BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO
Revisions to the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) plans for a Newtown Creek aeration facility in Maspeth were panned by Community Board 5 members during the advisory body’s meeting this week.
The proposed aeration facility, located at 58-26 47th St. on the creek’s waterfront, would house a 70-foot by 40-foot aeration building equipped with two blowers, external transformers, ventilation and air conditioning units.
Air would be diffused along the length of a pipe from the facility into the creek in an effort to increase dissolved oxygen levels in the surrounding water and reduce pollution levels.
Ray Meshkati, accountable project manager for the Newtown Creek East Planned Aeration Project, was optimistic that the project would be approved. “We think that we should be able to place this on line sometime in 2018,” he stated.
Meshkati’s optimism, however, was met with sharp criticism from board members after it was announced that public access to the waterfront space was omitted from the updated plans.
“This board passed a resolution in 2013 asking the DEP to give us several options in terms of public waterfront access,” Land Use Committee chair Walter Sanchez said.
Board 5 chair Vincent Arcuri also expressed outrage and concern over the changes.
“I don’t like people, especially agency people, going back on what they said to us,” Arcuri said. “Gary [Giordano] and I met with the commissioner and out of that meeting a sketch was produced showing future dedicated space to the promenade. Why this final document comes out without that future space shown or dedicated is an insult to me, this board and the community.”
Tom Smith, a representative from the Department of City Planning, explained that the DEP was granted a mayoral override allowing for the omission of public access along the waterfront and proposed promenade area due to questions over public safety.
“The concern from the agency was that this area may have a safety and security issue,” Smith said. “This would not be a staffed facility at all hours of the day. There’s little pedestrian traffic and any waterfront access would be significantly removed from the street itself.”
DEP Director of Community Affairs Ibrahim Abdul-Matin echoed these concerns: “The understanding is that as the larger area, which is mostly an industrial area, develops, there is going to be a larger plan for the entire waterfront. I can’t comment as to how [public access] will fit into a larger plan until there’s a much more comprehensive look at that waterfront as it develops and changes.”
Board 5 member John Maier expressed similar concerns regarding the override of the original plan. “Public space will create energy and activity that’s not there now, but could be in the future,” he said. “I think to deny the public access is to deny the potential. That’s sad and unfortunate.”
The expansion plan also faced opposition from the local Newtown Creek Alliance. In a Feb. 11 letter, NCA Program Manager Willis Elkins petitioned the DEP and DEC for a delay in the project, citing concerns over habitat, wildlife and quality-of-life issues.
“We feel that the expansion should not advance without a serious re-evaluation of alternatives that can offer long-term solutions to improving water quality,” Elkins wrote.
The proposed expansion is part of a larger system of automatic air blowers and diffusers installed along the length of the creek. The first aeration facility, built along the English Kills near the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge, was completed in 2008.