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Congressmembers tour Ridgewood Reservoir

Congressmembers Nydia Velazquez and Edolphus “Ed” Towns visited Highland Park on August 12 to tour the Ridgewood Reservoir, which fell out of use in 1989 but has since developed a diverse variety of species and reverted to woods and wetlands. The two were joined by reporters, community organizers and activists, several of whom were led down into two of the three basins by Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski and the park’s Natural Resources Group Chief Naturalist Mike Feller.
A debate has arisen over whether to preserve the three-basin reservoir or build public ball fields in the third basin, which lacks the diversity and indigenous species of the other two. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030, which allocated $50 million for the Ridgewood Reservoir alone, aims to transform eight underdeveloped park properties into athletic facilities.
“One of the key goals of PlaNYC, the Mayor’s far-reaching plan to fight global warming and create a more livable city, is to ensure that every New Yorker lives within a 10-minute walk of a park or open space. Highland Park in Queens is one of eight large parks being redesigned to help achieve this goal. As with all of these projects, the City holds listening sessions with community residents to incorporate their input. The design of this great park is in the beginning stages - we have not been able to begin the design process or do an environmental assessment without the design contract,” said a Department spokesperson.
The Parks Department’s design contract was rejected by Comptroller William Thompson, who urged them to consider the environmental implications of the proposal. Thompson also co-wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times with Robert Kennedy Jr. last May, favoring preservation. Other city politicians have rallied behind the preservation cause, including Borough President Helen Marshall, who testified at a City Council hearing on whether to preserve the reservoir.
Congressmembers Velazquez and Towns supported preserving the three basins, though Velazquez has also called for improvements such as fences and lighting.
“We learned about this in 2007 when the mayor said the city was allocating $50 million for a development project. I was contacted by community residents from both boroughs,” said Velazquez, whose district covers parts of Brooklyn and Queens. “Some people do not want to destroy the ecosystem, so they immediately contacted me and [Towns]. They want the money to improve Highland Park so that it can be used. For the past 20 years, much of Highland Park has fallen into disrepair. Only a small fraction is being used right now.”
Velazquez cites concerns about public safety, there being no working lights neat the reservoir, despite walkers and joggers.
“The city administration should use the funding to preserve and improve the park without destroying the natural ecosystem. The point is to make this reservoir a tourist destination, as well as an education center where schoolchildren can come and learn about the species of birds and trees. There is so much potential for this incredible forest.”
The community organizers on the tour included Paul Kerzner, president of the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association.
“It reinforced what I already knew, which is that the area is pristine. I would like to see the Parks Department build a comfort station, fix the lights and the walking areas. On the Northeast side, there should be another comfort station and parking area. If the Parks Department did just that, that would be the first stage in getting people to use this natural setting.” It was too early, he added, to consider building sports facilities, an idea he called “atrocious.” Instead, he suggested, the reservoir “should be fixed up and brought back to its original splendor.”

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