DEP must commit to community negotations on Newtown Creek: Katz

By Tom Momberg

The city Department of Environmental Protection presented its application for the construction of an aeration facility on the Maspeth side of the Newtown Creek during a public land use hearing before Queens Borough President Melinda Katz last week.

Katz said borough approval is pending an agreement between the DEP and Community Board 5 on public access and recreational use of at least part of the site. The community board approved DEP’s site plan during its March 11 public hearing, 27-9, with conditions — that a compromise be made regarding public use or community adoption of part of the site.

The DEP is bending under a state Department of Environmental Conservation consent order, which agreed to infuse oxygen into the dead, still water of the gridlocked Newtown Creek in 2004 in an attempt to make the waterway habitable by marine life.

DEP engineers moved forward last year to construct an aeration facility — the first in the series of three sites — on Metropolitan Avenue in Brooklyn in a move to address the creek’s anoxic conditions.

The facility now adjoined to the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge contains pressurized electric air pumps that push air through a pipe system anchored to the floor of the headwater section of the creek known as English Kills. Combined sewer outfalls are also located there to release wastewater during heavy rainfall.

By disturbing the water surface with pressurized air, the process allows water to dissolve oxygen and other atmospheric gases necessary to support life.

The Newtown Creek has a longstanding history of pollution. There are several environmental organizations that have said the solutions proposed by DEC and DEP, such as aeration, don’t even begin to address the real problems.

Regardless, DEP has set aside a $14.5-million capital budget to remediate the new 1.6-acre site of any contamination, construct a second aeration facility and turn less than half the lot into a green space with no public access.

Nearby residents and members of CB 5 expressed disappointment with the underutilized potential of the waterfront greenspace. During the land use hearing, DEP Director of Community Affairs Ibrahim Abdul-Martin said the department’s major concerns in opening the space up for public use were lack of security and limited staffing for maintaining it.

Abdul-Martin said that mayoral override would be possible to make the greenspace open for public waterfront access in the future. But members of the community and youth sports organizations wanted to see better use of the site right away.

“The size of the site would be perfect for a practice field,” said Paul McGlin, the coaching director of the local U.S. Soccer Development Academy affiliate.

A community agreement is a mandate of borough approval that the greenspace be adopted by a youth sports or community organization for shared use.

“From the perspective of this office, it would be nice to have a soccer field or an athletic field there,” Katz told the applicants from DEP. “It takes care of the security issues you are concerned with — because they can lock it up at night, and it’s not a big deal to do that — this is done all over the city. If we approve this, I would like it to be open to the public — something I think you need to have a discussion with the community about. I want to clarify all of that before we continue in negotiation.”

DEP wants to make headway on its second facility in Maspeth by June.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb[email protected]nglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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