported plans to preserve Ridgewood Reservoir’s natural integrity during a Parks Department listening session on Saturday.

Four out of five groups of attendees polled during the session supported plans to convert the area into a nature preserve, according to Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano.

Other plans included filling in the reservoir basins and replacing them with baseball and soccer fields and a hybrid plan where only one of three basins, the largest one, would be converted into a recreational sport area.

The fifth group, who Giordano described as baseball players from Brooklyn, supported the hybrid plan.

Giordano is pressing parks officials to use $10 million of the $50 million allocated to the project to repair six ailing baseball fields at nearby Highland Park. The remaining $40 million would fund the removal of invasive plants species, improvements to pathways, and the creation of an education center at the reservoir’s pump house.

“Why put ballfields in what is really a natural habitat when you can reconstruct ball fields that already exist,” Giordano said. “You have fields there now, why invade the natural habitat before you figure out how you can improve the fields that already exist? And by improving the fields that already exist, they would potentially have a much better place to play ball much sooner.”

The listening sessions will presumably determine the park’s final form in phase two of the reservoir’s development.

Phase one began last month with promises of increased lighting, steps and benches as well as new perimeter fences to help secure the area.

The project was awarded to Mark K. Morrison Associates, an award winning Manhattan based landscape architecture firm. The company was also required to produce the three development plans under the contract. The complete plan calls for $7.7 million in initial work to secure the area, followed by a $50 million development project slated for 2010.

The reservoir’s declining condition became the center of a battle between preservationists and developers in recent years.

City Comptroller Bill Thompson shot down proposals by Mayor Mike Bloomberg to convert the reservoir into a sports field last June, citing the ecological importance of the space.

“This plan flies in the face of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s widely hailed environmental blueprint, which bemoans the loss of the city’s natural areas,” Thompson wrote, protesting the plan. “The Parks Department’s own scientific consultants have warned against disturbing the reservoir, an area they call ‘highly significant for the biodiversity of New York City and the region.”

The Mayor’s plan proposed filling one of eight bodies of water that comprise the reservoir and converting the space into a baseball field.

A final public hearing on the development plans will take place in the coming weeks, after which one will be selected and design work will begin.

The reservoir, located on the border of Brooklyn and Queens, was created in 1848 to provide drinking water to Brooklyn. But it was converted to a back-up in 1959 and finally taken off-line in 1989. The site is now a natural haven for plants, turtles, fish, frogs and more than 137 bird species -- including eight rare species on the National Audubon Society’s “Watch List.”