The first public meeting in which the city Department of Environmental Protection addressed the Long-Term Control Plan for the combined sewer overflow issues at Flushing Creek took place at PS 20 in Flushing on June 11, with nearly as many presenters, about a half dozen, as audience members in attendance.
Either the problems at the creek, which is located in the northern part of central Queens and discharges into Flushing Bay and ultimately into the East River, hold little interest to the general public or the meeting was not sufficiently publicized.
Led by Shane Ojar, the DEP’s director, Community Partnerships Bureau of Communications & Intergovernmental Affairs, the team provided an overview of the LTCP process, indicating that the plan is due to be submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation by the year’s end.
At stake is the improvement of the water quality in the creek, with the DEP seeking to evaluate solutions to reduce the combined sewer overflow, or CSO, into the water.
A CSO results when combined sanitary and storm flows, which surge during heavy rain and snow storms, exceed twice the design capacity of treatment plants, leading to a mix of excess storm water and untreated waste water into the waterways.
Such an event is of concern because of the CSO’s potential effect on water quality and recreational uses in waterways.
Water quality standards at Flushing Creek are classified, by the DEC, as falling in class I. Best usage of class I waters are secondary contact recreation and fishing, allowing for boating, but not swimming.
Over the last century, urban modifications have led to the filling and paving of many parts of the creek, its tributaries and their wetlands, according to the DEP, which reports that it has started to evaluate improvements to reduce CSO impact on water quality within the water.
According to the agency, it has committed more than $399 million to reduce pollution and improve the water conditions in the creek.
Water quality improvement projects include the completed storage tank, green infrastructure on streets, sidewalks and city-owned property, as well as enhancements to allow more flow to the Tallman Island Waste Water Treatment Plant in College Point.
In March, 2012, the DEC and the DEP signed an agreement to reduce CSOs by using a hybrid green and grey approach.
Representing the DEP, Lily Lee addressed the grey infrastructure projects, with traditional practices such as retention tanks, pipes and sewers. She indicated that they include the $349 million Flushing Creek CSO Retention Facility, which became operational in May 2007 and reduces CSOs to the creek by approximately 56 percent, from over 1,900 million gallons to less than 850 million gallons per year, and helps to reduce flooding in streets
But the project took nearly 15 years to complete and is located on a parcel of land in Flushing Meadows Park at College Point Boulevard and Fowler Avenue. A soccer field sits atop the buried tank.
Lee said the agency expects an additional $30 million of upgrades to increase flow to Tallman Island to start by late summer.
A report indicates that by 2030, the DEP is planning $2.4 billion in public and private funding for targeted green infrastructure installations to manage stormwater on hard city surfaces such as concrete.
The green infrastructure approach was reported by the DEP’s Mikelle Adgate, to include permeable pavers, four bioswales in College Point, a green roof at New York Hospital Queens and a rain garden at Queens College.
Further projects are planned to include a rain garden and swales at Flushing Town Hall and a rain garden and synthetic turf field at JHS 185.
In attendance at the meeting was marine biologist James Cervino, an affiliate of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and environmental chairman of Community Board 7, who is calling on the department to “find the real estate” for another retention tank, which would help “prevent harmful algal blooms and pathogenic bacteria from choking the coastline.”
Alexandra Rosa, representing Friends of Flushing Creek, a self-described group of stakeholders and environmentalists, said, “We want to clean up Flushing Creek and return it to community use. We want to have it meet water quality standards so people can use it for recreational purposes.
“We want to see less planning and more action,” Rosa added.
She is the former chief of staff for past Borough Presidents Claire Shulman and Helen Marshall.
CB 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman, who attended the meeting, said on Tuesday that it appeared the DEP was looking for ideas to clean up the creek, but that not a lot of people seemed to know about the session.
A second public meeting is scheduled for October.