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Local News January 5, 2012  RSS feed

CRACKS AT RESERVOIR

Renovations Delayed By Structural Instability
by Robert Pozarycki

Improvements to the perimeter of the Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn/Queens border have hit a snag after contractors working for the Parks Department found defects in retaining walls within one of the basins.

The Parks Department began work last year on the $7.2 million first phase of renovations, which include the installation of new lighting, fencing and a pathway around the 55- acre site adjacent to Highland Park. The project also involves the creation of a pedestrian ramp leading to the elevated reservoir from Vermont Place.

But in completing the scheduled work, crews found debris inside one of the basins. In the process of cleaning it up, “several unfavorable conditions were uncovered,” according to a statement from the Parks Department, “including structurally unstable paths and walls that will require extensive technical revision.”

Though workers were preparing to resurface the 1 1/4-mile pathway around the reservoir just before the damage was discovered, the repairs to the defective basin walls “require that we postpone laying asphalt until this spring,” the statement noted. As a result, the first phase of the project will likely be completed by the summer of 2012; originally, it was projected that work would be finished by the spring.

Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, told the Times Newsweekly in a phone interview that he is trying to arrange a meeting with the Parks Department to discuss the emergency repairs as well as other aspects of the project. The meeting would also focus on planning the second phase of the reservoir’s renovations, which remain unplanned.

-SEE RESERVOIR ON PG. 28-

“We’d like to talk with the Parks Department with regard to what could be done based on the amount of money that may be available,” Giordano said. He hoped that the first phase of the renovations to the reservoir would “attract more people and hopefully a lot of nature lovers.”

Defunct since 1989, the reservoir has naturally evolved over the last two decades to become a habitat for various plant and wildlife. The center basin of the reservoir’s three chambers remains filled with water and resembles a natural lake.

The city’s Parks Department took control of the site in 2004 and in the years that followed, set out a plan to redevelop the site and Highland Park as one of eight “regional parks” around the city. Initial plans, conceived through the PlaNYC 2030 master plan, called for one of the reservoir’s three basins to be cleared and developed with new ball fields and play areas.

Community activists voiced opposition to the plans, observing that the reservoir should remain at a nature preserve and that ball fields at Highland Park should be improved instead. Numerous community meetings were held by the Parks Department over the last several years, gathering opinions from residents in both Brooklyn and Queens.

Though the city had planned to spend up to $50 million to renovate the reservoir for park use, recent fiscal constraints forced the city to scale back its improvements.

Giordano reiterated his belief that the Ridgewood Reservoir should be maintained as a nature preserve and opposed any ideas to transform one of its basins into athletic fields.

“To me, it’s senseless, but there have been people who have been advocating for ballfields,” he said. “Well, there’s got to be a better place to put ballfields other than the Ridgewood Reservoir site.”

He hoped that the second phase of the reservoir’s renovation would include improvements to maintain the “natural habitat” while also transforming one of the former pump houses on the site into an environmental center to educate visitors young and old.

“Some of us envision it as a place where students could go on school trips or not-for-profit organizations could take a trip there,” he said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is also considering declaring the reservoir as a “state-regulated freshwater wetland.” If the site is given that designation, the state DEC would have the authority to review any potential activities at the reservoir and require permits for any specific improvements.

Giordano noted that the DEC recently completed hydrology tests at the site and has sent the results to the Parks Department for review. The Parks Department statement indicated that the agency is “currently reviewing the hydrology report and will share with DEC once our review is completed.”