Tag Archives: Department of Environmental Conservation

New hope for Ridgewood Reservoir


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

The Ridgewood Reservoir is gaining some dam support.

The head of the state Department of Environmental Conservation told lawmakers that the city Parks Department requested his agency reclassify the reservoir as a “low hazard” dam, which would obviate the need for a $6 million construction project to prevent flooding.

The reservoir has been listed as a major flood hazard with potential to do damage to its surroundings. In order to minimize the risk of flooding, the Parks Department planned to connect the reservoir’s three basins by creating three large breaches in the reservoir’s surrounding berms.

“If reclassified, the Class A [low flood threat] designation will allow Parks to maintain the reservoir as a dam, without necessitating breaching the structure and all the associated intrusions, such as access-road construction, tree removal and habitat disturbance,” DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens wrote in a Sept. 2 letter.

Martens said his staff felt the downgrade “may be technically justified,” and that the Parks Department is “in the process of submitting additional information to justify this reclassification,” raising the possibility that the reservoir can be fully preserved.

“We share your view that the reservoir is a unique, historic site that over the years has reverted to nature and has become a haven for wildlife, as well as local residents seeking respite from urbanized surroundings,” Martens wrote.

The letter also said that the DEC is developing a schedule to map the wetlands in the three basins of the reservoir, starting early this fall.

This initial work will identify the exact boundaries of each of the wetlands and what conditions exist there.

Even though the letter is a step forward in the fight to save the reservoir, state Sen. Joe Addabbo remains skeptical.

“I will not rest until there is an A classification [low flood risk] letter from the Parks Department in my hand,” Addabbo said. “I am optimistic we will get what we want but just something more definitive.”

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Governor Cuomo signs legislation to preserve Jamaica Bay


| slicata@queenscourier.com

Photo by Dan Mundy, Jr.

Jamaica Bay, long known as a dumping site for toxic waste, now has a law to prevent some of the hazardous material from making its way into the body of water.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that prohibits state regulatory agencies like the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) from issuing permits to allow dumping hazardous materials in Jamaica Bay. This law will ultimately limit the risk of water contamination in the bay.

“Communities surrounding Jamaica Bay can now breathe a little easier with the passing of this bill, both figuratively and literally,” said state Sen. Joe Addabbo, who, along with Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, drafted the legislation. “In the district, we were all fortunate enough to grow up with Jamaica Bay and I hope this legislation will ensure future generations can enjoy the serenity and beauty for years to come.”

Prior to this bill, there were no guidelines that the DEC had to follow when issuing permits for dumping into the bay’s burrow pits, which are areas with increased depth as a result of dredging projects by the Army Corps of Engineers that removed sand from parts of the floor to fill in others.

Both Addabbo and Goldfeder believe this will be a huge victory for Jamaica Bay and its surrounding neighborhoods.

“Dredged materials leaching with toxins have no right to be dumped in our waters and now we finally have the laws in place to keep our families away from harm and preserve the natural ecosystem of Jamaica Bay for years to come,” concluded Addabbo and Goldfeder. “We commend Governor Cuomo for signing this legislation into law.”

 

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Beechhurst neighbors fighting state agency to keep seawalls that defended against Sandy


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photos by Liam La Guerre


Two Beechhurst neighbors want to end a two-decade-old fight with the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to keep their decks, which were built over unauthorized seawalls, which they say protected their homes from Hurricane Sandy.

Thanks to their parallel 15-foot high decks, Al Risi and 90-year-old neighbor Ruth Winkle’s water-edged houses suffered only flooding damage from the storm, but were left mainly intact, they said.

But since the decks have never had the proper permit, the DEC is calling for the residents to remove them. Risi and Winkle, who lives alone with her three dogs and nursing aide, argue that taking the decks down would make the residences vulnerable to another storm of equal or greater intensity than Sandy.

“I’m only concerned about protecting my house,” Risi said. “There are thousands of people in Long Beach that have not made it back. Their houses were destroyed and they were not [given] enough money to redo it.”

Risi and Winkle built the seawalls on their properties about 18 years ago without permission from the DEC. Engineers warned Risi when he bought his nearly $1 million, three-level house in 1995 that it needed protection from the tides, so he requested a permit for the neighbors’ seawalls from the state agency. But he said the DEC didn’t respond to him when he submitted his final plans, so he went ahead with the structures, which are made of large stones slanted at an angle. The DEC later said that he had illegally landfilled the area.

A DEC representative did not return numerous emails and calls for comment on this issue.

Both neighbors have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees in cases the DEC brought against them and violations in the past 20 years. Also the agency put a lien on both houses so Risi and Winkle won’t be able to sell their properties. Risi valued his house at about $4 million now, while Winkle’s is worth about $3 million. The agency also seized nearly $100,000 in Risi’s bank account.

Risi has consulted various engineers and experts over the decades, all of whom believe that the seawall is necessary, he said. The neighbors also have support from local leaders and politicians as well.

