DEP, NYC Parks finalize deal to ‘daylight Tibbetts Brook, extend Putnam Greenway

In Hurricane Ida’s wake, submerged cars were left in the flood-prone Bruner Avenue section of Wakefield.
Photo courtesy Mary O’Shaughnessy

The New York City Department of Environmental Protection and NYC Parks closed a $11.2 million deal with railroad and freight company CSX Transportation to finalize the purchase of a key piece of property needed to reroute Tibbetts Brook above-ground in an engineering feat known as “daylighting.”

The $133 million project will remove Tibbetts Brook flow from the sewer system and create additional capacity in the Bronx’s drainage network, expecting to reduce combined sewer flows by 228 million gallons annually, according to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

“This project is a win-win for the Bronx,” said Harlem River Working Group Coordinator Chauncy Young, a leader in the Bronx and New York City Greenway Coalition, a collective of greenway-aligned groups focused on enhancing an equitable greenway network. “It will improve our environment, reduce flooding risks, and provide a vital recreational resource for our community.”

Tibbetts Brook is a small stream that begins in Yonkers and flows south into Van Cortlandt Park. The stream was dammed in the 18th century to form a mill pond in Van Cortlandt Park and was completely buried underground and directed into the city sewer system in 1912.

“Daylighting” is a method to redirect waterways that have been previously buried in pipes into an above ground channel. The project will return the brook to its natural, open-air path that winds through the Kingsbridge neighborhood and empties into the Harlem River. Once completed, the daylighting project will remove between 4 and 5 million gallons of water from the sewer system each day. 

The deal comes after over a year of stalled agreements between CSX and New York City officials. In January 2023, Mayor Eric Adams announced the $11.2 million purchase of land and go-ahead by city officials to reroute the waterway. 

Daniel Rowen, who chair’s Community Board 8’s Environmental and Sanitation Committee, said the board has supported a daylighting project since the 1990s; however, the severe flooding caused by Hurricane Ida made it apparent that “this was a big problem area.”

“It not only was good for the environment, good for people to create a green space and to have fresh water in the river, but that just for flooding purposes, this was a necessary project, which I think is what finally kind of got it to happen,” Rowen said.

Combined sewer systems use a single pipe or “combined sewer” to carry wastewater and stormwater to a local treatment plant. During heavy rainfall, stormwater and untreated sewage can flow directly into local waterways in an event called a “combined sewer overflow.” 

The site of the school is above the historic path of the Tibbetts Brook, which frequently experiences high-flooding. Photo courtesy Stop The Charter School.

Currently, Tibbetts Brooks enters the sewer system at a rate of 4 to 5 million gallons of water per day on dry days. When it rains, stormwater, sewage and the brook enters the combined sewer, bypassing the treatment facility and flowing directly into the Harlem River. 

Daylighting Tibbetts Brook will reduce the combined sewer overflows into the Harlem River, will remove the brook’s clean water from the sewer system and will generally help lessen flooding along Broadway and other areas of Tibbetts Brook Watershed, according to the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.

City Council Member Eric Dinowitz has also long supported the project for years and praised the project in a statement to the Bronx Times.

“I have been proud to champion the project to ‘daylight’ Tibbetts Brook from its beginning stages and I am ecstatic to see that everyone’s hard work and dedication have made this project possible,” Dinowitz wrote. “Our environment is our responsibility and we must continue to keep a safe and clean home. This project will not only restore an integral part of our community, it will also lessen flooding which will help to preserve our homes in the near future.”

Included in the green infrastructure project is the creation of a new rail-to-trail parkland within the former CSX rail line property and the extension of the existing Putnam Greenway that runs through Van Cortlandt Park connecting with the 750-mile Empire State Trail.

Construction is expected to begin in late 2025.

Community Board 8 will continue to receive project updates from the Department of Environmental Protection and oversee the project should questions about construction arise. 

“I’m very excited for this,” Rowen said. “This will be good for the whole borough, for certainly the whole community, and even though it was a huge project, it’s gonna be a very skinny park, but it will give you a path where you could then walk from further south for all of the people that live in Kingsbridge, between the reservoir and the Major Deegan [Exwy.] there, it’ll give them a way to get them up to the park.” 

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