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Concerns Grow but the Grass Doesn't

In 1999, my son played on his first soccer team, a band of unruly five-year-olds called the Red Strikers who lost every game that spring. But I remember far less about the team than I do about the field they played on at Brooklyn's Parade Grounds. Hard use and neglect had left it as bumpy as a dirt road, with large bald spots that became puddles when it rained. My son invariably came home covered with either mud or dust.

So it seemed a small miracle when, a few years later, many of the Parade Ground's fields became some of the first in the city to be renovated with synthetic turf. The surface, made with green plastic "blades" packed with rubber crumbs made of shredded used tires, was beautifully smooth, cushioned and well-marked. It was durable and dried quickly after a rain, offering a lot more playing time to all the local teams clamoring for fields.

But some things bothered me. My son's cleats and uniform now shed little rubber pellets instead of dirt. Was there anything toxic in the bits of shredded tire that spread all over our apartment? The fields turned out to be brutally hot in summer, and the coaches at soccer camp warned the kids to bring extra water so they could withstand the heat. And then there was the loss of yet another connection to nature for urban children.

These concerns, as well as evidence that synthetic turf contributes to the urban "heat island" effect and stormwater runoff problems, have led elected officials and environmental groups to call for a time-out in the use of synthetic turf.

Today, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and three environmental and parks advocacy organizations are releasing a letter to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe and Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden. It calls on the parks department to stop installing synthetic turf immediately and to a make schedule for replacing existing turf fields, which disintegrate within a decade. The letter also demands that the health department complete a review of the literature on the health effects of synthetic turf before the startof the spring sports season and calls for testing actual turf installed in the parks for contaminants.

On the state level, Assemblymember Steve Englebright has introduced legislation that would put a six-month moratorium on the purchase and installation of synthetic turf statewide until health and environmental agencies conduct a more rigorous study of the crumb rubber.

The Trouble with Grass

Grass athletic fields require frequent mowing, watering, spraying for weeds, and litter clean-ups, and need to be reseeded every five years. At a time when the demand for playing space has exploded, the city's budget for park maintenance and staff remains tight, and the parks department has not been able keep up with the maintenance of many of its more than 600 baseball, football and soccer fields. The advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks' annual report card on the conditions in 200 neighborhood parks consistently has found poor conditions in the city's athletic fields.

Grass fields must be rested on a regular basis and closed when wet. The Central Park Conservancy keeps its baseball diamonds verdant by shutting them all winter and resting them on a rotating basis throughout the rest of the year. This creates an impossible choice between preserving fields and providing enough playing time for the city's growing number of school teams and sports leagues. With childhood obesity increasing at an alarming rate, the need for places where children can run and play has become more important than ever. Groups already fight over the use of fields, as is evident from the furor over a plan that would have given private schools preferential use of new public playing fields on Randall's Island.

The New York City parks department has embraced synthetic turf as a low-maintenance, cost-effective way to meet the city's growing need for playing fields that can stand up to heavy, year-round use. Since 1998, the department has installed synthetic turf on 77 fields (60 of them replacing existing natural fields), and it has contracted to convert 25 asphalt space to turf over the next few years, making New York the largest municipal buyer of synthetic turf in the country.

Although the synthetic turf fields are more expensive to install than natural ones, the parks department says they are cost-effective when their life span and maintenance costs are factored in. A natural field costs an average of $152,739 a year, versus a maximum of $105,000 a year for synthetic turf, according to figures recently provided by department spokesman Philip Abramson. A new grass field with drainage, irrigation, rich soil and a special blend of grass seed costs $690,000, with an expected five-year life span; yearly equipment, staffing and other maintenance comes to $14,739. A synthetic turf field costs $600,000 to $1 million to install but has an expected ten-year life, plus $5,000 in annual maintenance costs.

