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


A Special Guest Editorial
A Filtration Plant Does Not Belong in a Park

Editor's note: We are happy to print this guest editorial written by Elizabeth Cooke, executive director of the Parks Council, a citywide open space advocacy group based in Manhattan. The Norwood News wholeheartedly agrees with Cooke's opinions concerning this tremendously important issue.


The proposed placement of an industrial, water treatment plant in Van Cortlandt Park is one of the most serious threats to the security of our parks that we know of. If this chemical treatment plant is built in Van Cortlandt Park, it will have a negative effect on the park, the community around it and, we fear, it will set a precedent that will haunt all city parks into the next century. If we use our parkland for government projects that belong in industrial zones, we will abdicate our responsibility to protect and preserve one of the city's most valuable assets.

The Parks Council and organizations of Bronx residents are united in our opposition and will work to block construction on the Van Cortlandt site on as many levels as possible. The proposal is being brought to the City Council for their approval this month and we are asking them to turn it down.

Impact on Van Cortlandt Park
During construction, 23 acres of the park will be fenced and closed for a minimum of five years, and a six-story (55-to-77-foot-deep) pit will be carved from the earth by digging and blasting through bedrock. Approximately one billion cubic yards of soil and rock will be removed from the park, and a quarter of a million cubic yards of concrete will be poured in. The noise, dust and traffic caused by construction will have a very negative effect on the surrounding residential community and parkland, including a playground only a short distance from the construction site.

The plant will permanently alter the topography of the area, which is an undulating, natural landscape that gently slopes up from street level. The filtration plant will have a huge flat roof at a grade of 205 feet. (The existing slope varies in grade from 170 to no more than 200 feet.) Imagine a huge structure in a park that is higher than the overhead subway that runs above Jerome Avenue with 13 inches of dirt, a golf driving range and nets surrounding it, on the roof.

This is NOT a benign DEP Facility
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has facilities in (or under) parkland throughout the city that consist of tunnels, valves, covered basins or vents that transport or store water. The city has given the impression that placement of this plant in a park would be consistent with other DEP uses.

We have a very different interpretation. There is no other filtration plant in New York. It will protrude four-stories above ground level. It will be an active industrial facility with thousands of pounds of chemicals trucked in and tens of thousands of pounds of solid sludge trucked out on a daily basis.

These industrial operations are not compatible with parkland or nearby residential property uses. Other facilities that require the daily delivery and use of caustic chemicals are limited to industrial zones. Although zoning regulations now recognize many mixed-use zones throughout the city, these areas result from a market demand for housing. This proposal places a huge industrial plant in a residential and community facilities zoned area.

Violation of Laws Protecting Parks
Section 20 of the New York State General City Law prohibits a city from converting parkland to a non-park use without the specific and direct approval of the state legislature. We believe that New York City lacks the legal authority to construct the water treatment plant in the park without an act of the state legislature. Further, if the city builds the plant in the park without approval by the state legislature, it would also be in violation of its own zoning and land use laws.

Time is On Our Side
We are aware that the city is under a court-ordered mandate to filter the water in the Croton system. Boston has a similar mandate and has received approval for an extension of the time in which they must comply. New York City should vigorously work to obtain a similar extension.

Many environmentalists are developing a strong case that the technology used in this type of filtration plant is obsolete. We must stop or delay this outdated, bad proposal and work with federal authorities to identify a method to provide clean water without destroying our parks and neighborhoods.

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