There is still more work to do regarding the Ridgewood Reservoir’s transformation into the centerpiece of Highland Park on the Queens-Brooklyn border.
The Parks Department is seeking permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that would allow the bidding process for the decommissioning of the dam structures at the park to begin.
Because of changes made to federal law surrounding the operation and maintenance of dams after Hurricane Katrina flooded much of New Orleans under up to 20 feet of water, the DEC has mandated the Parks Department create culverts inside the embankments between the three basins of the park.
The purpose of the decommissioning is to prevent severe flooding in the instance of the embankments being destroyed or topped by floodwaters in a catastrophic rainstorm.
According to Parks Department spokesperson Zach Feder, the permits should be issued by the DEC “soon” and the work should go out for bidding towards the end of the summer.
The project is expected to take around two years to complete and the budget for the work is approximately $6 million.
“The scope of work for the dam decommissioning will require the removal of embankment fill materials in order to create breaches in the dam, clearing and grubbing of vegetation, removal of trees and replacement of removed trees in more appropriate locations,” Feder said. “It’s federal law.”
The culvert created in each embankment will be 11 feet tall and 14 feet wide, large enough to allow Parks Department vehicles to pass through.
Additionally, water would rush through the openings into the other basins in a historic deluge to alleviate pressure on the embankments, instead of being contained in a single basin, which could lead to a breach.
A pond exists in the second basin, but the water would not be drained and many of the improvements made throughout the park such as walking paths would not be impacted in any way during the project.
“It would not be touched at all,” Feder said of the pond. “A lot of what we’ve done in the previous phase with the park was to make it more accessible. We wouldn’t want to do anything that would go against that.”
Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano understands there is a legal mandate for the plan, but he does have some reservations about the project nonetheless.
“The question is whether or not there could be a flood where water could flow from basin one to basin two to basin three and over onto Vermont Place,” Giordano said. “Many of us think it would take rains like the ones that occurred during Noah’s Ark to make that happen.”
Giordano, who reiterated the board’s wish to see a nature preserve at the reservoir, also speculated the large culverts may attract troublemakers as well.
“There’s a concern that, if they have such large culverts, vandals could potentially get in there with non-Parks Department vehicles,” he said. “But basically, we took their word that this is what they had to do.”