Critics question these cost assumptions, however. It is not yet clear how long the synthetic turf will last, noted Christian DiPalermo, executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, which began noting the condition of synthetic turf fields as a separate feature in its 2006 parks report card. Also, the parks department's numbers do not include disposal costs, which could be higher than expected if it turns out that contaminants in the rubber crumbs require that they be handled as hazardous waste.

The parks department also highlights synthetic turf's positive environmental impact: It doesn't require watering, pesticides, fertilizers or mowing. However, according to New Yorkers for Parks' 2006 report, "The New Turf Wars," the parks department may be overstating these benefits. It notes that although grass needs to be watered to stay healthy, "synthetic turf also performs better when watered." (In any case, few of the city's athletic fields have irrigation systems.) The parks department also makes minimal use of pesticides and herbicides on natural grass, according to the report.

Although the city has said that synthetic turf will be used primarily as a substitute for asphalt, most of the existing synthetic turf fields replaced natural fields. "However, in most cases, when synthetic turf replaces grass, it's because the grass is actually gone, having been worn away from overuse," said Abramson in an e-mail. "Thomas Jefferson Park in East Harlem is an example of a grass field that became a dust bowl, causing such severe asthma concerns in the community that local elected officials asked us to shut it down. Now, with the installation of a synthetic turf field, it is a wonderful asset for the residents in that area."

What's in That Turf, Anyway?

Nearly all of the synthetic turf installed in New York City is made of plastic strands woven into a porous backing and filled in with a thick layer of pulverized rubber for cushioning. Most of the safety concerns focus on the rubber crumbs. A surprisingly large quantity is used: The average soccer field contains enough of the crumbs to make up 27,000 tires.

The parks department maintains that the particles are inert and do not release any chemicals when inhaled or swallowed. The New York City health department, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Connecticut Department of Public Health have all "essentially stated that these fields pose an unlikely health risk to the public and that there is no reason to stop installing these fields," Abramson said.

But a recent study conducted by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, which found that toxic chemicals could vaporize or leach from the crumb rubber, recommended further research on the safety of the materials.

In the study, commissioned by Environment and Human Health, Inc., a Connecticut nonprofit, researchers heated the rubber particles to 131 degrees Fahrenheit, about as hot as they would get in sunlight when the air is 88 degrees. The crumbs released four volatile organic chemicals known to irritate the skin, eyes and lungs. One of the chemicals is a recognized carcinogen suspected to have adverse effects on the endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous and immune systems. Two dozen other chemicals were detected at lower levels.

When the researchers exposed the granules to water, they released zinc, cadmium and lead, raising the possibility that these potentially harmful metals could migrate from synthetic fields into the soil and groundwater.

Creating 'Hot Spots'

Other concerns focus on the impact of synthetic turf on the urban landscape. Artificial turf offers none of the natural advantages of grass or even dirt - cooling the air, absorbing and filtering rainwater and offering foraging spots for migrating birds.

Unlike grass fields, which cool the surrounding air by reflecting sunlight and evaporating water, artificial fields absorb and reradiate the sun's heat. Synthetic turf fields are some of the hottest places in the city, said Dr. Stuart Gaffin, associate research scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research at Columbia University, who discovered this from NASA satellite maps when doing research on the urban heat island effect.

Over the last two summers, researchers visited the hot spots identified in the maps and measured just how hot the city's synthetic turf fields can get: as high as 130 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Synthetic turf is hotter than asphalt, said Gaffin.

This could have a particularly negative impact on temperatures in communities where a significant amount of natural surface is replaced by synthetic turf. One such example is the area around the new Yankee Stadium. The stadium occupies the site of Macombs Dam Park, a 20-acre rectangle that formerly contained well-worn soccer and baseball fields and a running track and was bordered by hundreds of mature trees. To replace some of that park's facilities, the city will build an artificial turf soccer field and track on top of a parking garage.

Another consideration is the impact of artificial turf on the city's combined sewage overflows. In most of the city's sewer system, storm runoff combines with household sewage. During huge downpours, sewage treatment plants cannot handle the added rainwater, and untreated waste overflows into the harbor and rivers. Grass and dirt soak up rain, but synthetic turf fields, which are designed to drain quickly, very efficiently funnel rainwater into the sewage system.

