Thursday, May 6, 2010

State Agency Eyes Ridgewood Reservoir As Possible Wetland by Robert Pozarycki - | Times Newsweekly

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First Phase Of Project Moves Forward

Though the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is considering instituting wetland status to the Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn/Queens border, the New York City Parks Department maintains that the first phase of improvements to the site will be moving as scheduled.

According to a DEC statement sent to the Times Newsweekly, the agency is currently reviewing the 55- acre site adjacent to the Jackie Robinson Parkway and Vermont Place as a possible “state-regulated freshwater wetland.” If the site is given that designation, the state DEC would have the authority to review any potential activities at the reservoir and require permits for any specific improvements.

In a statement, the Parks Department indicated that the agency has been working closely with the DEC and the city Department of Environmental Protection “to investigate conditions on the site,” adding that “[t]he environmental conditions at this site have been taken into account since the start of the project.”

Even with the DEC review underway, the Parks Department noted that it intends to start the first phase of improvements to the Ridgewood Reservoir beginning this fall. The work includes the installation of new fencing around the former basins as well, new lighting as improvements to the pathway around the perimeter of the site.

The agency’s review has become a cause of concern for those close to the project. Gary Giordano, district manager of Queens Community Board 5, told the Times Newsweekly that he would contact state and city officials in the weeks ahead to ascertain further information regarding the DEC’s concerns and how the Parks Department will move forward with improvements.

Plans for the redevelopment of the Ridgewood Reservoir as a public park have been the subject of much controversy since 2004, the year when Mayor Michael Bloomberg transferred control of the property from the DEP to the Parks Department.

Defunct since 1989, the reservoir has naturally evolved over the last two decades to become a habitat for various plant and wildlife. The center basin of the reservoir’s three chambers remains filled with water and resembles a natural lake.

As part of its PlaNYC 2030 master plan, the city announced in 2007 that it would redevelop the Ridgewood Reservoir as well as the adjacent Highland Park, making it one of eight “regional parks” around the city. Initial plans called for one of the reservoir’s three basins to be cleared and developed with new ball fields and play areas.

Community activists voiced opposition to the plans, observing that the reservoir should remain at a nature preserve and that ball fields at Highland Park should be improved instead. Numerous community meetings were held by the Parks Department over the last several years, gathering opinions from residents in both Brooklyn and Queens.