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A salt of the earth!

Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association, remains upset that trees on the fabled Promenade and next to DUMBO’s River Cafe are dying from the constant salt spray from the “New York City Waterfalls” public art project. A new report shows that salt levels in the soil near River Cafe are 10 times higher than they should be.
The Brooklyn Paper / Shravan Vidyarthi

New soil tests confirm that the “New York City Waterfalls” public art project — which is already wanted for arborcide in Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO — has poisoned area soil with salt levels almost 10 times higher than normal.

Soil at the River Café, just downwind from Oliafur Eliasson’s Brooklyn Bridge waterfall, reached a high of 9.38 millimhos per centimeter — and normal levels are below 1 mmho/cm, according to John Ameroso, a soil expert at Cornell University.

“Those levels are amazingly high, and if that level of salt was in the soil for a long period of time, the plants wouldn’t survive,” Ameroso said, adding that he’s never seen numbers this high — except when novice gardeners drastically over-fertilize, but even then the readings only make it up to 2 mmho/cm.

Soil near the Brooklyn Heights Promenade — which is further away from the artificial waterfall that Eliasson installed between Piers 4 and 5 — registered 1.69 mmho/cm.

The report, commissioned by the Brooklyn Heights Association, is the first hard data to confirm what residents have been complaining about for months: that Eliasson’s salt-spewing art project is a tree-destroying monster.

“We just hope that they never do another art project that does this kind of damage again,” said BHA Executive Director Judy Stanton, referring to tree damage at the River Cafe and along the Promenade.

Late this summer, the city cut the waterfalls’ operating hours from 101 to 50 after Stanton and River Café Manager Scott Stamford complained about the damage.

City arborists have been rinsing leaves along the Promenade with thousands of gallons of fresh water several times each week in attempts to flush the soil of salt kicked up by Eliasson’s project.

“Parks staff has been visiting the trees near the Waterfalls on a regular basis, and we have seen encouraging signs,” said agency spokesman Phil Abramson. “It appears that the trees and plants are improving.”

Better news is coming for area plants: Eliasson’s project will be turned off and disassembled on Oct. 13.

Ameroso did say that with proper organic fertilization and intense irrigation, the plants could be fine by next spring. But Stamford isn’t certain. After the waterfalls dry up on Oct. 13, he will conduct further tests to determine the eatery’s actual damage. He said that the salt-water spray may have damaged the restaurant’s climate-control system.

“We’re going to wait until the end so we get the real results,” he said.

Despite the criticism, the city still lauds the waterfalls as a major success. Two weeks ago, Eliasson received an award for the exhibit’s contribution “to the public environment” from Mayor Bloomberg.

And for his part, Eliasson almost — but not quite — apologized for the problems his massive art fund has wreaked on Brooklyn’s shrubbery.

“I am certainly concerned about the effects of the salt water on the trees surrounding the Waterfalls, but I have confidence that Public Art Fund [and] the Parks Department are working to address the situation,” he said in a statement.

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