“Given the severe damage we have seen caused by hurricanes Irene and Sandy, it’s unbelievable that DEC has refused to negotiate in this particular case, despite Mr. Risi paying hundreds of dollars in fines,” state Sen. Tony Avella said. “DEC is completely unjustified in pursuing this case.”

 

 

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Cuomo taps former Councilmember Jim Gennaro for deputy commissioner job


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

A former environmental leader in the City Council will take his fight for a cleaner, more sustainable city to the governor’s office.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has hired former Councilmember Jim Gennaro to join the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) as deputy commissioner for New York City Sustainability and Resiliency, the governor announced last week.

“This year, the state is reimagining New York for a new climate reality, building back better and more resilient after the major storms from the last few years,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I am pleased to have Mr. Gennaro join our team at DEC where he will bring his many years of environmental experience to help protect and prepare New York City for extreme weather.”

Gennaro served in the city’s lawmaking body from 2002, chairing the Environmental Protection Committee until he was term-limited in 2013.

The outspoken fracking skeptic and geologist had more than 42 pieces of environmental legislation passed by the City Council in that time. 

He was also awarded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Environmental Quality Award” in 2013.

Gennaro’s new responsibilities include helping the city rebuild after Sandy and preparing it for climate change challenges and future storms.

“Jim’s demonstrated passion for improving the environment and his leading role in shaping environmental policies to protect New Yorkers make him a natural fit for DEC,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens.

 

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Pol wants quicker Sandy recovery from state agency


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

File Photo

The push for quicker Sandy recovery continues, and now the pressure is on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC).

Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder requested Joe Martens, DEC Commissioner, and the agency expedite all “permits related to recovery projects in the Sandy-damaged communities of southern Queens” to “wherever possible.”

“Our families are working around the clock to recover and rebuild from Sandy and every agency on every level of government must do the same,” Goldfeder said.

Families throughout Howard Beach, as well as Broad Channel and the rest of the Rockaways, continue to wait on approval for permits from various agencies, including the DEC, Goldfeder said.

Additionally, pols and residents want to see repairs to the Rockaway boardwalk as well as the area’s baffle walls.

“We need NYS DEC to expedite all permitting for our boardwalk,” said John Cori, Rockaway resident and co-founder of the Friends of Rockaway, “especially the retaining wall that will serve as a protective barrier and help in mitigation efforts to prepare our community for future storms.”

The boardwalk and walls, although designed and constructed by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and the Economic Development Corporation, need DEC approval before rebuilding efforts can move forward.

“If there is a lesson to be taken from Superstorm Sandy, it is that we cannot afford to wait,” Goldfeder said in a letter to Martens.

“Our families have been through enough suffering and there is no excuse for even a moment’s delay,” he said.


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$50 million to protect Howard Beach from storms


| mhayes@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

Howard Beach homes will now be protected, starting at the coast.

Spring Creek and Jamaica Bay will undergo a multi-million dollar resiliency project that Governor Andrew Cuomo said will better protect homes and businesses from destructive storms.

“Like several other communities located by the water, Howard Beach suffered incredible damage from storm surges during Sandy,” Cuomo said. “To strengthen Howard Beach against future flooding and storms, we are moving forward on a major project that improves the natural infrastructure along Spring Creek and the Jamaica Bay coast, with the approval of federal funding.”

About 3,000 homes were damaged during Sandy in the low-lying community.

Roughly $50 million will go towards engineering, designing and executing this project, which will cover 150 acres. Excavation, re-contouring and re-vegetation will be implemented by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to create a self-sustaining system of wave-dampening barriers intended to reduce storm damage.

“Addressing the flooding problem in Howard Beach is long overdue,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo. “A project like this cannot happen fast enough.”

Low and high level vegetated salt marshes, as well as dunes and elevated grasslands will be used to protect the community against future storm surges, similar to the floodwaters experienced during Sandy, and a rise in sea level.

About 765,000 cubic yards of material will be dug up across the site and reshaped into an elevated area, and 40,000 cubic yards of sand will be imported and spread across the site.

“I am most interested in the timeframe of this major project, since flood mitigation is a serious concern for my constituents, and the scope of this project is to ensure all parts of Howard Beach, inclusive of New and Old Howard, as well as Hamilton Beach,” Addabbo said.

Mitigation will be done along the eastern shore of Spring Creek on the north shore of Jamaica Bay. The site is bound by the Belt Parkway to the north and a series of roadways to the southeast, including 78th Street, 161st Avenue, 83rd Street, 165th Avenue and Cross Bay Boulevard. It comprises the western and southern perimeter of Howard Beach.

 

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Law to alert community boards about contaminated site cleanups


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of State Senator Tony Avella

The state is set to begin notifying community boards when cleanups of contaminated land are planned in their areas.

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently approved a bill that would make the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) responsible for alerting community boards of brownfield site cleanups.

Quoting Public Law, the DEC defines a brownfield as “any real property, the redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a contaminant.” Brownfields can include industrial sites or abandoned gas stations with hazardous waste or petroleum.

