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Queens Chronicle

Cleaning up creek remains a problem

Flushing group wants to wake up community to remedy situation

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Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2014 10:30 am

Everyone knows Flushing Creek is dirty and needs to be cleaned up, but how best to accomplish that? A new group, Friends of Flushing Creek, is pushing the city to come up with a plan — the sooner the better.

Alex Rosa, a paid consultant to the nonprofit group, recently made a presentation to Community Board 7 and spoke at a Department of Environmental Protection meeting last week. While the DEP knows work must be carried out to clean up the creek, how to get that done remains problematic.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Rosa said the group is “not trying to tell the DEP what the solution is, but we want it pursued.”

The friends organization is a result of a $1.5 million state Brownfields grant made in 2009 to the Flushing Willets Point Corona Local Development Corp. to study the cleanup process along the Flushing waterfront.

The area is considered underutilized, with some vacant sites as well as the iconic U-Haul building near Northern Boulevard, Sky View Parc, a mixed-use development, and a Korean supermarket.

The LDC is headed by former Borough President Claire Shulman, who has noted in the past that Flushing’s master plan, which was created several years ago, calls for a promenade along the shore and some maritime uses including a kayak launch.

Rosa is former chief of staff for both former Borough Presidents Helen Marshall and Shulman.

Landowners along the creek, Rosa said, say it is in abysmal shape. “It should be cleaned up,” she said, “so we formed a nonprofit group.”

The property owners are paying her salary.

She said any improvements to the water quality would help everyone, from the developers to the average citizen. “If it’s cleaned, there’s an opportunity to use it for recreation. But at low tide now, it’s not an area you want to be in,” Rosa added.

Some of the Friends board members include Helen Lee, daughter of Flushing developer Michael Lee of F & T, Christopher Joya of Sky View Parc, and Christopher Kui of the Asian Americans for Equality group.

At the recent DEP meeting, agency officials said they had to submit a long-term control plan for Flushing to the state Department of Environmental Conservation by the end of the year. The DEP is in the process of evaluating solutions to reduce the combined sewer overflow, or CSO, into the water.

A CSO is caused when combined sanitary and storm flows, which surge during heavy rain and snow storms, exceed the design capacity of treatment plants, leading to a mixture of excess storm water and untreated waste into the waterway.

To help alleviate the situation, the city designed the $349 million Flushing Creek CSO retention tank, which became operational in 2007 and reduces CSOs to the creek by more than 50 percent. But the project took nearly 15 years to complete. It is located underground on a parcel of land in Flushing Meadows Park at College Point Boulevard and Fowler Avenue. A soccer field sits atop it.

Environmentalists say the tank is obviously not enough to halt pollution in the waterway. Rosa said building another CSO tank is one suggestion as well as increasing capacity again at the Tallman Island Treatment Plant in College Point.

She said the Friends group is reaching out to civic and environmental groups as well as government officials at all levels to get involved and push for a solution.

Recently joining the Friends group is James Cervino, a marine biologist and chairman of CB 7’s Environmental Committee. “My goal for them is that they specifically ask for targets to clean up the water,” Cervino said. “The city needs to build another CSO, case closed.”

He called the creek “a dumping ground” and said the only thing that will clean it up is the tank. “The minor stuff the city is doing won’t control it,” he added. “Don’t waste time with bioswales, rain gardens and green roofs. Put the money into a new facility and save my tax dollar.”

At the DEP meeting, it was announced that a rain garden was planned for Flushing Town Hall and Queens College, bioswales for College Point and a green roof at New York Hospital Queens.

Cervino would like to see a new CSO facility built above ground at Willets Point and said he commends the DEP for building the Flushing Creek Retention Facility and expanding usage at Tallman Island. But he is concerned about the future.

“People have to scream for another tank,” he said, “but no one cares.”

That’s where the Friends group comes in. Rosa said they are trying to build public awareness. “We want to see less planning and more action,” she told the DEP last week.

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