Thursday, June 3, 2010

Reservoir Plans in Limbo by Chauncey Alcorn - - Queens

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The Ridgewood Reservoir, which currently contains 58 acres of wooded area, marshlands and wildlife, was scheduled to receive safety improvements in 2009. More than a year later, those improvements are still on hold and are not likely to begin before December.

Queens park officials last year were scheduled to begin phase one of renovating the former Ridgewood Reservoir, but more than a year later no construction has begun and those same officials Tuesday said that is not going to change anytime soon.

The city Parks Department and Ridgewood residents have battled for years over what to do with the former reservoir, located in Highland Park, which was built in 1856 and used until 1989 to store a back-up water supply for Brooklyn and Queens.

Presently, the site, three wooded basins totaling at least 58 acres, is filled with wildlife, including 100 bird species, according to Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, which wants the city to leave the reservoir alone.

“Why take a natural place and make it into ballfields when you have ballfields that aren’t being taken care of right nearby in the same park?” he asked. “Thankfully, the mayor had a vision five years ago for a nature preserve and got this project funded with millions of dollars .... If the mayor didn’t have the vision environmentally to do something with the reservoir, that project would never have gotten done.”

But the project has not been completed. Years later, in fact, it has not even begun.

The Queens Parks Department last year hosted a series of meetings with community residents in Ridgewood and Glendale to find out what they want to happen with the reservoir and it became apparent the communities were divided over whether to make it into park space, a natural reserve or a combination of the two.

“None of that stuff has been decided yet,” Queens Parks spokeswoman Trish Bertuccio said.

But the department did decide to move forward with phase one of the project, improving safety measures, which includes repairing concrete stairs in the reservoir, widening turns in the perimeter path, installing or repairing lighting along the path and building an observation path on a causeway between two of the three basins.

Phase one also included building a perimeter fence around the basin, but city officials and the community board disagree on how tall the fence should be.

“We’ve had issues as far as phase one of the project goes with regards to the Parks Department only wanting a 4-foot fence for a good portion of the reservoir perimeter,” Giordano said. “We don’t think a 4-foot fence is tall enough to keep out the vandals.”

Indecision aside, a Parks official said the phase one proposal first must be approved by city Comptroller John Liu before the project can move forward and that has not happened yet.

“I think it’s safe to say a minimum of six months before anything actually gets on the ground, but that all depends on if the comptroller actually signs off on it and other things,” the official said Tuesday.

After the plan is signed, it must go up for a construction bid.

“Usually the bid cycle lasts about three months. Then we will approve them and that might take another three months,” the official said.

That means the project proposed no later than 2005 is not likely to begin until around December or later, but Giordano said that is not a problem.

“Sometimes it’s worth waiting a little longer to do a better job as opposed to doing something wrong and having to redo it,” he said. “It’s usually better to have it done the first time.”