Residents surrounding the fenced-off Jerome Park Reservoir have been demanding access to it for years and now Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. has officially joined the chorus.
On Thursday, June 2, Diaz held a public hearing at Amalgamated Houses on Van Cortland Park South, a stone’s throw from the now-empty reservoir, to lobby the Department of Environmental Protection for public access to the perimeter of the Jerome Park Reservoir.
Citing security concerns, the DEP has maintained any access cannot happen until the Croton Water Filtration Plant in Van Cortland Park is completed in 2013.
In March, the DEP proposed a three day “pilot” access program, which both the public and elected officials have called unacceptable. DEP representatives at the hearing said they would be willing to re-evaluate the pilot proposal over the next two years.
The majority of the meeting was taken up by residents of the northwest Bronx telling the two DEP representatives on hand why they should have an open-access park around the edge of the reservoir.
“The proposal by the DEP is woefully inadequate and an insult to those of us who fight for our communities,” Kingsbridge resident Gary Axelbank said in an impassioned speech.
Anne Marie Garti is president of the Jerome Park Conservancy. She started the organization with the goal of turning the Jerome Park Reservoir area into a park, similar to the area surrounding the Central Park Reservoir.
Garti rallied against the DEP’s contention that the two reservoirs are not comparable because Central Park’s is no longer in use.
“The city operated the reservoir in Central Park for hundreds of years while thousands of people ran around it,” Garti said. “So saying it’s not active now is kind of missing the point.”
Al Chapman, president of the Kingsbridge Heights Neighborhood Improvement Association voiced the common believ that the northwest Bronx was not receiving its due compensation for allowing the Croton Plant to be built in their neighborhood.
“They promised us moneys to improve our parks,” Chapman said. “We’re being treated as second class citizens. Why can’t we have access to the reservoir?”
The borough president kept his opening remarks brief.
“While I understand the security concerns, I believe those concerns can be addressed well enough to allow for public access,” Diaz said.
Local elected officials, including Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman Oliver Koppell, voiced similar comments.
John Roberts, an engineer with the DEP and Kevin McBride, the DEP Police’s Commissioner for Security, had the unenviable task of telling the hundreds assembled why reservoir access is unlikely in the near future.
“There are critical security concerns,” McBride said. “The reservoir is literally one of the last stops before the water reaches taps.”
The Croton Plant will supply about 30 percent of the city’s water supply. Until its completion, the DEP refuses to make any promises about what the perimeter of the reservoir will look like.
“Our responsibility is to ensure the public health and safety of water supply to 8 million New Yorkers,” McBride said. “After 2013, we want to evaluate how it would work and what would be feasible.”