Replacing natural fields with synthetic turf runs counter to the city's goal of increasing natural areas and permeable surfaces as a way to reduce stormwater runoff. This strategy is part of Mayor Bloomberg's sustainability blueprint, and likely to be included in the stormwater management plan the city is required to adopt by the end of the year.

"If New York is serious about becoming a greener, more livable city by employing reasonable, cost-effective and environmentally sound stormwater management techniques, then the installation of artificial turf fields needs to be significantly curbed, if not halted altogether, " Craig Michaels, an investigator with the environmental group Riverkeeper said in testimony at a December hearing before the City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation.

Another Alternative?

The Trust for Public Land, which has used crumb rubber-based turf at the 18 public school playgrounds it has transformed into community parks, has said it will switch to a different type of turf for future projects, the Daily News reported.

The parks department, however, has not suspended its use of synthetic turf with rubber infill, said Abramson, and opposes the proposed legislation to establish a moratorium on its use. However, he added, "As the technology advances, we are exploring alternative options, including carpet-style turf."

Given the realities of continued heavy demand for sports fields and limited funding for maintenance, synthetic fields seem here to stay. But advocates say the city needs to look more carefully at the full costs and the health and environmental effects, use synthetic turf where it is needed, such as on soccer fields that get the most wear and tear, and develop better maintenance strategies for grass baseball fields. They also call on the city to formally mitigate the installation of synthetic turf by creating new green space nearby.

"We live in a particular urban environment, and climate changes are going to make things worse," said Gaffin. "The last thing we need is to exacerbate it with our own urban planning decisions."

Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues. 

The Ferry Point Fiasco

Photo of Ferry Point, courtesy of Anne Schwartz

In June 1998, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced the creation of a world-class golf course at Ferry Point Park in the Bronx. For decades, Throggs Neck politicians had envisioned fairways replacing the local eyesore, an overgrown former city garbage dump that had been transferred to the parks department.

"This is ... a wonderful example of the public and private sectors working together," Giuliani said. For little public outlay, the city would get not only a Jack Nicklaus-designed course with striking views of the Whitestone Bridge and the Manhattan skyline, but also a banquet hall and two public parks, one a waterfront esplanade. A partnership led by J. Pierre Gagne, a developer with a longtime dream of building the golf course but no track record in similar projects, would invest $22.47 million and then pay a yearly concession fee of $1.25 million after the course opened in 2001.

But by 2006 -- eight years and numerous missed deadlines later -- Ferry Point Partners had made little progress aside from taking in a million cubic yards of dirt, sand and cement. The site was a bleak expanse of rubble, oddly shaped hills and muddy roads. The project's estimated cost had nearly quadrupled. High levels of methane gas were detected, requiring the city to pay millions of dollars for environmental remediation. People who bought new houses adjacent to the promised golf course saw their investments plummet. At that point, the city finally ended its contract with Ferry Point Partners and began planning the parks itself.

A year later, an audit by City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. charged that, over the years, the parks department had lost millions of dollars by failing to oversee the project properly.

On January 11, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Comptroller Thompson said that the city itself would finance the building of the golf course. As the administration picks up the pieces of this project, however, the environmental and engineering problems of building on a former landfill remained unaddressed.

"Looking back, it was probably overly optimistic to think that a developer with his own equity could build a golf course and golf house and two community parks and recoup his investment," said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe. "The city took a chance on a good deal for the public and it didn't work out. There is no bad guy in this scenario."

A Brownfield By Any Other Name

For decades, suspicions of environmental contamination swirled around the former Ferry Point dump, located on wetlands along the East River. Methane fires frequently broke out in the heat of the summer. Residents complained of foul odors, blowing debris and health problems.


