By Nathan Duke
City Comptroller William Thompson said he has rejected a contract by the city's Parks Department to develop one of the Ridgewood Reservoir's three basins into sports fields on the grounds that the agency should further review potential negative effects caused by the project.
Thompson recently sent a letter to the department in which he turned down its $3.3 million contract with architect Mark K. Morrison Associates “to allow additional time for [the] agency to respond to concerns pertaining to potential scope changes due to environmental review certainties and for administrative issues.”
The city plans to retain the 50-acre reservoir's first two basins as a nature preserve, but knock down the wall of the third basin and transform it into athletic fields. Thompson said the $50 million renovation could damage the reservoir's natural habitat and that the 27,500 truckloads of dirt that would be necessary to fill the site could result in a traffic nightmare.
He said the project could “have significant impacts to the areas surrounding the park, which will have to bear the brunt of the noise, emissions and traffic disruptions for many years.”
In a statement, the Parks Department said the project is currently stalled.
“We have not been able to begin the design process or do an environmental assessment without the design contract,” the agency said. “We plan to review and address the comptroller's concerns so that the design contract and the planning can move ahead.”
Thompson also said the architect chosen by the Parks Department should not be allowed to oversee further environmental reviews of the reservoir, calling it a “conflict of interest.”
Environmental advocates who have called for the three basins to be preserved as natural habitats said they agreed with Thompson's decision to reject the contract.
“If they knock down the wall, it could disturb the plant and animal life, as well as possibly damage its structural integrity,” said community activist Christina Wilkinson, of the Juniper Park Civic Association. “We think there are enough acres in other sections of the park where [the agency] can do what they want to do and leave the basins natural.”
In a New York Times editorial last month, Thompson and environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. argued against destroying the reservoir's natural habitat on the grounds that it “flies in the face of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's widely hailed environmental blueprint, which bemoans the loss of the city's natural areas.”
The 151-year-old reservoir is located at Highland Park, shared between Ridgewood and Brooklyn. It was built in 1858 to provide drinking water to Brooklyn residents, but was converted as a back-up reservoir in 1959 and taken offline in 1989.
The reservoir is now home to 137 bird species, eight of which are rare, as well as a number of tree, plant, turtle, fish and frog species.
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.