By Ayala Ben-Yehuda
The pond, named for the late Douglas Manor environmentalist Aurora Gareiss, was originally as large as an acre in size, but over the last several years it has become “a tiny weed-choked puddle,” according to Udalls Cove Preservation Committee President Walter Mugdan.
Silt and sand from nearby roads began to fill Aurora Pond over a decade ago, prompting local environmentalists to press for its restoration. But in dredging the sediment, the city inadvertently broke a layer that held water above the ground and the pond began to drain away, said Mugdan.
Parks Department spokeswoman Margaret Johnson said the latest plans were to deepen the pond and install a clay liner. The Parks Department will also repair an eroded gully on a nearby hillside and put in native planting.
“We are primarily diverting Gabler's Creek into and out of Aurora Pond so there will be fresh water running through the pond,” said Johnson.
Funding for the project, which will cost $623,000, was obtained by City Councilman Mike Abel (R-Bayside) before he left office.
But after a delay prompted by the city's fiscal crisis, the city Parks Department is now waiting for a work permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The pond lies within Udalls Cove, a state-protected wetlands area.
State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) wrote to Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Erin Crotty March 1 asking that the permit approval be expedited.
“This restoration is long awaited and the last component prior to moving forward is to obtain the wetlands permits from your department,” Padavan wrote.
The city filed its application “several months ago,” said the senator.
Department of Environmental Conservation spokeswoman Maureen Wren could not estimate when a permit would be issued but said “the agency is in the process of making a determination of whether the application is complete.”
Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece, whose board had put a priority on funding for Aurora Pond's rehabilitation, estimated that the permit would be issued and work would begin within months.
“For the city that's imminent,” said Iannece. “This project was almost taken off the table.”
“Due to budget constraints this was stalled for a while,” he said.
Mugdan said when the project was first put out to bid, it came back $100,000 over budget and revisions had to be made to its scope. A planned entrance to Udalls Cove Park on Northern Boulevard across from St. Anastasia Church was scrapped and a new contractor was chosen, said Mugdan.
The public must be given 30 days to comment on the project before work can begin, said Mugdan.
“We are very satisfied with the input they allowed us to have,” said Mugdan.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.