At the time the landfill operated, industries routinely discarded chemical waste in city dumps. Moreover, illegal dumping continued at Ferry Point for years after it was closed in the 1960s. Other city sanitary landfills of the same vintage are listed by the state as hazardous waste sites. Environmental groups have tried to get records from the city of what was dumped at Ferry Point but have not succeeded.

Even ordinary garbage oozes a toxic cocktail, known as leachate, into groundwater and nearby waterways, as rain seeps through batteries, old cans of paint, bug spray, oven cleaner and other household chemicals. Rotting garbage also generates methane and other gases, which can reach combustible levels and, even at low levels, disperse toxic chemicals.

Federal and state laws now require the tracking of hazardous waste from "cradle to grave" and the careful engineering of solid waste landfills to prevent contaminated liquids and gases from leaking out. Once closed, landfills must be sealed with an impermeable barrier and covered with topsoil and vegetation.

Because the Ferry Point landfill stopped operating before these laws were passed, the city has not been legally required to seal it or make it comply with current standards. The rules at the time simply required covering the dump with two feet of soil.

Ordinarily, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulates projects involving solid and hazardous waste, including brownfields reclamation. But because the Ferry Point dump was exempt from the law, the parks department was made the lead agency in charge of determining whether there were any environmental problems. Before approving Ferry Point Partners' initial plans, which included adding a thick layer of construction and demolition debris to be sculpted into the contours of the golf course, the parks department required an Environmental Assessment, a quicker, less thorough review than an Environmental Impact Statement.

For the assessment, a consultant hired by the developer tested 15 samples of soil and subsurface taken over 222 acres. Although the tests detected methane gas and various hazardous chemicals, including volatile organic compounds, DDT, lead, arsenic and PCBs, the Department of Environmental Conservation determined that levels were too low to be a health threat, and the parks department gave the project a green light.

In 2000, after the golf course was approved, residents of a housing project across the street from the site, concerned about the project, alerted the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and the New York Public Interest Research Group.The organizations promptly sued to require the city to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement. They charged that the Environmental Assessment did not look into the history of the dump, test for contamination of the groundwater or the East River, or address the possibility that construction could force methane to migrate to the basements of houses near the park. The suit was ultimately dismissed because the deadline for filing was missed.

Responding to questions about the proper remediation of the landfill recently sent to the Department of Environmental Conservation, citizen participation specialist Thomas Panzone wrote in an e-mail, "Ferry Point does not call for the reclamation of a site. What it does call for is for the planning of a golf course on top of a landfill."

Building on a Dump

In order to landscape the golf course without digging into the old dump, the contractors had to cover it with fill. The most economical option was construction and demolition debris, or C & D. But by taking in the debris, Gagne, through his subcontractor, Laws Construction, essentially would have been operating a construction and demolition landfill, which brought it under state solid waste regulations. This required a special permit and monitoring to make sure the debris was free of junk like pipes and radiators, as well as chemical contaminants.

Starting a process that would continue for the next eight years, construction companies began dumping truckloads of dirt and debris from demolished buildings.

As environmentalists had warned, the debris' weight began squeezing pockets of potentially explosive methane toward residential areas. To address this, the Department of Environmental Conservation required the construction of venting trenches and the monitoring of methane levels. (The agency, did not, however, test for chemicals that tend to migrate with the methane.) One trench runs along the edge of the community park, where children from the housing project still play even though a mountain of fill has swallowed up much of it.

"Had they done the proper EIS, they would have discovered things like this," said Leslie Lowe, who headed the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance when the lawsuit was filed.


The fill also compacted the spongy layers of trash and wetland below, so more of it was needed. A change in the design of the course, from traditional to a links style with rolling hills, also called for more fill. Every time the amount was increased, Gagne had to go back to the Department of Environmental Conservation for a new permit, requiring a lengthy approval process. Over time, the agency tightened its requirements for the quality of the fill.

