By Sarina Trangle
After encountering a surge of opposition to planned Ridgewood Reservoir work, the city applied to reclassify the dam and avoid controversial decommissioning construction.
The city Parks Department previously said the Ridgewood Reservoir’s high hazard dam status required it to build culverts between its three basins and a gravel road for maintenance crew trucks.
Preservationist groups, bird watchers and elected officials urged the government to abandon this so-called dam decommissioning plan.
The state Department of Conservation defines a dam as any artificial barrier, including an earthen one, that impounds or may impound water.
More than 700 people signed a petition on change.org, urging the DEC to reclassify the reservoir as a low-hazard dam, and therefore prevent the need for the project.
And early this month, DEC commissioner Joseph Martens and the Parks Department announced they believed such a designation may be appropriate for the reservoir, which is on the border of Glendale and Brooklyn in Highland Park.
“We share your view that the reservoir is a unique, historic site that over the years has reverted to nature and has become a haven for wildlife, as well as local residents seeking respite from its urbanized surroundings,” Martens wrote to U.S. Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) and Grace Meng (D-Flushing) as well as state and city legislators. “If reclassified, the Class A designation will allow Parks to maintain the reservoir as a dam, without necessitating breaching the structure and all the associated intrusions, such as access-road construction, tree removal and habitat disturbance.”
Zachary Feder, a Parks spokesman, said the department planned to submit a reclassification package to the state in early 2015. He was not sure how long it would take the DEC to review and rule on the paperwork.
The DEC did not return requests for comment before deadline.
The resistance to decommissioning also gave advocates a platform to push for classifying parts of the reservoir as protected wetlands.
Several attendees at a June meeting said they worried decommissioning work would infringe on an ecosystem that has flourished since the reservoir stopped serving as a water supply in about 1990.
At the time, DEC staff said wetland map amendments were deemed a low priority and the agency was struggling to promptly respond to all applications.
But the commissioner has since spurred the DEC into fast tracking its examination of potential wetlands in the reservoir, with delineation work set to begin as early as fall.
Gary Comorau, president of the Highland Park-Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance, said preservationists submitted the wetlands application four years ago. If approved, any area mapped as wetlands would be protected from damaging development.
“All they’re doing is what should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “It’s not magical. It’s what’s best for the community.”
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.