Vol. 12, No. 12 June 17 - 30, 1999


Filtration Decision Nears
Local Lawmakers See Uphill Battle in Council


Time is running out for community and park activists hoping to head off city plans to build a filtration plant at Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cortlandt Park as the City Council prepares to vote on the proposal at the end of June.

Two local councilmembers who serve on committees central to the process said they're having trouble convincing their colleagues to vote against the plan.

"I'm not optimistic because the answer I keep getting is that we're under a Consent Decree," said Councilwoman June Eisland, chair of the 17-member Land Use Committee, referring to the court-supervised agreement the city signed with the federal government, in which it promised to build a filtration plant for the Croton water system.

Councilman Adolfo Carrion, the Fordham Democrat who serves on the five-member Siting Subcommittee of Land Use, said he's been facing a similar uphill battle. "I think people feel sympathy with the community's concerns -- there's even empathy -- but probably because they are not directly affected by this massive project, they may be more willing to consider the possibility of the construction of a filtration plant," Carrion said.

Both lawmakers said, however, that they are continuing to lobby their colleagues. Carrion urged residents to attend the June 22 public hearing at 10:30 a.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

The subcommittee Carrion sits on is the first stop for the proposal in the Council, and what happens there will almost certainly determine its fate in the full Land Use Committee and then in the full 51-member Council. Gail Benjamin, director of the Council's Land Use unit said that there have been "very few instances where the full committee has done something other than that recommended by the subcommittee, because the site committee has done all the fact finding."

Also, Benjamin said, it's "rare that the Council would do something other than what the [Land Use] Committee had done."

"It would be very, very strange for 17 members [on the Committee] to go one way and then have 30-odd members to completely repudiate it," Benjamin added.

Key to the process is Council Speaker Peter Vallone who keeps tight control over the legislative body, rewarding loyal members and punishing those who vote against him. On this issue though, Vallone is letting members go their own way, Carrion said, a position that does not bode well for those who ultimately could need 35 votes to stop the project.

"He has shown sensitivity and concern about the community's feelings, and the community's perspective, but he hasn't really given an indication of which way he's going to go," Carrion said. "What he's essentially doing is is letting it play out and not trying to influence the members."

Meanwhile, plant opponents are busy trying to convince the Council to go their way. Activists with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition have been meeting with members of the Council. The Sierra Club, an environmental group opposed to filtration for the Croton, has also held meetings with individual lawmakers. Elizabeth Cooke, executive director of the Parks Council, a nonprofit advocacy organization circulated a "Friend of Parks" letter warning park enthusiasts around the city that the taking of parkland for an industrial facility is a dangerous precedent. And Eisland took some of her Land Use Committee colleagues on a tour of the site.

On the other side of the battle, labor officials, eyeing the union jobs that construction of the plant will require, are lobbying for approval of the project

The Council vote will cap a six-month land use review process that began Dec. 1 when the city Department of Environmental Protection announced the Mosholu Golf Course site. All three community boards surrounding the park unanimously rejected the plan, as did the borough board, a body made up of the Bronx's City Council delegation and the chairs of the borough's 12 community boards. The City Planning Commission, however, overwhelmingly approved the project by a vote of 10 to one. If the Council were to reject the plan, Mayor Giuliani could then veto that action. An override of the veto would require the votes of two-thirds of the Council. If the proposal survives the process, construction is scheduled to begin by September 2001, unless plant opponents can stop the action in the courts. Two lawsuits are pending, and others on the grounds of park alienation (activists believe state law prohibits the taking of parkland without an act of the legislature) and environmental justice are being considered.

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