Still Time to Do the Right Thing on Filtration
During the hour of arguments before the Court of Appeals in Albany on Jan. 3, one exchange stands out.
"Why didn't the city seek legislative approval?" asked Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick of city attorney Ron Sternberg. "You just had to go through one more step and you didn't do it. Why didn't you do it?"
Sternberg didn't really answer, but the answer is that the city knew it was unlikely to get legislative approval and was trying to circumvent the system set up to prevent precisely this type of abuse of public parkland.
Despite the city's assurances that they would be restoring the parkland, local residents understood that the golf course and the adjacent Norwood section of the park would be unusable for years to their children and grandchildren and that, when finished, the park would essentially be a few inches of dirt on top of a chemical factory.
The seven judges on the Court of Appeals agreed that the project would deprive residents of the park's use and ruled accordingly.
The city took a big risk by not seeking the approval they probably knew, or should have known, was necessary. If they had picked one of the Westchester sites, where two town supervisors showed interest in the project, the city could be proceeding with construction without the threat of federal fines and further judicial intervention.
But the city's mistake also may contain a silver lining in that there may now be an opportunity to seriously consider filtration avoidance for the Croton. As the umbrella group Bronx Water Alliance states in a document presented at their press conference, a number of scientific and legal developments have occurred since the decision was made over a decade ago to filter that may make filtration unnecessary. The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which presides over a water supply in poorer condition than the Croton, successfully convinced a federal judge last year that it could protect its water more effectively without filtration. The same zeal now needs to be adopted by the city's Department of Environmental Protection.
Mayor Giuliani, himself an attorney, not only disagreed with the court's decision but called it "incomprehensible." He also mocked local concerns about the loss of parkland. "I like to play golf, and I'm willing to give up the Mosholu Golf Course for five years."
Fortunately, the mayor, in the same breath, also expressed a desire to discuss the need for filtration with the federal government. A DEP official also said that option is on the table, as is the possibility of building the plant on an industrial site in Greenburgh. Probably, both actions need to be pursued simultaneously.
So, after more than a decade, the city might finally do what it should have done all along - truly determine whether or not filtration is necessary for the Croton, or build the plant on a suitable industrial site. It took too long, and too much money, to get to the point local activists arrived at long ago, but it's still not too late for the city to do the right thing.
Congratulations to all who dedicated countless hours to this critical community battle. It is not only a victory for Bronx residents, but also for residents of the entire state, who can now look to this precedent for protection of their own precious open space.
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