After months of speculation, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) finally announced who would receive the money from a more than two year old legal settlement against the City.
The lawsuit, brought by DEC after the City failed to meet State standards regarding the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility, resulted in an August 2009 Judgment on Consent, ordering the City to pay $10 million to fund environmental benefit projects in the neighborhoods surrounding the Creek.
Three administrators were chosen to suggest how to split up the cash: the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency – NYSERDA ($2 million), the Hudson River Foundation ($1 million) and the City Parks Foundation ($7 million). City Parks began holding meetings exactly a year ago, on October 26, 2010, to determine which projects they would recommend receive funds from DEC.
From a list of around 45 projects, including a velodrome, three giant bio-sculptures modeled after the wastewater treatment plant’s digester eggs and a nearly 4-mile long, $5 billion filtration tunnel to Bowery Bay, City Parks narrowed down the candidates to a handful they believed were feasible, taking cost, scope and benefit to the community into consideration. It was now up to DEC to approve the list.
The chosen projects, announced on Friday, October 28th, in priority order, are the construction of the Greenpoint Boathouse (est. cost $3 million), wetlands rehabilitation around the creek (est. cost $500K), the acquisition of space for Dutch Kills Basin Park in Queens (est. cost $2 million) and tree planting and storm water management (est. cost $500K) in the communities surrounding the creek. Any leftover funds following the implementation of these four projects will go to lower priority projects including improvements to McCarren Park and The Greenpoint Monitor Museum site.
The Greenpoint Boathouse will be located at the end of Manhattan Avenue, at the bulkhead behind the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC) building. GMDC has already agreed to make the bulkhead publicly accessible and to lease their ground floor for community use. According to the North Brooklyn Boat Club’s (NBBC) website, the boathouse will enhance the community’s open space, educational and recreational facilities and the perception of the Newtown Creek. Work on the project is expected to take 3-4 years.
The proposal was the subject of some controversy in June when the City urged DEC, based on Department of Health (DOH) recommendations, not to approve the boathouse. The DOH cited concerns about small boats sharing such a narrow space with large industrial vessels. In addition, they argued that the creek was unsuitable for recreational use due to high levels of fecal coliform (resulting from wastewater treatment plant spill-over).
But several community groups, including the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks & Planning (GWAPP), Newtown Creek Alliance and NBBC stood behind the project and with the help of elected officials Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Assemblyman Joe Lentol and Councilmember Steve Levin successfully showed why the project was positive for the community.
Dewey Thompson, NBBC founder, and a member of Community Board 1 and GWAPP’s board of directors led the charge for the boathouse. He says the benefits far outweigh the risks. “The boathouse will be at the mouth of Newtown Creek” he said. “The really polluted section of the creek is in the English Kills, near the Kosciuszko Bridge, not the Pulaski…This is not to diminish the risks there are in terms of pollution, but where the boathouse is, is actually relatively clean.”
Lentol, whom Thompson credits as the driving force behind gaining state approval for the project, arranged a meeting in Albany with DEC Commissioner Joe Martens and boathouse advocates. “The city was concerned that the people that will be operating the boathouse and going into the water don’t know what they’re doing,” he said. “But they do, and that’s what I pointed out to the commissioner. I wanted him to meet them face to face and see that they are responsible citizens.”
Lentol’s advocacy stems from his desire to preserve the neighborhood’s distinct identity and history. “It creates an opportunity for the community, to take back its natural environment and its history and to gain access to the waterfront. It’s unique, it’s bold and this is what keeps our community interesting.”
The arrival of the boathouse could not have come at a better time, said Thompson. With Newtown Creek scheduled to be cleaned up under the federal Superfund program, interested parties, such as scientists, can now get a closer look at the progress. “It’s going to really change the way North Brooklyn interacts with the waterways around it,” he said. “And that’s really cool!”