Thursday, November 11, 2010

Newtown Creek Settlement Could Fund Park at St. Saviour's

By Eric Yun

Years of rampant pollution and mismanagement at the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant will soon pay off for the surrounding community, and possibly provide funds for the local projects such as a public park at the former St. Saviour’s site in Maspeth.

In 2008, the city and state reached a landmark agreement to bring the plant, the city’s largest treatment facility, to federal environmental compliance. As part of that agreement, $10 million was allocated for environmental benefit projects, and the City Parks Foundation was chosen to establish a process to determine what the community wants before the state Department of Environmental Conservation makes a selection.

After careful deliberation, planning and public hearings, the City Parks Foundation has narrowed the proposed list of projects to 26 possibilities. While the majority of the projects center around Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where the plant is located, there are several projects focused in Queens.

Chief among the Queens project is creating a park at the former church site, an idea that has been discussed for years. As recently as this September’s Community Board 5 meeting, Christina Wilkinson, president of the Newtown Historical Society, made a case for the city to buy the land and create a public park. Other plans for the site, which activists including Wilkinson and the Juniper Park Civic Association fought against, called for residential houses or warehouses to be built on the land.

The proposal to use the Newtown Creek funds to create a park at the site was given a “B” grade at the City Parks Foundation’s October 28 public hearing. The project is possible, but faces challenges because the government does not own the site.

“We could secure all the funding and the owner could say I don’t really want to sell it,” said David Ravel, City Parks Foundation spokesman. “It’s contingent on something else.” Other projects call for updates to existing parkland, which the foundation knows they can immediately begin work on.

Ravel said building a park at St. Saviour’s is difficult but possible. He has had discussions with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s office, and the cost of the land has been estimated at $7 million to $8 million. Crowley (D-Middle Village), Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, and others have secured approximately $3.5 million for the project.

With these funds, after the purchase of the land, “we would have about $3 million to develop the land,” Ravel said. They would attempt to attract additional funding, but Ravel said that would occur with almost all projects.

The City Parks Foundation will open outreach centers in Brooklyn and Queens to take community input on the projects.

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