Three permits were ultimately issued, the last in November 2005, allowing a total of 2.54 million cubic yards of debris. The city allowed Laws Construction to charge tipping fees to contractors who needed to get rid of debris, for a total of $15.13 million so far. In a November 2006 article in the Daily News, Gagne said that Laws kept the fees to cover its expenses, although it is hard to believe it cost that much for a small crew with bulldozers to push debris into little hills.

"The more they dumped, the more they compressed, and they have never been able to contour as they said," Lowe said recently. "Our engineer spotted this from the get-go. He said, 'I don't think they will ever be able to build this golf course.'"

Some local residents wonder if the city ever intended to build a golf course or whether it just needed a place within city limits for the construction industry to dump its demolition debris at lower cost. They also point out that the tipping fees provided an incentive for the developer to take in as much fill as possible. Dismissing these theories as absurd, Benepe said, "The only grassy knolls were on the golf course."

The Cost to the City

The city repaid Ferry Point Partners $7.2 million for building and maintaining venting trenches, installing monitoring wells and other costs of remediation. The analysis by the city comptroller determined that the cost should have been just $1.3 million. The comptroller's audit claimed that the city also improperly repaid capital improvement costs that the developer was required to cover.

Benepe vigorously disputed the findings. "It is completely wrong that the city overpaid for remediation," he said, adding that the audit showed no understanding of environmental obligations: "We generally agree with most of what the comptroller does when he audits us. In this particular case, we believe there has been a fundamental misunderstanding of both the contract and the city's responsibilities regarding environmental regulations."

After reading about the audit, Lowe, along with four other people who had worked on the earlier lawsuits, wrote in an unpublished letter to the New York Times, "In its haste to award the contract, parks couldn't take the time to do the proper testing and analysis. Doing the right thing then would have identified the real cost of the clean-up and protected the community and environment, thereby saving the project from the 'environmental complexities' in which it is now enmeshed."

The comptroller's audit faulted the parks department for forfeiting $3 million in concession fees because of missed deadlines and for allowing the subcontractor, and not the city, to keep the fees for the disposal of construction debris. In addition, the audit noted, the parks department ended the contract "without cause," requiring it to pay Ferry Point Partners an additional $7 million.

"It is simply astounding that after failing to perform any significant work at the site, Ferry Point and its contractors are walking away with millions of dollars," said Thompson.

Benepe said the city decided to reach an agreement with the concessionaire rather than risk protracted litigation. He said, "The most important consideration was to get this project moving."

The Future of Ferry Point

In an effort to do just that, the parks department has already begun to plan the two public parks slated for Ferry Point and has put out a request for proposals to build the golf course, although no cost estimate has been released. In a joint press release with Bloomberg announcing the new golf course plan, Thompson said, "As my office has done over the last several years, we will continue to monitor the progress of any work at the site."

Laws Construction remains at Ferry Point, continuing to accept truckloads of debris. The company is a subcontractor to an independent monitor the city hired to make sure it is in compliance with the Department of Environmental Conservation permit, according to city spokesman Jason Post.

Henry Stern, who served as parks commissioner under Giuliani, said, "Looking at the larger picture -- looking at the hundreds of acres and the golf course -- it's hard to believe that the environment would not be enhanced by replacing a garbage dump with a golf course."

The local community board and elected officials are pushing hard for the completion of the golf course. "My neighborhood feels that a golf course is a win-win," said Councilmember James Vacca. "Has our patience been tested? Yes. But if the end result means we're going to get a better project, I think the wait will be worth it."

Certainly, daunting environmental problems remain.

Driving on the Hutchinson Parkway service road along the edge of the golf course site, Dorothea Poggi, a longtime resident and founder of Friends of Ferry Point Park, pointed out brown liquid oozing from the ground. She said that no agency has tested the liquid seeping out of the ground and sidewalks near the site, as well as the runoff coming from Ferry Point every time it rains. Also, no one has tested the streams that flow underneath the former landfill or checked to see if toxic chemicals are being vented along with the methane.

