Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Courts halt blasting for filtration plant

by John DeSio
08/07/2008, Riverdale Review

The Department of Environmental Protection took a major hit this past week after courts ruled it must temporarily halt the start of blasting for the Croton Watershed Filtration Plant in Van Cortlandt Park.

State Supreme Court Justice Betty Stinson hit the DEP with a temporary restraining order this past week, preventing the agency from commencing blasting rock at the Jerome Park Reservoir as part of the ongoing construction of the water filtration plant.

The restraining order, which will be discussed again in court on September 3, puts a halt to proposed blasting that would have taken place just a few feet from the campus of the Bronx High School of Science. Opponents argued in court about their concern that potential debris from the blasting would affect the school as well as local residents, and they demanded that the DEP reassess its environmental impact plan for the project.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, argued that drilling, rather than blasting, would be a more appropriate undertaking for the DEP, given the character of the neighborhood. He also offered a critique of the DEP’s handling of the construction, which he has opposed for the better part of two decades.

“This is an important victory for the community,” said Dinowitz. “The City cannot be allowed to go ahead and take a major step such as blasting across the street from the Bronx High School of Science without conducting an environmental review.”

Dinowitz added, “The fact that the DEP felt that it could just go ahead and do this blasting confirms the beliefs of many people that the DEP is a rogue agency that thinks it is above the law.”

Congressman Eliot Engel also hailed the decision and hoped that a less intrusive construction method would be utilized.

“It is outrageous for the Department of Environmental Protection to again mislead the community about their plans for the water filtration plant,” said Engel in a statement. “Their estimate of the cost of the plant was less than one-third of the estimated final cost of $3 billion. The agency was also dramatically wrong on the number of Bronx residents who would get work on the project.”

Engel specifically noted the residential and educational character of the surrounding neighborhood, which also includes Lehman College and major developments such as the Amalgamated Houses and Tracey Towers, and he called the idea of trucking the 9,000 cubic yards of waste produced by the blasting through the community “adding insult to injury.”

"By blasting in violation of its own promise, DEP will be disrupting the lives of thousands of residents and the education of thousands of students,” said Engel. The court did the absolute right thing in blocking this work. Let us hope it continues on the right path and stops the blasting completely.”

Charles Moerdler and Ari Hoffnung, who might be competing against one another for a City Council seat in 2009, also issued statements on the court’s ruling.

“The actions of the Department of Environmental Protection and its administration are the best example of why people don’t trust government,” said Moerdler, who serves as chairman of Community Board #8’s land use committee. He noted that last week the community board voted unanimously to condemn the DEP’s actions.

“They are not believable, they don’t tell the truth, they lie to the public, and then they try to capitalize on it,” said Moerdler. “What the [DEP] has done here is inexcusable.”

Hoffnung, co-president of the Riverdale Jewish Community Council, was an initial supporter of the filtration plant’s construction, largely due to the more than $200 million it brought to the Borough for parkland improvements.

“With that said, this support should not be misinterpreted as having granted the Department of Environmental Protection a carte blanche,” said Hoffnung.

Hoffnung hailed Dinowitz’s work in holding the DEP’s feet to the fire and demanded that the DEP live up to its commitments to the community. He also expressed growing concern over the rising cost of the project, stating that taxpayers deserve much better.

"New Yorkers have to live on a budget—why shouldn't the DEP?” asked Hoffnung.

"Taxpayers deserve more transparency on how our money is being spent. I'd like to see a website with information on every project that exceeded its budget, along with a detailed explanation of why the excess occurred. In the private sector, managers need to explain themselves when they go over budget. Managers in city government should be held to the same standards.”