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Queens Chronicle

Reservoir plan called premature

City Parks Department says it will pursue project, fearing state fines

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Posted: Thursday, July 3, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:21 am, Thu Jul 10, 2014.

A small group of environmentalists and other concerned citizens gathered on Monday night for a Ridgewood Reservoir community meeting at St. Pancras School in Ridgewood, where they heard from representatives of city Parks and state Department of Environmental Conservation and expressed their concerns regarding plans for the site.

The discussion centered on the $6 million plan to decommission the dam and the possible ecological impacts such action would have for the site, located on the Brooklyn-Queens border.

More than a few eyebrows were raised over an impending deadline imposed by the DEC calling for the dam to be decommissioned by August, a move many consider premature. It was suggested by several that additional studies of the site be conducted before any work begins.

One member of the audience put it this way: “It is not a good idea to put the cart before the horse.”

Steve Fiedler, Parks Committee co-chairman on Community Board 5, would like to see additional mapping of basin three to determine its status as a wetlands.

Failure to comply with the deadline could lead to fines for the Parks Department, which intends to forge ahead.

Parks has indicated its plan to decommission the dam “in order to avoid substantial tree removal, physical disturbance and initial and on-going expenses that maintaining a high-hazard dam would require.”

Despite fears to the contrary, Parks promised that the two-year project “will not change the condition or use of the reservoir, or the extent of the existing open water area in the middle basin. Public access would continue to be limited to the multi-use path circling the reservoir and the basin floors would continue to serve as natural open space.”

The department indicated that the scope of work for the decommissioning will require the removal of embankment fill materials in order to create breaches in the dam, clearing vegetation around the breaches, removal of only those trees that are growing from or blocking access to the breach locations and replacement of removed trees in better locations.

Members of the audience pulled no punches when expressing their opposition to the plans. Reflecting later on the discussion, Fiedler wondered, “Why is it classified as a high-hazard dam? It hasn’t held water for 60 years. I don’t get it.”

The dam has been classified by the DEC as a Class C or high-hazard dam. Such a designation does not take into account the dam’s condition, but the estimated consequences that would result in the event of a dam’s failure. A Class C designation is used to indicate that the dam’s failure may result in widespread or serious damage to homes, highways, buildings, railroads and utilities.

“I and others believe that the current Class C designation is in error. We believe that it already qualifies as a Class D dam,” said environmentalist Steve Nanz in a report that was distributed at the meeting.

Failure of a Class D dam would result in negligible or no hazards, often assigned to a structure that has been breached or removed, and generally considered to be defunct and posing little or no hazard.

The DEC’s Alon Dominitz indicated it was a staff decision to leave it as a C.

Fiedler indicated that the area around the third of three basins meets wetlands criteria, citing a DEC report to that effect. “You bring in bulldozers, you’re chasing away every creature that’s there,” he said.

He feared the work would “change the whole characteristic of the basin.”

One attendee reported that 151 varieties of birds have been spotted in the area.

Venetia Lannon, DEC’s Region 2 director, indicated that the hydrology in the area behind the reservoir will not be changing.

Joelle Byrer, team leader for Queens Capital Projects, NYC Parks, suggested that the agency is planning to use “the lightest touch” throughout the project. She said the department will remove “invasive species” of trees and replace them with “trees more in tune with what we’d like to see there.”

If nothing is done, she added, “the ecosystem will no longer be viable. We are committed to keeping our natural resources natural resources.”

Asked if the state could give the city an extension on its deadline, Lannon said, “We will take it into consideration.”

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