Thursday, August 14, 2008

Officials Tour Reservoir and Push to Preserve Wilderness

City Considers Converting 20 Acres into Ballfields

By Nicole Turso

A forgotten reservoir reclaimed by the wilderness has become a natural wildlife and flora preserve where residents, community groups and elected officials gathered on Tuesday for a tour and to petition for its integrity.

The Ridgewood Reservoir, on the Queens and Brooklyn border, was decommissioned in 1990 after serving as a back-up water supply from 1858 through 1959. Once the three basins were drained, decades of neglect allowed for natural forests, fields and wetlands to form—now home to at least 127 species of birds as well as mammals, reptiles and a variety of native plants.

In 2004, Mayor Michael Bloomberg transferred the 50 acres of wilderness to the city Parks Department and a $50 million “renovation” project was put into place, which would convert more than 20 acres of land into athletic fields and recreational facilities for the neighboring communities.

However, many community activists and government officials believe the reservoir would serve better as a nature preserve for environmental study in an urban area that does not have such natural luxuries. Some argue the money would be better spent renovating existing ballfields at adjacent Highland Park.

“We have a gem here in the reservoir that many people in the community, as evidence here, want to preserve,” said community activist David Quintana.

Highland Park, located directly across from the reservoir, is equipped to provide the same recreation planned in the renovation project—with two baseball fields, several basketball and volleyball courts and picnic areas.

According to the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance, the park is in desperate need of renovation and repair—an issue the alliance and activists have brought to the attention of city officials.

Congressman Edolphus Towns (D-Brooklyn), Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn/Queens), Queens Borough Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski and representatives of Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Queens), Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and State Senator Serf Maltese (R-Glendale) attended the reservoir tour on Tuesday to survey the basins in their current condition.

“This park here contains an ecosystem that we must protect, we must enhance and we must preserve,“said Rep. Velazquez, “We must come together to work to make sure that we do what is right on behalf of the community and behalf of the park.”

“There are a lot of parks here that can be upgraded [that] have been for too long neglected,” she explained. “I can tell you that if the city, the state and the federal government come together, we can assure you that we will fight to get the resources that we need to have the parks that we can all be proud of.”

The group set out to tour the reservoir and was informed that in order to reach basin three, one of three basins at the reservoir, the congressional representatives would have to rappel down the side of the basin on a long, rather thin rope.

“I hope that rope is strong,” Rep. Towns joked.

A flash of apprehension crossed Rep. Velazquez’s face before her descent, but she, along with nine other members of the party made it down safely and arrived back at the top of the basin, triumphant looks on their faces.

As the group toured the rest of the basins, which were drained in the 1960’s through the 1980’s, it was given an idea as to what renovations must be completed to make the reservoir into a useable facility. Both basins one and three have become natural forests, while basin two, though drained, fills with water as a natural marsh.

Broken lampposts—shattered—with shards of what used to be lighting fixtures, poison ivy coiling around trees and original wrought iron fences, and uninviting entry ways make the reservoir unappealing to onlookers—but a secret garden of sorts for those inside.

“You just cannot buy this—the experience,” said Rep. Velazquez. Renovation ideas tossed around between the elected officials and Parks Department personnel along the walk included taller lampposts less prone to damage and vandals and the use of solar energy as a more eco-conscious way of lighting paths at night.

Three design consultants created conceptual plans for the renovation and redesign of the reservoir based on preliminary analysis for the city. A contract with Mark K. Morrison Associates Ltd. (MMA) was submitted by the Parks Department as a project to help combat raising rates of childhood obesity and focused on developing athletic fields.

However, the contract was rejected by city Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. and returned to the Parks Department with concerns about the environmental impact, increased truck traffic and the vendor selection process. Parks is now reportedly working on a contract with a different firm, EDAW, which prides itself on balancing “aesthetic, environmental and social goals.”

Also supporting the preservation of the reservoir as a natural area are local community boards in both Brooklyn and Queens, the Queens Civic Congress and a number of community organizations.

Even with the overwhelming support to preserve the reservoir’s wilderness, Rep. Towns is still calling on the surrounding communities and their residents to continue their efforts, despite obstacles.

“It’s going to require working together, and it’s going to require a lot of talking and a lot of meetings, and of course it’s going to require some negotiating,” Towns explained, “I’m committed to working with you to make certain that we have the resources to do this, there’s no question about it.”

Towns summed up the feelings of many residents fighting for the preservation of the reservoir when he addressed the crowd. To a chorus of applause and laughter, representative Towns shared an anecdote: “I received a phone call asking me ‘Where are you? I’ll call you from the park.’ I said, ‘I live in Highland Park, I’m already there.’”

Photo: Congressman Edolphus Towns and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez discuss the future of the Ridgewood Reservoir during a recent tour.

The Forum Newsgroup/photos by NICOLE TURSO


Anonymous said...

give this girl a raise! this article rocks!

Rob Jett said...

Thanks for your great coverage of an important issue.