Avella demands opt-out to citywide bioswales program

Avella demands opt-out to citywide bioswales program
Courtesy of DEP
By Gina Martinez

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), northeast Queens residents and civic leaders are calling for a full opt-out to the citywide bioswales program.

Avella said the city Department of Environmental Protection agreed to certain concessions and improvements to the program, including two alternate bioswales designs and an opt-out for those with sprinklers or those with a handicap placard, but the senator still believes that a full opt-out is needed.

Bioswales are green infrastructure installations cut into the pavement to absorb rainwater and remove some of the burden from the sewer system. A spokesman for DEP said said the ultimate goal of the bioswale project is to clean up waterways, including Flushing Creek and Flushing Bay.

“Rain gardens in northern Queens will absorb stormwater, reduce flooding and help to clean up Flushing Bay. They are also less costly and disruptive than traditional infrastructure upgrades.”

Whitestone residents said recently they have seen green spray paint markings showing up on sidewalks, which usually signals the beginning of the bioswale installation process. Avella said what follows the green markings is usually soil testing to determine the viability of a bioswale at the location.

Avella compared the testing process to an oil drilling operation, because of the disruption it causes residents. He said the invasive process has only encouraged community opposition to the project due to the damage that was being done to homeowners’ property.

Avella said the decision by DEP to offer certain opt-out provisions was a great first step but also incredibly insufficient. He said homeowners should not be forced to take a bioswale that they don’t want.

“The mayor and DEP cannot continue to force this upon these residents,” he said. “This community and the city as a whole deserve the right to a full opt-out no matter the reason. Installing a bioswale in front of someone’s home is a serious burden on the homeowner. It could cause environmental hazards from the untreated contaminated stormwater, it requires unnecessary maintenance by the homeowner and could reduce the value of the property.”

Avella, civic leaders and community members from throughout Queens have been protesting DEP’s rollout of the bioswales program for nearly two years. Avella said his biggest problem with bioswales has been the lack of transparency surrounding the program. He contended that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration does not provide adequate information to residents regarding bioswales or inform homeowners that they will be getting one in front of their home.

Instead, residents have only found out about the program when they see the green markings in front of their houses. Avella said the homeowner would most likely be responsible for both the maintenance and damages to their bioswale, which could end up being an expensive matter.

Elaine Young, president of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association, said members’ experience with bioswales and the testing thus far has been abysmal.

“DEP is the most non-transparent city agency there is and when we have questions, nobody anwsers them, so we don’t trust that what they’re telling us is true,” she said. “We don’t trust that it won’t cause flooding, that it won’t cause environmental issues, we don’t trust them at all. I’ve seen bioswales in Corona where that were just pits of filth, the tree inside was broken, and they were just plain disgusting,” Young said.

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.