Vol. 11, No. 23 Dec. 2 - Dec. 15, 1998


Filtration Plant Lands in Norwood
City Picks Mosholu Golf Course for Water Facility


A $700 million, 10-acre filtration facility will be constructed over at least five years in the Mosholu Golf Course in Norwood, the city's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced Tuesday, ending months of speculation.

"This is so crazy because it's [so] densely populated," said Fay Muir, a Norwood homeowner and community activist. She added that construction at that site would harm a community with a tremendous proportion of minority residents and that it will destroy recent community efforts to revive the southeastern corner of the park with a playground and more maintenance from the Parks Department.

The golf course, which the city said was the site with "the best balance of all considerations," is located in Van Cortlandt Park off Jerome Avenue. It was one of eight candidates in the Bronx and Westchester but was the latest addition to the list, announced only after public hearings last spring. The facility is designed to filter water from the Croton system, which provides New York City with 10 percent of its water. The underground construction will begin in 2001, DEP officials say, after which the golf course will be replaced on top of it.

Mosholu Golf Course, though used mostly by visitors from outside the area and considered more remote than the long-debated Jerome Park Reservoir site, still borders on a residential community -- Norwood.

The siting has raised concerns about traffic, noise, dust and other environmental hazards. As for traffic, DEP documents indicate that 190 trucks per day would access the site in 2002. State Senator Guy Velella, a Republican whose district includes the golf course site, said that he was going to push the city to ensure in its contracts that "access roads should be internal to the site and not go through the community."

He added, however, it is still possible to convince the mayor to put most of the plant in the Westchester towns of Mt. Pleasant or Greenburgh, an option favored by all local elected officials. The two supervisors of those towns welcome the facility because of the money and tax revenues it would bring. Velella said the officials "may have overpriced themselves," and suggested they reconsider. "Maybe half a loaf is better than none," Velella advised his Westchester counterparts.

Taken by surprise
The announcement took some by surprise. Don Bluestone, executive director of Mosholu Montefiore Community Center, was relieved to learn that the ballfields in Harris Park and Shandler Recreation Area in Van Cortlandt Park, where his Little League teams play, would be unharmed.

But he did not have enough information to take a firm position on the golf course site, which is nearer his center and the community it serves.

"I'm befuddled," said Bluestone, who helped lead the charge against Shandler and Harris. "All of us have to think. We probably have to have a meeting called "the thinking meeting.'" (Bluestone will host a meeting with the Mosholu Woodlawn South Community Coalition at his agency at 7 p.m. on Dec. 15.)

Barely taking a breath after expressing relief about Jerome Park-- widely considered the worst site because of its proximity to homes and schools -- elected officials were virtually unanimous in opposing any Bronx plant, and demanded the city reconsider the decision.

"The plant must never be built in the Bronx," said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz in a statement. "I will continue to work to prevent the construction of this huge industrial facility in our community."

"Ain't over until it's over"

"It ain't over until it's over and I mean that," said Councilwoman June M. Eisland. "We must keep on pressing the administration to put a lot of energy to look into filtration avoidance and not to put all their energies into the ULURP."

LURP stands for Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, a seven-month process that requires review of the DEP's siting decision by several different levels of city government. Eisland herself will play a formal role in the process as head of the City Council's Land Use Committee.

Despite a federal consent decree in which the city agreed to mechanically filter its water by a certain deadline, officials and community residents also pressed the city to put more energy into avoiding filtration altogether.

The alternatives, they claim, are aggressively protecting the watershed and using the Croton's own ecosystem to clean the water. Congressman Eliot Engel said he would reintroduce federal legislation to give the city another chance to apply for filtration avoidance (it failed to apply for a waiver by the agency's deadline a couple of years ago). Engel's is considered an uphill battle, requiring representatives from all over the country to support a measure affecting only a single congressional district.

Protest at firm
Local activists with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition demonstrated on the day of the announcement that they take filtration avoidance very seriously by making an unannounced visit at the midtown Manhattan offices of Metcalf & Eddy, an international engineering firm which serves as a consultant to DEP.

The firm has been criticized for conflicts of interest. Metcalf & Eddy prepared studies of the eight sites while simultaneously taking on the city's own assignment to build a plant in the Jerome Park Reservoir. Activists argued that under such an arrangement it was in the firm's interest to downplay both the filtration avoidance option and the impact of construction on communities surrounding the plant.

DEP spokeswoman Cathy DelliCarpini said her agency had full confidence in the firm. "We believe that this is a professional engineering firm chosen on its qualifications and reputation," she said, adding that a doctor who examines a patient for appendicitis wouldn't falsely diagnosis that illness just to get the money from the operation. "There is no reason to believe that they would give us a recommendation that would be colored by any prejudice of theirs."

The coalition succeeded in meeting with the company's regional vice president, James Anderson, who agreed to arrange a meeting between the group and the president of his firm.

"We were telling him we didn't think that enough of the resources for this contract were expended to explore all of the alternatives," said Muir, the Norwood activist. "We think they were starting at the wrong end of the problem."

Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer agreed. "My position has been, and still is, that filtration avoidance must be the preferred option," he said at a City Hall press conference on the day of the announcement.

"Croton water meets all primary water quality standards. With the implementation of a serious filtration avoidance program, it will meet even the secondary, non-public health, standards well into the future. ... At minimum, the city should take the "dual track' approach, which would require the implementation of a comprehensive watershed protection and upgrade program, while simultaneously considering a filtration option."

Shift in debate
The decision represents a large shift in the filtration debate, the direction of which will become clear in the coming weeks.

Staunch plant opponents from the Van Cortlandt Village area, whose main concern was Jerome Park Reservoir, indicated that they would be taking a backseat in the ongoing battle.

Ed Yaker, president of Amalgamated Houses, a large housing cooperative which has powered much of the opposition to the Jerome Park site, said his institution probably would not continue to formally fight the city on the issue.

"I don't know that it would be politically appropriate, if the mayor accedes, for us to then get in a fight with him," Yaker said, the night before the decision. "I suspect our cooperators would make their own choices and align themselves with whatever forces they agreed with."

Some Amalgamated dwellers may choose to stay involved since the Golf Course is actually closer to their complex than the proposed plant in the southern basin of the reservoir.

Kingsbridge Heights resident Karen Argenti, a weary warrior in the battle with the city, said she would remain an advocate for filtration avoidance but that it was time to pass the baton. "I'm tired," she said. "It's time for other people to take over."

Some Norwood residents like Muir and several others who made the trip to Metcalf & Eddy are poised to accept that baton, but whether they will have sufficient reinforcements remains to be seen. The Dec. 15 meeting at the community center will gauge early support.

Local activists will have help from the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, which opposes siting the plant anywhere in the park, and perhaps from Woodlawn residents who fear traffic overflow into their neighborhood.

Argenti said the Jerome Park experience proves that citizen action works. "It was a tremendous feat to get Jerome Park off the preferred list and what it indicates is that the system works if you work at it."

Her advice to her Norwood counterparts? "You've got to read everything and ask a lot of questions, and write a letter at the end of every meeting saying what happened."

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