City drains Mott Haven swamp

It took four years but the city finally listened to Mott Haven resident Wally Nash and agreed to drain “the swamp,” a flooded railroad near St. Mary’s Park. Photo by Robert Benimoff


It took four years but the city finally listened to Mott Haven resident Wally Nash. On Monday, August 17, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Sanitation flicked the switch on hydraulic pumps at the flooded railroad known to Bronx residents as “the swamp.”

Nash first asked the city to drain the swamp in 2005. The Concord Avenue resident has spotted dead raccoons and giant mosquitoes, homeless people and gutted goats. DSNY plucked a dead body from the swamp, Nash said. Mott Haven residents hate the stink.

“I walk my dog at night,” Nash said. “It smells like a dead body. I’m serious. I used to work in a hospital. I did autopsies.”

Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler joined Steven Lawitts of DEP and John Doherty of DSNY to launch the cleanup. When more than 150,000 gallons of stagnant water has been drained into the sewer system, DSNY will scrape the railroad of debris. DSNY will also attempt to pinpoint why the swamp flooded.

There’s no doubt in Nash’s mind as to why. The 65-year old has lived on Concord Avenue his whole life. As a boy, he played on the railroad. It handled freight. It runs from Bruckner Boulevard and E. 142nd Street to St. Mary’s Street, under St. Mary’s Park to E. 149th Street.

“It started to flood in 2005 when Con Edison built a transfer station at Southern Boulevard,” Nash said. “There was nowhere for the rainwater to drain out no more.”

The city acted in response to neighborhood residents and will attempt to identify the owner of the railroad, a press release said.

Nash knows the story. The railroad handled freight until ten years ago, he said. The railroad belonged to Penn Central and was sold to another firm. The firm rented it to the MTA and to CSX until 2004. It appears that the property belongs to Metropolitan 47 LLC but that firm has failed to attend Department of Health hearings.

The city plans to query Amtrak, the MTA, Midtown Trackage Ventures, Metropolitan 47 LLC and other firms, City Hall spokesman Jason Post said.

City Hall has been reluctant to act, Nash said. He was told that the swamp water would contaminate the sewer system. He was told that DEP lacked the proper equipment.

“Now it’s election time,” Nash said. “Where is the water? In the sewer system. Where is the equipment? DEP has the equipment.”

The city has yet to address the putrid exits that transport air from the railroad tunnel up into St. Mary’s Park. Even so, Nash was glad to see the pumps switched on. It rained hard in July and early August; the swamp had swelled.

“I hope they finish the job,” he said. “Mosquito season doesn’t end until October.”

Mott Haven residents want to transform the railroad into a greenway. The city recently opened The High Line, a park built on an elevated railroad, in Manhattan. It should open The Low Line in Mott Haven, open space advocate Harry Bubbins said.

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