The city’s Department of Environmental Protection has suspended its plans to string bird-deterrent wires across Jerome Park Reservoir, officials told The Press this week, after the community denounced the project as a needless expense that would further blight the historic reservoir’s natural beauty.
When the DEP submits its “rehabilitation project” for the reservoir to the city’s Public Design Committee for approval in January, “this submission will exclude the bird deterrent system,” DEP deputy commissioner Eric Landau said in a letter to the chairwoman of the Community Board 8 environment and sanitation committee, Laura Spalter, a copy of which his office provided to The Press.
The letter, dated Dec. 7, indicated, however, that the bird-deterrent system was not completely off the table and that plans to build it may be restored later.
When the DEP had developed its plans for bird-deterrent wires at Jerome Park Reservoir, the goal was to reduce pollutants, particularly fecal coliform bacteria, from waterbirds and to allow the Croton Filtration Plant – which purifies the reservoir’s water before it flows into the city’s taps – to “run more efficiently,” Mr. Landau said in his letter.
“As the plant has been up and running for only a year and half, we have determined that it is prudent to collect additional data on operational efficiency, especially now that the plant is running at full capacity, before a decision about whether to install the bird-deterrent system is made,” Mr. Landau said. But he reiterated that the bird-deterrent system will be “removed from the current construction contract … to rehabilitate the reservoir.”
Ms. Spalter described the letter as “excellent news,” saying in an interview with The Press on Tuesday: “We’re very pleased that this [bird-deterrent system] has been removed” from the project.
The DEP presented its reservoir-rehabilitation project to Community Board 8’s environment and sanitation committee on Nov. 16. The large-scale project included building a fence-like structure around the reservoir, which is already encircled by two fences. The new structure was to comprise poles set about 25 feet apart to hold wires that were to stretch across the reservoir to deter birds from landing on its surface.
Critics, who included a dozen or so board members at the gathering and several environmental activists from outside the board, charged that the wire system would further add to the array of barriers surrounding the reservoir. A bird-deterrent system is not required by any environmental laws or regulations, according to the DEP, and the reservoir holds only untreated water, which then goes for purification at the nearby filtration plant.
After the DEP scrapped the bird-deterrent plan, Karen Argenti of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality praised the city agency as being “very reasonable” in rescinding the plan. An ardent advocate of opening the reservoir for public access, Ms. Argenti has been a vocal opponent opponent of the bird-deterrent plans during the November meeting.
“I think it’s good that they [DEP officials] listened to the people,” she told The Press this week.
Community Board 8 chairman Daniel Padernacht also had only words of appreciation for the DEP, saying Mr. Landau and others seem to “really make an effort” to heed community views.
With the bird-deterrent plan scrapped, the DEP has addressed what Mr. Padernacht said appeared to have been “the two biggest concerns” raised at the Nov. 16 meeting. The other involved the DEP’s plan to reduce the height of the reservoir’s inner fence to 4 feet from the current 10 feet or so. Community activists worried that lowering the fence would provide the city with a pretext to further block public access, as a security measure. But the DEP’s Mr. Landau has provided written assurances this would not be the case, Mr. Padernacht told The Press on Tuesday.
Jerome Park Reservoir opened for public access for one weekend in late November – although visitors had to pass through security gates manned by officers armed with automatic rifles and to leave all cameras, bags or cellphones outside. The DEP also plans to open the reservoir for another weekend in May.
After the DEP suspended the bird-wire plan, Mr. Landau also expressed hope in his letter that the environment and sanitation committee of Community Board 8 will support other parts of the department’s reservoir-rehabilitation project.
The committee was to adopt a resolution on the project at its next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 21, and planned to send the document to the city’s Public Design Committee.
The chairpeople of Community Board 8 and of its environment and sanitation committee declined to say whether they would back the remaining parts of the DEP project.
“I’m going to wait until the community discusses it that night,” Mr. Padernacht said.
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