Community Board 10 got its first briefing last Thursday on Gov. Cuomo’s plan to reconstruct Spring Creek Park in Howard Beach to create a better flood barrier and a more user-friendly greenspace, and members had a laundry list of questions for representatives from the state Department of Environmental Conservation for what it would mean on the quality of life in the neighborhood.
The parkland, which frames the western and southern parts of the “new side” of Howard Beach, is underutilized, unkempt and inadequate as flood protection, according to the DEC and reconstruction work, which will be funded by Sandy relief money, would reconstruct it to allow for better flood protection and make it a more usable space for parkgoers.
Venetia Lannon, regional director for the DEC’s New York City office, said the $50 million park reconstruction project would be “the first-in-the-nation nature-based infrastructure for storm resilience.”
The idea of the project is to use natural barriers, such as marshland, to reduce future storm surges in the neighborhood. Lannon said studies have shown marsh grass can reduce wave height by 95 percent.
“Since Sandy, the search for measures and strategies to protect us from future storms has gone into overdrive on all levels,” said Steve Zahn, DEC’s regional natural resources supervisor, said at last Thursday’s CB 10 meeting.
He said that when the federal government, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, announced it was offering grants for flood mitigation projects, the DEC jumped on it.
“We saw a real opportunity to do that here at Spring Creek,” Zahn explained. “We at DEC felt we are uniquely positioned to explore these nature-based opportunities.”
At the same time, the project will also repair the ecological issues with the park, where there has been an overgrowth of phragmites, and provide a better greenspace for the community to use.
The phragmites, Zahn said, often fuel 0brush fires, which have been a common pr0oblem in Spring Creek Park for decades.
Key features of the project include low- and high-level vegetated salt marshes, dune complexes, grasslands and maritime forests at increasing elevations, which will protect against storm surges like those experienced during Sandy and provide an additional level of resiliency against sea level rise.
The project will restore over 150 acres of valuable maritime habitats including almost 87 acres of upland buffers, such as dunes and forests, 49 acres of low marsh, 10 acres of high marsh and 6 acres of tidal creek.
The project also allows for the introduction of shellfish reefs, which lessen storm surges and will interact with ongoing efforts to restore marshes to ultimately establish multiple barriers of protection for Howard Beach and other neighborhoods around the bay.
CB 10 seemed welcoming of the project, but expressed a few notable concerns about construction, the amount of flood mitigation it would provide and what increased public access would mean to residents, some of whom live directly across the street from the park.
Joann Ariola, CB 10 member and president of the Howard Beach-Lindenwood Civic Association, said she was concerned about the possibility of construction vehicles on neighborhood streets.
“It certainly will have an impact on the homes along 165th Avenue,” Ariola said.
Lannon responded that DEC’s preferred method of transporting construction materials is by barge via Jamaica Bay rather than by trucks, and it would use that option as often as possible.
“The project wants to use barges; it’s cheaper than a gazillion trucks,” she said.
Ariola also expressed concern about opening the park up to more public access, specifically what it could mean for parking in the surrounding community.
“Who would have jurisdiction on policing that area and what would be the guidelines?” she asked.
Lannon said the DEC has envisioned a nature-walk type of park similar to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
“We think public access is a good thing, but maybe it’s not a good thing,” she said. “Maybe you want to limit public access. Let’s have that conversation.”
John Calcagnile, CB 10’s Land Use Committee chairman, also noted that much of the floodwater that inundated the neighborhood in Hurricane Sandy came from Shellbank Basin or from Lindenwood, and not through Spring Creek Park.
“That is the essence of our problem,” he said.
Lannon said the Spring Creek Park project is just the beginning of flood mitigation measures and ideas for the canals and sea walls on the eastern side of the neighborhood will be explored.
“There is no silver bullet,” Lannon said. “We know we need tide gates, we know that we need flood barriers, we know that we need protection in the inlets.”
The project is in its early planning stages and no timeline has been set. Lannon said the DEC would meet with the community board and officials in the near future to lay out a schedule.