Asked about the testing of waterways under or near Ferry Point, Panzone of the Department of Environmental Conservation said in an e-mail that the agency "conducts inspections at the site. While inspection observations have been limited to stormwater runoff at the site, we urge members of the public to notify our office if they observe a more serious condition, and we will investigate."

It does not appear that the city plans to take a closer look at the environmental and engineering problems associated with building on the former dump. No further environmental assessment will be conducted, according to Post. Residents also wonder whether the city will require a drainage system to address runoff and prevent erosion, which has been a continuous problem now that the site is many feet higher than the surrounding landscape.

In addition, it is not clear whether there will be coordinated oversight by all of the city and state agencies responsible for solid and hazardous waste disposal and environmental safety. "I'm not so sure the project was mismanaged solely by the parks department," said Christian DiPalermo, executive director of the parks advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks. "Really, the city itself seems to have dropped the ball."

DiPalermo noted that the Sanitation Department has primary responsibility for turning the mammoth Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island into a park. "Sometimes the parks department gets a responsibility that is really outside their expertise -- and their budget," he said. "This seems to be outside of the parks department's realm."

As the city has already learned, it is a complicated job to put tomorrow's golf course on top of yesterday's trash.



Saving Arlington Marsh

In keeping with his goal of making New York City sustainable into the future, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has approved the preservation of the city's last major unprotected wetland complex, Arlington Marsh on the northwest shore of Staten Island. This is a major step forward in protecting a vital harbor ecosystem, but the marsh still faces threats.

In agreeing to make the 70-acre salt marsh a park instead of holding it in reserve for possible future expansion of the nearby container port at Howland Hook, the mayor is following the recommendation of the city Wetlands Transfer Task Force, which was established in 2005 to determine which city-owned wetland properties should be transferred to the parks department. The fate of Arlington Marsh was the major point of contention on the task force.

Arlington Marsh is one of the few pieces left of the once-vast wetlands of northwest Staten Island, one of the three great marshes of New York Harbor, along with Jamaica Bay and the New Jersey Meadowlands. "For the longest time Arlington Marsh has been at the top of most peoples' acquisition and protection lists, including New York Open Space Plan and the Harbor Estuary Plan," said Bill Tai, director of the Natural Resources Group at the parks department and co-chairman of the task force.

The Task Force Recommendations

The decision on Arlington Marsh is part of a broader effort to preserve New York's diminishing wetlands. The Wetlands Transfer Task Force identified 82 properties, including the march, to be transferred to the parks department, for a total of 225 acres. Its report was released in late September.

The task force also determined that an additional 76 small parcels on Staten Island should go to the Department of Environmental Protection for its Bluebelt natural stormwater control program. More than 100 properties throughout the five boroughs were identified as potentially appropriate parkland, but needing further review.

The parks department made it clear that it could take only a limited number of properties - those that it could successfully manage, given its budget constraints. Properties chosen for transfer were typically adjacent to existing parkland or had a potential local stewardship group. The task force called on the city to provide an adequate budget for ongoing maintenance of natural areas and wetlands and for the restoration of degraded wetland sites.

The task force also made a number of recommendations for a comprehensive policy for protecting and managing smaller city-owned and private wetlands that currently are not covered by federal or state regulations. Legislation has been introduced in City Council to require the city to develop such a policy; 2030 PlaNYC also sets forth the goal of developing a more systematic approach to wetlands protection.

Nature's Last Stronghold

The northwest corner of Staten Island, where the Arthur Kill merges into the Kill van Kull, is a site with both heavy industry, past and present, and significant biodiversity. It was once a thriving maritime and manufacturing center, but as industry left in the middle of the 20th century, wetland grasses, shellfish and birds returned and reclaimed the land.

Even amid rotted docks and abandoned industrial sites, Arlington Marsh has a range of healthy wetland habitats, from mudflats to salt marsh to shrubs to the freshwater wetlands of the adjacent 107-acre Mariner's Marsh Park. More than 100 species of birds feed or nest here. The mudflats and salt marshes are nurseries for fish, shellfish and other marine organisms. Plants and animals at the northern end of their range, including a number of rare and endangered species, flourish in the wetlands and uplands.

