(Editor's Note: this article was first published in the latest edition of the Norwood News, on the streets and online now.)
By JORDAN MOSS
After a long-delayed report that essentially denies the community greater access to the Jerome Park Reservoir was issued last week, activists and officials are feeling powerless, particularly because a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) official assigned to report to the community on its findings refused to answer any questions.
The Facility Monitoring Committee (FMC), an advisory body that meets monthly at the DEP’s community office on Jerome Avenue to keep tabs on the Croton water filtration plant in Van Cortlandt Park and related projects, includes the chairs of the three surrounding community boards, Councilman Oliver Koppell, and representatives of the Parks Department and the borough president’s office.
But despite all that civic firepower, Fr. Richard Gorman, the committee chair, says it has “no juice” in getting the answers it needs. He argued for a higher-level hearing, organized by the borough president’s office.
The last straws appear to be the continued lack of progress in hiring Bronxites to work on the project and the report which, citing security concerns, essentially closes the door on community hopes to have greater access to the path inside the two chain-link fences that ring the reservoir.
(To pave the way for placing the plant in Van Cortlandt Park, the city offered state legislators, whose approval was needed, $200 million in the park improvement funds financed through the sale of water bonds. That influx of cash has fueled many park projects around the borough and was supposed to include $5 million for an enhanced path around the Jerome Park Reservoir.)
At last week’s FMC meeting, DEP representative Mark Lanaghan refused to reply to residents’ questions and concerns about the report they said was riddled with inaccuracies.
“I’m not going to respond to anybody tonight,” Lanaghan said. “I don’t want to indulge in that kind of debate.”
The report, he conceded, “concludes with a suggestion that is most unwelcome here.” That conclusion calls for a few days of access after the plant is completed in 2013.
Anne Marie Garti, a founder of the Jerome Park Conservancy and longtime advocate of public access, said the DEP is going back on its word. “[Former] DEP Commissioner Christopher Ward promised full public access in April 2004. This was after 9-11, and with full awareness of how the reservoir would be integrated with the filter plant once it became operational in 2013.”
In a phone interview after the meeting, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz agreed that residents should be alowed to enjoy the jewel in their midst. “The reservoir, when it’s full, is one of the most beautiful resources that we have, and in the northwest Bronx that’s sort of our equivalent of the waterfront,” he said. “For a city administration that prides itself on granting greater waterfront access, one would think that part of that would be to get people closer to the reservoir.”
Paul Foster, the chairman of Community Board 7, which covers Norwood and Bedford Park, is more concerned about the jobs issue, as only about 15 percent of the 900 jobs on the site are held by Bronxites.
“The emphasis has to be more on getting jobs [for] this community,” he said.
Foster also thinks that seeking a larger meeting facilitated by the borough president will hurt the FMC’s efforts.
“I feel that that will weaken the committee,” he said. “The committee has been assigned to monitor the work. If we’re not going to do that, we are not carrying out our task.”