The Department of Environmental Protection is building a stormwater outfall that would dump from Hermon A. MacNeil Park into the East River where it meets Flushing Bay. And marine biologist James Cervino is worried that an oyster and seagrass habitat that he has helped build will be hurt by it.
“There’s salt, there’s icing material, there’s oil leaks, there’s stuff coming out of the streets going into this,” Cervino, who is the environmental chairman of Community Board 7, told the Chronicle, referring to stormwater’s contents. He says he wants a filtration unit to be installed for the outfall, which would go into the East River by the park, which has new signs urging parkgoers not to swim and cautioning them about the discharge. He also plans on testing the outfall water.
Although the stormwater will not flow directly into the habitat, Cervino has no doubt it will have an effect.
“These pollutants can have a serious impact upon the marine and aquatic life at these wetlands in the absence of treatment,” Cervino’s prepared testimony against the project says. “The organic substances found in Storm Water discharges include oil, grease, benzene, chloroform, phenol, toluene, and many other organic compounds that are carcinogenic to shellfish habitats as well as drastic shifts in pH that affect the immune systems of marine fin fishes and invertebrates.”
Cervino, who has worked over the past decade with the Coastal Preservation Network and Thomas Goreau, has a state Department of Environmental Conservation permit to raise oysters for research at the site.
“This is a low-lying area that regularly experiences flooding during rain storms,” a DEP spokesman said. “Because it sits at a lower elevation, sewers will not drain towards the Tallman Island Treatment Plant.”
The outfall is being built in coordination with the Parks Department.
“Basically, the overall scope is we’re installing storm sewers and outfall as well as catch basins,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Design and Construction said. The project is expected to be finished this winter.
The DEP does not plan on installing a filtration unit, according to the spokesman. “There will be no impact on Dr. Cervino’s habitat,” he said.
The Coastal Preservation Network has spent close to $70,000 cleaning up the wetlands and growing oysters and seagrasses and creating a natural habitat which was hurt by illegal filling and pollution at the park, according to Cervino. Solar panels installed at the site help the oysters and seagrass with electrical stimulation.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has tried to reach out to the DEC commissioner about the outfall and plans on contacting the DEP after that. The DEC did not immediately return a request for comment about the plan.
“This will without question negatively affect all the work that’s been done over the past 10 years,” Avella said.
The senator has urged the city to create a better sewage system. He says the one that it has now is illegal because the city is responsible for making sure stormwater goes to a sewage treatment plant.
“We shouldn’t be fixing a system that violates state and federal law,” Avella said. “We should be redoing the sewage system and redoing the treatment plants to prevent the possible contamination of our waterways.”
“The city is using the bioswales as a cheap way not to do the proper thing,” he added, referring to the rain garden-like structures being installed in sidewalks to drain rainwater.
Funds from the City Council have been allocated to improve the kayak launching site at the park. And Cervino says that he has spent nearly $100,000 in personal funds, donations and grants in recent years to restore the wetlands. The site also was officially designated as part of the New York City Water Trail.
“This vegetation you see here is protecting the coast from erosion and my oysters are cleaning the water and my shellfish that I’m growing,” he said.
Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) also is opposed to the outfall project. “College Point has had its share of being dumped on by the city and we’re not gonna let that happen again,” he said.
“Dr. Cervino’s multi-decade long effort to restore the native ecosystem including eel grass and reintroduction of oysters in an effort to clean up, protect and stabilize the waterfront would be put in immediate jeopardy by this thoughtless intrusion,” area activist Paul Graziano said in an emailed statement.