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Local News March 7, 2013  RSS feed

R’WOOD RESERVOIR DAM PLAN SLAMMED

Panel: Too Invasive To Reforested Basins
by Robert Pozarycki


At left is an artist rendering of the proposed culvert to be constructed on the outer wall of the Ridgewood Reservoir near Vermont Place. Above is the map showing where breaches will be made to officially decommission the reservoir as a state-recognized dam. 
(courtesy of NYC Parks) At left is an artist rendering of the proposed culvert to be constructed on the outer wall of the Ridgewood Reservoir near Vermont Place. Above is the map showing where breaches will be made to officially decommission the reservoir as a state-recognized dam. (courtesy of NYC Parks) The Parks Department’s proposal to create a runoff system at the Ridgewood Reservoir was panned by members of Community Board 5’s Parks Committee at its meeting last Monday, Feb. 25, in Glendale, who charged that it opened the door for trespassers to gain access to ecologically-sensitive areas of the greenspace.

Joelle Byrer and Katie Raschdorf of the Parks Department explained the details of the plan, which is being done to satisfy a request by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to formally decommission the long-inactive greenspace as a “high-class hazard C dam.”

Ridgewood Reservoir was taken completely out of the city’s water system nearly 25 years ago, and over time has evolved into a natural habitat. However, the reservoir—in which only one of its three basins has water—is nonetheless considered by the state DEC as a dam. The state had mandated that by 2014, all structures recognized as dams be fortified to modern standards for retaining water or breached if no longer used for such purposes.

Since Ridgewood Reservoir is in the process of being transformed into a public park, Byrer stated, the Parks Department is working to create a series of outlets within the three basins. Electing to maintain the reservoir as a dam would have required the Parks Department to make repairs and remove plantlife in the basins.

In order to decommission the dam, Raschdorf explained, the Parks Department will need to “poke holes in the walls so that under no circumstances— no catastrophic weather events—that this structure will not impound more than six feet of water at any time.” The center basin— which has water no greater than five feet deep, Raschdorf noted—will remain in tact.

“What our goal has been all along is to maintain that water level in the center basin,” Raschdorf added. “We’re working with our design consultants in order to do that, and the DEC is okay with that, because we understand the importance of it.”

To accomplish this task, the Parks Department will install culverts (openings) in the walls separating the three basins which comprise the reservoir, as well as the outer wall of the westernmost basin adjacent to Vermont Place. The aim is to have runoff flow through the culverts along the topography of the site, from its highest point located near the Jackie Robinson Parkway and Salem Field Cemetery to the low point at the corner of Vermont Place and Highland Boulevard.

The breaches in between all three basins would be located on the northern end nearest the Jackie Robinson Parkway. Raschdorf explained the location of the breaches are important in order to maintain the sensitive ecology in the easternmost basin.

Once runoff exits through the culvert adjacent to the corner of Vermont Place and Highland Boulevard, Raschdorf noted, the water will flow into nearby catch basins and through the city’s sewer system. But she pointed out the only scenario under which water would flow through the Vermont Place culvert would be a weather event of apocalyptic proportions.

“There will be way more global catastrophic before you would see any water draining onto Vermont Place,” she said, adding that there was no heavy flooding reported in the reservoir during recent weather events such as Hurricane Sandy.

Installing these culverts, however, will require crews to enter into the reservoirs themselves. To accomplish this task with minimal effects on the natural habitats of all three basins, Raschdorf explained, crews will make a path running along the northern and western perimeters of each basin wall.

Heavy machinery will not be required to enter the basin to install the pre-cast concrete culverts, she noted. The path also gives the Parks Department the opportunity to enter each basin and remove invasive plant species and replace it with new plantlife native to the area.

Committee members took issue with the size of the culvert planned between the exterior wall of the Ridgewood Reservoir’s western basin and Vermont Place, which is planned to be 11’-high, 14’-wide and 46’ deep. All of the culverts will be gated and locked.

“We’re spending millions of dollars to do this,” said Parks Committee Co-chair Steve Fiedler. “After a while, with a lack of maintenance, it’s gone. I don’t want to see something like this built and then all of that soil and grass washed away, and it looks like crap. There’s no reason for that if they install a drainage system.”

Fiedler also expressed concern about the size of the culverts, which he claimed would allow trespassers to gain access to the location.

“I don’t want 11 feet. I don’t think vehicles should ever get in any of these basins,” he said, suggesting that the Parks Department instead make its entrance from the nearby Jackie Robinson Parkway.

“There’s no security patrol up there. It’s a free for all at night time. Those gates are going to be broken and walked into,” Fiedler added.

It was noted that this project will be done separate from the current improvements being made to the perimeter of the Ridgewood Reservoir. That project, Raschdorf noted, is expected to be completed this spring.

In all, the work is expected to cost $11 million, which will be funded through the Mayor’s office, according to Byrer. The committee was asked to offer a letter of recommendation for the Parks Department’s plans, which will likely be brought before the full board for a vote at the board’s Mar. 13 meeting.

The Parks Department reps also outlined renovation plans for the area of the reservoir adjacent to Salem Field Cemetery. As explained by Raschdorf, this includes improving very steep slopes which were created through illegal dumping by the cemetery over the years.

The plans include cutting into the illegal slopes—which reportedly encroach beyond the cemetery’s property line and onto Parks Department territory—and installing an 8’-tall retaining wall. A 4’-high stone wall would be erected in front of the retaining wall, and the area between the two will be filled in with soil and planters.

Salem Field is reportedly funding the entire cost of the project, as per a requirement issued by the state DEC, Byrer added.