By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
In yet another plot twist to the city's acquisition of privately held wetlands in the Udalls Cove ravine, the Department of Parks and Recreation has agreed to purchase two ravine lots after putting the process on hold last month, the cove preservation committee's president said last week.
The city has allotted $1.3 million to the Parks Department for the purchase of two parcels that serve as critical entry points to the environmentally threatened ravine, said Walter Mugdan, president of the Udalls Cove Preservation Committee.
The Parks Department said in January it planned to acquire several lots totaling 2 1/2 acres in the ravine, but state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) announced in April that the city's budget crisis had postponed the project until 2006.
The Parks Department did not return calls for comment. But a spokesman for Padavan confirmed that Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott had told the senator the city would purchase two forested land parcels that lie between Northern Boulevard and the Long Island Rail Road tracks and from 243rd to 247th streets.
“Obviously, we're delighted at this turn of events and we're very grateful to the mayor, (Parks) commissioner and Sen. Padavan for everything they did,” Mugdan said.
Padavan, who sponsored legislation more than 20 years ago that allowed the city to purchase private lands around the ravine, was also looking to secure additional state funding for the effort, his spokesman said.
It was not immediately clear why the city changed its tune, but Mugdan credited the efforts of the senator and environmentalists in securing the purchase.
“For about six or seven weeks we were in panic mode,” said Mugdan, whose group organized a letter-writing campaign to government officials and brought Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to its annual cove cleanup April 12.
Despite the city's agreement on two sections, “there are still lots of parcels in the ravine that will continue to be in private hands even after this acquisition. All of them are vulnerable,” Mugdan said.
The environmentalist said Bayside developer Larry Rosano had shown construction plans for several houses on one of the ravine parcels to a neighbor there. Rosano could not be reached for comment.
In another development, a large hardwood tree with a trunk measuring more than 2 1/2 feet in diameter was recently discovered chopped down on the banks of Gabler's Creek in the ravine. Mugdan said he did not know who cut the tree, but it was symbolic of how the ravine was threatened.
“It shows why it's so important the city goes ahead with the acquisition of all these parcels, so that this kind of thing can be prevented,” Mugdan said. “Until the city acquires it, this is what this area is vulnerable to.”
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.