The last phases of a massive environmental restoration project are underway along Paerdegat Basin — but the final stages of the state-mandated work are also proving to be the most controversial.
Since March, the city Department of Environmental Protection has been busily working on the eastern side of the basin, clearing land that is slated to one day become a stunning urban oasis.
The “ecology park” is just a part of a $15-million plan to restore 38 acres of wetlands and natural grasslands adjacent to the beleagured water body. The city said the work, paid for with federal stimulus money, will eventually improve the water quality of the basin.
But outraged residents said the city is bulldozing vegetation and disrupting wildlife to make room for the park — an ironic twist that proves it can’t see the forest from the trees.
“What kind of restoration is it when they are destroying everything?” wondered Mary Anne Sallustro, president of the South Canarsie Civic Association.
“They were supposed to do parkland and a nature preserve — but what they are doing is not restoration. They’re wiping it all out!”
Sallustro said the city is removing 100-year-old trees from forested woods on the eastern side of the basin, and cleared away three blocks of dense forest along Paerdegat Avenue North.
The city contends the work is just the beginning of what will ultimately be the five-acre park at the southern portion of the basin — and some growing pains should be expected.
“We have kept the community informed every step of the way,” insisted agency spokeswoman Mercedes Padilla, pointing to several presentations officials made to the community board.
The park won’t be finished until 2012, with public access to begin in 2013.
The Parks Department is supervising the work, which was mandated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The goal is to clean up Paerdegat Basin, a dead-end body of water that does not get enough tidal action to fully cleanse it. The result is stagnant water, algal overgrowth, poor water quality and foul odors.
To meet the state mandate, the city also came up with $457 million to upgrade the pumping station at Ralph and Flatlands avenues and construct a 20-million-gallon underground storage tank, to prevent raw sewage from ending up in the basin during heavy rains, a common problem with the city’s antiquated sewer system.
Dorothy Turano, the district manager of Community Board 18 urged patience, arguing that the city is simply removing debris and undergrowth.
“They are going to replace everything with healthy plant life that is native to the area.”
Besides, she continued, some areas along Paerdegat Avenue North are so overrun with weeds, that it is difficult for pedestrians to navigate the sidewalk.
“It’s an eyesore and we’ve been after the city for years to clean it,” Turano said. “It’s like a jungle — and it has never been kept nicely. You can’t see the cars from the weeds.”
But Steven Kaye, vice president of the civic association said that the city isn’t doing Mother Nature proud.
“They are destroying a natural area in order to rehabilitate it,” he said. “Instead of a nature preserve, they came in and bulldozed the land and cleared it of all vegetation,” he said. “There is a big machine chipping and shredding trees into mush. This is a total disgrace.”
Kaye, a longtime area resident who said he has hiked the woody paths alongside the basin, said the work has likely displaced wildlife — opossums, raccoons, birds, toads and garter snakes — which was abundant.