By Gary Buiso
A fast-tracked plan to beautify Paerdegat Basin Park — which sat on a shelf for 15 years before being brought to life by federal stimulus money —has residents demanding the city let them know what’s being done.
Critics charge that the Department of Environmental Protection has bulldozed portions of the 160-acre park without informing locals about the work, which they claim has already devastated local flora and fauna.
“There was supposed to be a park plan. Where is that plan?” demanded Mary Anne Sallustro, president of the South Canarsie Civic Association.
Already, unkept forestland along four blocks of Paerdegat Avenue North has been completely wiped out, with more blocks up next.
“There was no public process that we know of,” said Canarsie resident David Phillip. “I’m angry no one was notified.”
But the city disagreed, saying that it met with Community Board 18 in July and Jan. 2010, and that locals have been amply briefed about the plan to rebuild the park — which has not been amended since the board approved it over a decade ago, and is available for view on its Web site.
Still, Phillip charged that the city provided information only to those “who they wanted to hear it and not who would really be affected.”
They included state Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Mill Basin), who represents the Bergen Beach side of the basin, and Community Board 18 District Manager Dorothy Turano.
City officials met with them a year ago, just before a letter typed on community board stationary was dispatched to the agency stating that “it was the shared sentiment of all the interested parties to wholeheartedly embrace and approve the Paerdegat Ecology Park Project at the Paerdegat pumping station.”
That didn’t make sense to Steven Kaye, vice president of the civic association.
“It is not a community board meeting if you don’t have community board members there!” he roared.
Board member and Canarsie resident Mercedes Narcisse said she doesn’t recall receiving any word about a summer meeting.
“If this is going to affect the community, there should be a fair presentation,” she said. “I would love to see a park, but the community should be made aware.”
But those at the meeting said there is no cabal.
Turano said she briefed the board about the meeting in Sept. 2009, and said there were no changes to a plan the community board approved in the 1990s — and that the South Canarsie group blasted back then for adding truck traffic to the neighborhood.
Still, she said, the city never bothered to notify the board when it would be doing the work.
“I was never given a specific plan,” she said. “I complained that we were not notified. This is a good thing, but it’s not a good thing we weren’t notified.”
Kruger said the meeting he attended was strictly informational.
“It only memorialized what was going to be done,” he said, adding that any changes would have to go through a formal public review procedure, which was not undertaken.
Ultimately, he said, the city is beautifying an area that has been long-neglected.
The two-year project began in March, and the city insists it will result in a lush Natural Area Park —with no public access in order to promote habitat restoration and ecological improvement — and a five-acre ecology park on the Bergen Beach side of the basin.
The $15-million, 38-acre habitat restoration and park was planned and approved back in the mid-1990s as an accompaniment to a state-mandated initiative to clean the polluted basin.
When federal stimulus money became available last year to fund the parkland portion of the work, the city was finally able to move ahead with the project.
The city sent out a notice to CB18 with a project description, requesting a summer meeting, so that the agency could advertise and award the contract for the work by Dec. 31, 2009.
But a full board meeting was never convened.
The $15-million parkland component is small potatoes compared to a massive$457-million upgrade of the pumping station at Ralph and Flatlands avenues and construction of a 20-million-gallon underground storage tank, which will prevent raw sewage from being dumped in the basin during heavy rains, a common predicament caused by the city’s aging sewer system.