A failure to communicate about going green

By Bob Harris

Suddenly green letters and numbers have been appearing on sidewalks in front of houses and Cunningham Park on 199th Street. They are probably at other places, too. People scrambled to find out what these cryptic green markings mean. Elaine Young, first vice president of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association, searched the DEP website and discovered that they are for bioswales, which are also called Rain Gardens. They are supposed to catch and funnel rainwater into the ground.

The city wants to cut our cement or lawn areas or tree pits near the sidewalk and leave a depression or hole which will catch rainwater runoff. The DEP website claims they will put a species of hardy plants in the depression. Does that mean there will be plants or grass in the tree pits and the depression? How high will the plants or grasses be? The website says that the city will take care of the plants.

Well, one must have doubts as to what kind of care the city will give to these bioswales. When the city planted trees on malls and side streets as part of their One Million Tree activity they did not take care of the tree pits. Weeds grow a foot or so high along Union Turnpike near my house so every summer I have to call Assemblyman David Weprin and have his office arrange to clear the weeds out of the tree pits along Union Turnpike.

Oh, Elaine says that the website says it is looking for people to be “BioswaleCare” volunteers. Is this how the city will fulfill its responsibility to keep these areas nice looking? Many people have gardeners and do not want to weed themselves. Will people have to ask their gardeners to maintain these pits?

Then there is the problem of liability. The DEP says it will put a fence around the pit at the sidewalk. What if a child on his or her bicycle goes through the fence and into the pit? What if a pedestrian trips on the fence and falls? Who is responsible? How quickly will broken fences be repaired?

The city says it will provide a stone strip (what does stone mean?) between the bioswale and the gutter so people can get into their cars. What will happen to any cement sidewalk or curbs the homeowner has already installed? How will people be able to put a baby or load packages into the back seat of a car if there is a depression ( we don’t know how deep) and a fence next to their car? How will people with canes or walkers be able to get into their cars? Loading from the gutter side is unsafe.

It seems to me that this problem has been brought on by the city itself by not preventing people from paving over their side yards, back yards and front lawns. I can never get a straight answer of how much a person can pave over around their houses. I keep hearing 20 percent in front but this seems too little. If the problem of water drainage is such a big problem there should at least be a brochure explaining how much lawns and flower beds can be cemented over.

My wife just came by yelling that if people have underground sprinklers they will have to be cut. Who will pay for this? I also just read that in the future all parking lots must have bioswales. What happened to the flower beds we have seen in many places? As people find more about these plans, we should get answers and perhaps changes.

Just received a message from CB 8 saying that the DEP told her they are only doing a “bioswale feasibility study in Fresh Meadows.” So why did they put those green markings on the sidewalks? I don’t know…?