The Bloomberg administration has been quietly working to resuscitate the controversial plan to build a water filtration plant under the Mosholu Golf Course in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. That plan was declared dead a year ago, when the State Supreme Court ruled that building in the park was an "alienation" requiring approval by the state legislature. By tradition, the legislature almost never approves the taking of parkland over the objection of the legislators from the district where park is located.
The city needs to build the facility in order to comply with an order from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to filter and treat the part of the city’s water that comes from the Croton watershed. The city is under a court order to come up with a plan by April 30th.
The New York Observer reported that the administration has been lobbying Bronx elected officials for months, and has gained the support of two key politicians, Assembly member Jose Rivera, the Bronx Democratic county leader, and Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion. According to the local Bronx papers, Christopher Ward, commissioner of the city Department of Environmental Protection, met with Bronx members of the Assembly at the Bronx Democratic Party headquarters in March to present his department’s case for putting the plant in Van Cortlandt Park. He said that it would save the city between $200 and $500 million over the alternative sites, and keep jobs in the Bronx.
The agency has scaled back the original plan, reducing its size and putting it completely underground, with the golf course’s driving range rebuilt on top. The original design called for the plant to rise to a height of 30 feet at one end. Originally, the Mosholu Golf Course was to be closed during the four years of construction, but the new plan would keep it open, although the driving range would still be closed. The department has also made promises of greater funding for Bronx park projects.
The city says that the plant could be built more quickly at the Van Cortlandt site because all the environmental reviews have been completed. Park advocates dispute that, saying that because of the changes in the plan a new Environmental Impact Statement is required. They also note that new security issues have arisen since September 11, and want to know how the city would be able to allow recreational use on top of and next to a potential terrorist target.
Assembly member Jeffrey Dinowitz, who represents the district, and local residents are outraged at the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to fast-track alienation legislation, and are organizing to fight the project all over again. Park advocates are concerned that putting the filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park could set a dangerous precedent. "We can’t take parkland because it’s the cheapest option â€“ it’s always going to be the cheapest option for the city," said Christian DePalermo, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, a citywide parks advocacy group. "It’s land held in the public trust."
Anne Schwartz is a freelance writer specializing in environmental issues. Previously, she was the editor of the Audubon Activist, a news journal for environmental action published by the National Audubon Society, and an editor at The New York Botanical Garden.