Vol. 16, No.13  June 19 - July  2, 2003


Bewitching Hour For Filter Plant
Dinowitz Appeals To Colleagues


As the Norwood News went to press, state legislation that would make it possible for the city to build a water filtration plant at Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cortlandt Park was making its way through the state Capitol. The bill, which essentially gives the city the OK to use that section of the park for a non-park purpose, was reported out of the State and Cities Committee and into the Ways and Means Committee. But time was running out as the legislature's last scheduled day of business is June 19. 

The legislative action was set in motion by the City Council which approved a home rule message 44 to 4. Among Bronxites, only Council Members Oliver Koppell and Pedro Espada voted against the measure. 

However, the fate of the legislation seemed all but certain. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, whose district includes the park site, said Speaker Sheldon Silver, through whom all legislation flows, had not yet committed to bring the legislation to the floor. 

"I don't know what the outcome is going to be," Dinowitz said in a Tuesday evening telephone interview. "The speaker told people he has not yet made up his mind."

Silver's spokeswoman, Eileen Larrabee, would only say that the bill was in committee and would be decided "based on the merits."

Also on Tuesday, Dinowitz, perhaps the only vocal foe of the project in Albany, 
circulated a letter to his Assembly colleagues urging them to vote against the bill. 

He warned his colleagues that they would otherwise set a bad precedent. "To my knowledge, this will be the first time a park alienation bill would be passed over the objection of the local member," he wrote. "If this bill is passed, then watch out: your parkland may be next." 

A fourth site?
Dinowitz also raised an issue that, in recent days, has become something of a potential wild card solution to the controversy. He told his colleagues that "there is a fourth choice," meaning that there is a site other than the two Bronx sites (the other one is along the Harlem River near Fordham Road) and another in Westchester that the DEP has been considering. That site is under the Major Deegan Expressway at 233rd Street. Dinowitz said the site has the advantage of not being in parkland and being close to the old Croton Aqueduct and the Third Water Tunnel. The project would also be kept in the Bronx, meaning that jobs would stay in the city, Dinowitz said. 

Though the site is closer to Woodlawn, Dinowitz, who also represents that neighborhood, said he thought community leaders there would support the idea because it would mean that trucks would not have to enter and exit on 233rd Street. 

"Given the circumstances, it certainly behooves the city to give it serious consideration and see if it is viable and perhaps if there's no serious opposition, it could be the way to bring all the sides together," Dinowitz said. 

Karen Argenti, a veteran activist who has fought the DEP on this issue for more than a decade, said she thought the site could actually bring the battle to an end. "I think it's a good site and I think people should come together on it," she said. " It seems like it's a solution for everybody." 

City officials believe they have little room to maneuver, as they have already missed two federal deadlines to get the approvals they need to site the plant. But supporters of the proposal say that the federal government would welcome a solution that would finally end years of legislative and legal wrangling. 

DEP chief tours community
Meanwhile, neighborhood residents were engaging in some last minute activism in a long shot bid to get the city's top environmental official to change his mind about the park site. 

Members of the COVE, a youth center in the Knox-Gates section of Norwood, and the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park took DEP Commissioner Chris Ward on a tour of the park and the community last Wednesday. 

At the start of the tour, Lyn Pyle, a COVE board member, told Ward that when his agency considers the cost of the project, it should "think about us as part of the cost." 

At the same time the community was making its case, Ward, who came on the tour alone, was making his. "By the time this plant gets going, you could have this whole area redone," he told his tour guides, referring to the southeast corner of the park. The city offered Bronx lawmakers $243 million in Bronx park improvements in exchange for their support of the project. Of that, $43 million is slated for Van Cortlandt Park. 

Residents complained that the project, which would require blasting into the bedrock in the park, would exacerbate asthma in the area. Groups of residents sat outside with signs that said things like, "75 people in this community have asthma," and "Please don't make me sick, we have asthma." But Ward said the project would do no harm. He said there are dust suppression techniques using water that would protect air quality. 

A group of merchants also gathered around Ward on Gun Hill Road, and told him that they thought the plant would be bad for business. A little later, in a question-and-answer session with Ward at the COVE, the commissioner said he thought the opposite was true, that it would mean more jobs for Bronx residents (though just how many is uncertain) and many more customers for local merchants. "The economic activity in this neighborhood will be enormous," Ward said. 

But that was no consolation to people like Rhoda Tuohy, who has lived on Gates Place since the 1950s and worries about the five or more years of construction and its effect on noise, rodents, and air quality in the community. 

"It's going to be a nightmare," she predicted.

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