The marsh provides prime foraging ground for colonies of herons, ibises and egrets that returned to nest in the harbor's wetlands and islands in the 1970s. The Trust for Public Land, the New York City Audubon Societyand other environmental groups have been working for decades to protect the habitat for this significant wading bird population, known as the Harbor Herons.

West of the marsh is the 187-acre New York Container Terminal, operated under lease from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

There are also residential areas, including a subsidized low-income apartment complex, on the eastern side of the marsh. These largely low-income, minority communities seem more like villages than gritty urban neighborhoods like Hunts Point, but they have many of the same environmental justice issues, including toxic contamination and lack of access to parks, recreation and the waterfront. "You can go all the way back east to Snug Harbor before you come to anything that's public. Everything is gated," said Tai. "You can barely see the shoreline."

The Future Of The Marsh

Arlington Marsh presents a wonderful opportunity for environmental education and research, according to Beryl A. Thurman, executive director of the North Shore Waterfront Conservancy, which has been working to get waterfront access along the north shore. But she and other local activists are not celebrating yet. Although the city plans to dedicate most of the properties that make up the marsh as parkland, it still intends to put a sanitation garage on an eight-acre Department of Transportation site right in the middle of Arlington Marsh Peninsula, across the road from Mariner's Marsh Park.

It is generally agreed that the garage needs to be moved from its current location in a residential area, but local environmentalists say that the city needs to find a better alternative than the new park. "It breaks the natural connection between the freshwater and upland side and the salt marsh and coastal waters," said Richard Lynch, a botanist and president of the Sweetbay Magnolia Conservancy, whose mission is to study and conserve wild areas in the Arthur Kill area.

Robert Pirani, co-chair of the Wetlands Transfer Task Force and director of environmental programs at the Regional Plan Association, said, "Locating a sanitation facility in the middle of a park is a choice of convenience, not a choice of rational land-use planning."

The sanitation garage would be three blocks from the apartment buildings and across the street from a site slated for community ballfields. "Would you put something like that across from Silver Lake or Clove Lakes Park?" Thurman asked, mentioning two parks in more affluent areas of the island. "Why don't we build an education center and comfort station for visitors who live nearby or groups that come to Staten Island who want to do research?"

Local environmental groups are also concerned about the proposed expansion of the container terminal onto the Port Ivory peninsula next to Arlington Marsh Cove. The port expansion onto the former site of a huge Proctor and Gamble Ivory Soap factory would destroy 14 acres of regulated wetlands, four of which form the western edge of Arlington Marsh Cove. It would also require extending the bulkhead and channeling the creek that flows through the area, which could affect the tidal flow to other important wetlands.

Jim Devine, the president and CEO of the container terminal, has said that he does not foresee that the terminal would need to expand further into Arlington Marsh Cove, which influenced the city's decision to make the marsh a park, according to the Staten Island Advance.

In the future, protecting wetlands in the area may become more difficult. According to Staten Island 2020, a recent study by the Center for an Urban Future, the maritime sector offers one of Staten Island's best opportunities for economic growth and the creation of well-paying jobs over the next few decades.

" There is a reindustrialization effort going on at the same time that we're trying preserve as much of these large natural features as possible," said Lynch. Future expansion of the port and related industries calls for careful planning so that the economy can grow without losing the irreplaceable wildlife value and ecological services wetlands provide.

Even making Arlington Marsh a city park does not provide it with permanent protection. In recent years, the Bloomberg administration has persuaded the state legislature to alienate parkland for other uses, including a water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park and a new stadium for the New York Yankees in Macombs Dam Park. Without further protection in place, who can predict what will happen at Arlington Marsh in 20 or 30 years?

Anne Schwartz, in charge of the parks topic page since its inception in 1999, is a journalist who specializes in environmental issues. 

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