The DEC currently notifies adjacent property owners, nearby schools and local newspapers in the event of a cleanup. There is a 30-day public comment period after a cleanup request is made.

Under the new law, residents who attend their community board’s monthly meetings will be given more time to develop a comment before scheduled public hearings.

State Senator Tony Avella, who sponsored the bill, said the advanced warning is needed because significant environmental brownfield cleanup projects often lead to large developments that can affect locals.

“Community boards are our first line of defense in protecting our quality of life,” said Assemblymember Ed Braunstein, who introduced the law.

The cleanup of the Waterpointe-Whitestone brownfield site sparked the legislation, lawmakers said. Community Board 7, which represents the area, said it was never informed of the initial cleanup application.

“Providing board members with information about brownfield sites will ensure that the community has eyes and ears on the ground to make certain that all remediation is done appropriately,” Braunstein said.

 

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Politicians, locals want trash barged


| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Billy Rennison

Locals and elected officials trashed a recently approved plan that will increase waste-filled train traffic, saying residents need refuge from the refuse.

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) approved a plan on June 11 that increases the amount of sanitation districts’ garbage that passes through the Review Avenue waste transfer station and ends up on trains that travel through Glendale, Middle Village and Maspeth.

Currently, 958 tons of residential waste is delivered to the site, Waste Management spokesperson George McGrath said. The new plan will add an additional 200 tons from districts in Queens. The increase would not take place until after the facility is renovated, which has no timetable, he said.

For years, residents have complained about the noise and odor from the trains.

“You have people who can’t open their windows. You have people that I know of that have moved,” said Anthony Pedalino, who lives just down the street from the Middle Village tracks. “It’s just become a nightmare.”

Pedalino documents the daily disturbances recording the times the trains pass behind his house, with the times often occurring before 6 a.m.

Instead of alleviating the issues, homeowners are worried their troubles will only increase.

The DEC said the Department of Sanitation’s (DSNY) analysis found the project’s impact would not be considered significant under the criteria in the State Environmental Quality Review regulation.

“I think any amount of increased noise or odor pollution is too much to withstand for these residents,” State Senator Joe Addabbo said. “These residents don’t need more rails bothering them on a daily basis.”

The DSNY could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Area officials — including State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblymember Mike Miller and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley — gathered with residents outside the waste transfer station to urge the DEC to reconsider the plan and instead barge the garbage.

Currently, the garbage travels from the Long Island City facility north to Selkirk, NY, crosses the Hudson River and travels back south through New Jersey to Waste Management’s landfill in West Virginia.

“Now I don’t think that makes much sense when you consider this facility is sitting on the Newtown Creek, a waterway,” said Bob Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association.

Holden and the elected officials want the trash barged to a New Jersey port, either Port Elizabeth or Port Newark, both of which have stops along the CSX rail line that carries the trash.

“All we’re saying is we know the issue, we have to get rid of our waste. Well, we’re saying rationally, go with the barge, it’s right here; enough with the rail,” Addabbo said.

Any legislation to change the route would have to be federal because of the interstate travel.

While barging was considered, McGrath said, the narrowness of Newtown Creek at that point creates logistical problems.

“There is no place to store barges in that area, so you have to move them in and out several times a day,” McGrath said. “That in turn probably involves lifting the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge several times a day.”

“Our focus is working with customers in moving waste as efficiently as possible. In this location we believe rail is the way to go.”

Oakland Lake Park path to receive much-needed work


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Oakland Park

It took nearly two decades, but the makeover is almost complete.

The Parks Department announced plans for a $1.6 million remodeling of the pathway around Oakland Lake Park at a recent Community Board 11 meeting, ending a 16-year initiative to revitalize the park and allowing locals to finally enjoy the wetland.

“I’m very relieved,” said Jerry Iannece, chair of Community Board 11. “We are getting completion on a project we’ve been working on for almost two decades.”

The Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] spent years rebuilding and cleaning the ecosystem of the lake and created a park booming with wildlife for locals to enjoy, except there was no dry path to walk on.

The trail is flooded and overrun with mud and grime, making for an unstable surface that is difficult to walk through and spoils footwear, say park-goers.

“Oakland Park is a natural wonder,” said Vince Tabone, general counsel of the Friends of Oakland Lake and Ravine. “It’s a unique experience to take friends and family. It takes away from the full experience that you have mud on the pathway.”

The Oakland Lake Path Improvement plan involves building a new raised boardwalk around the lake and imputing drainage pipes under the path to prevent flooding from excess water running down the park’s slope, according to a Parks spokesperson.

The agency expects to start the project by spring 2013 after a review by the Department of Environmental Conservation and awarding a private contractor the bid.

It should be ready for residents within a year of this process, according to representatives from the department.

No one is more proud about the new path than Iannece, who is running for the 25th Assembly District seat. He has been leading the charge to protect the park since 1996 when he was president of the Bayside Hills Civic Association.

With the completion of the walkway set for the near future, Baysiders can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

“I could bring my kids here and we could do the nature walk,” said Bayside resident Jorge Chong. “It’s the only park around here with a lake.”