Newtown Creek aeration facility approved, DEP agrees to allow for public space

By Tom Momberg

The City Council has approved the city Department of Environmental Protection’s application to construct its second of three water aeration facilities on Newtown Creek.

But upon the recommendation of the Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses, and after a push from Borough President Melinda Katz and other city leaders, the agency will be required to give the community an option to create an open public space or athletic field on the property, adjacent to the proposed pump facility on 47th Street.

The aeration facility, which would pump an additional 8,100 standard cubic feet of forced air into the creek, would be the largest such facility on the creek. The aeration facilities were mandated under a 2004 consent order from the state Department of Environmental Conservation in an attempt to make the gridlocked waterway habitable to marine life by infusing oxygen.

But when the plan went before Community Board 5 and again before the borough president, DEP officials said they set aside a $14.5-million capital budget to remediate the 1.6-acre site of any contamination and turn less of the land into a green space that would be blocked off from public use.

Because there is little public access to the creek, the community board wanted to see DEP work with athletic groups to make the space available as a practice field. The effort was taken up by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), to make public access a condition in the land-use agreement for the facility, and ultimately succeeded when the Council included it in its nearly unanimous decision to approve the facility at a hearing last Friday.

“In Maspeth, there is a high volume of trucks traveling through the streets. It also has fewer city parks. This lack of green space plus its proximity to the (Long Island Expressway) both lead to a higher rate of obesity and asthma compared to neighboring communities,” Crowley said in a statement. “Maspeth residents are disadvantaged in that they lack access to sufficient open green space. We can promote sports and physical activity by taking advantage of all public space options, ideally by way of increased access to athletic fields.”

DEP Associate Commissioner of Public Affairs Eric Landau testified before the Council during the hearing, saying the agency would begin immediate discussions with local athletic groups about entering into a memorandum of understanding for an athletic field at the 47th Street site.

The DEP may need the land, but not until after 2021, when the agency may have to install underground fixtures, temporarily halting use by athletic organizations. The memorandum would otherwise permit an organization to use the green space as a practice field, but would have to maintain and secure the site and the adjacent waterfront.

The DEP said it would begin the site remediation and construction of the aeration facility in the coming months.

Environmental groups like Riverkeeper and the Newtown Creek Alliance have opposed aeration projects on the creek, because no environmental impact or health studies have been conducted to deem whether aeration of a waterway that contains a combined sewage outflow is safe. They are still working to fight the third and final facility, proposed in Maspeth for the Dutch Kills tributary.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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