DESIGN CONTRACT DENIED
Comptroller Cites Environmental Concerns In Rejecting Deal
Activists supporting the creation of a nature preserve at the Ridgewood Reservoir applauded the June 26 decision by City Comptroller William Thompson to reject a Parks Department contract for the development of athletic fields on a portion of the 50-acre site.
Thompson, through a letter addressed to the Parks Department from John Goddard, the comptroller's director of contract administration, cited concerns regarding the environmental impact of the fields themselves as well as the increased truck traffic during the fields' creation.
In the letter, Goddard stated that the contract was being returned to the city "to allow additional time for your agency to respond to our concerns pertaining to potential scope changes due to environmental review uncertainties and administrative issues."
The Parks Department had submitted the $3.3 million contract agreed to with Mark K. Morrison Associates Ltd. on May 29. The contract called for the firm to provide landscape design services for the reconstruction of both the reservoir site and Highland Park.
The contract is part of a larger, $50 million renovation of the site, which would include clearing one of the three reservoir basins- now lined with various plant and animal life since the city stopped using it as a backup water source- and using the space to build athletic fields.
The Parks Department had claimed the fields were necessary to help combat child obesity.
Thompson's office stated that according to the Morrison Associates proposal, the firm would either partially or completely fill one of the reservoir's three basins.
This project would require 27,500 large truckloads of fill (equal to 1 million cubic yards) to be transported through adjacent neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Even if an option would be chosen that would result in only a partially-filled basin, 11,700 large truckloads would be required.
"Either of these options would have significant negative impacts to the areas surrounding the park, which will have to bear the brunt of the noise, emissions and traffic disruptions for many years," Thompson's office stated in the letter.
The letter also cautioned that Parks was in the process of meeting with agencies regarding environmental assessment issues. If Parks finds that the environmental impact of the reservoir would be enough to require an Environmental Impact Statement, changes would need to be made in the agency's proposed plans, according to the letter.
Goddard also questioned the selection process, as Morrison Associates was selected from among three participants through what the comptroller called a "quasi-competitive process." It was noted that changes to the design that may arise from assessments would significantly impact the vendor's proposal.
In the letter, his office called for "maximum transparency" throughout the assessment process and issued concerns "that it may be a conflict of interest to have the EAS vendor be a subcontractor to the architect, who has a vested interest in pursuing the construction."
Thompson has urged the city to rethink its plans for development of the site, since his visit to the location in January.
He had recently joined environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. in an op-ed piece for The New York Times published in May which warned against development of the reservoir.
Thompson stated that the city's money could be better spent improving Highland Park. "Highland Park has plenty of ball fields to serve its neighborhood, but they are in such deplorable condition that few people use them," the duo wrote in the op-ed.
The piece also recommends that the trail surrounding the reservoir be upgraded to include benches and rest areas; signage be available calling to attention unique flora and fauna in the park; and that the area around the reservoir should be opened for guided nature walks.
"We have not been able to begin the design process or do an environmental assessment without the design contract," said a Parks department spokesperson. "We plan to review and address the Comptroller's concerns so that the design contract and the planning can move ahead."
Rob Jett of Ridgewood Reservoir Education Project called Thompson's letter "a pleasant surprise."
"The people of the neighborhood have spoken. [Thompson] said the same thing that the groups have been saying," said Jett. "Finally, we've got someone in our corner saying to the Parks Department to get their act together."
"It seems crazy to me that they would spend so much money on the reservoir and ignore Highland Park," he added. "We're really pleased that the comptroller is keeping an eye on the Parks Department and forcing them to do the right thing."
"I think this is a monumental decision by Comptroller Thompson to have the Parks Department be responsible and to listen to the public before allowing money to be released," noted David Quintana, a local activist and member of the Highland Park/Ridgewood Reservoir Alliance.
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