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NE Queens residents leery about bioswales’ unintended consequences

By Bob Harris

Last year the city Department of Environmental Protection painted green letters on the sidewalks of houses in Queens.

Civic leaders spent weeks finding out that the green lettering meant that the DEP was considering putting bioswales, or rain gardens, on the sidewalk next to the curb.

A bioswale was described as an area alongside the curb 4 feet wide fitting in the green strip between the sidewalk and the curb from 6 to 10 feet long. The city digs down about 10 feet to see if the soil can absorb water, then can put in soil and rocks to catch rainwater. There can be plants or bushes or tall grass or trees in them.

The homeowners of northeast Queens are exceptionally civic-minded and join civic associations to fight for their quality of life. Homeowners who live in Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest and Bayside are represented by state Sen. Tony Avella, who took up the battle against these bioswales.

After rallies, phone calls and meetings, the EPA agreed to not place these things in Avella’s district until there could be a better evaluation of the proposal.

This is supposed to include drilling to determine if a location picked for a rain garden actually is a good location. Months have gone by and civic associations are getting more and more restless.

Bioswales have been put in other areas of Queens, which were not so vocal, and we are getting negative reports.

Homeowners at the February meeting of the Queens Civic Congress say that some of these things have paper, coffee cups, and dog droppings in them. Originally the city said it would have teams going around cleaning them, but then it said that homeowners might want to clean them.

Now civic leaders say they just have trash in them and nobody comes to clean them. There were negative reports from all over Queens yet one positive suggestion made at this meeting was that if the city gave homeowners a tax rebate, they might accept these bioswales.

The reason for these things is that the New York state wants the city to cut down on groundwater flowing into our rivers and bays. Yet it is the incompetence of the city agencies which is causing the run-off of rain water because people have been paving over their front and side lawns when they build McMansions.

The city has not required that more of the lawn space around houses is left green or the driveways are actually paved with paving blocks, which can absorb the rain.

The city says that people can pave over an area if they put in a drywell or material to absorb water under the paving blocks but it doesn’t enforce its own rules.

Civic leaders have also suggested that the city loosen the hard-packed-down soil in tree beds so water can be absorbed better.

Also, people seeing how poorly the city is removing weeds from the beds of the trees it has planted don’t trust the city to take care of the bioswales. It is terrible that there are green markings on sidewalks in front of shops along Union Turnpike on newly paved sidewalks.

A rally just called by Avella and state Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz in front of a house on 36th Avenue in Bayside exposed the problem of the terrible noise made by the EPA when they drilled to study the soil.

An article about this recent rally says that the city is offering green strips, which look like a strip of grass or a porous sidewalk, which looks like concrete. What?

Another problem is that some areas marked with those green lines have gas lines and underground sprinkler heads in them and deep water or a sewer line.

Has the EPA hit any of these underground mains yet?

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