The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized its cleanup plan for Gowanus Canal. The Brooklyn Canal, bound by Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, was declared a Superfund site in 2010 and communities have long been pushing for its cleanup.
Judith A. Enck, the EPA Regional Administrator, said:
“The cleanup plan announced today by the EPA will reverse the legacy of water pollution in the Gowanus. The plan is a comprehensive, scientifically-sound roadmap to turn this urban waterway into a community asset once more.”
One-hundred and fifty years of industrial activity has left the waterway filled with PCBs, PAHs, coal tar waste, heavy metals and volatile organics, and poisoned both the water and fish. The cleanup will take 8 to 10 years and, even then, swimming and fishing would be ill-advised. However, the effort initiates a process of ecological revitalization and sets a precedent that holds companies accountable for their actions.
If this federal decision pulls through, its long term benefits, in terms of residential health and re-investment in the NY Harbor area, are immense.
Last week several members of the Freshkills team assisted Dr. Mark Hauber, a professor of Psychology at Hunter College, in checking bird nestboxes in the park. Dr. Hauber is gathering data on the bird populations and breeding success at Freshkills Park, a site which has acted as a stopover for bird species along the Atlantic Migratory Flyway since the closure of the landfill. A migratory stop-over site provides safe and efficient foraging and resting opportunities between long-distance stretches of continuous migratory flights.
Dr. Hauber has been researching bird breeding at Freshkills since August of 2011, when the nest boxes were first installed in the park. He is currently monitoring two other active nestbox sites in New York City: a site in the Bronx near Hunters Point and Jamaica Bay’s National Gateway Park. By studying these sites, the aim is to assess of the ecological value of reclaimed sites with respect to migratory bird populations. The impact of a stop-over habitat on migrating birds is difficult to detect in adult birds, therefore Dr. Hauber has focused his research on birds hatched on the site, whose health directly reflects the local environment. Dr. Hauber ‘s work will help define the differences and similarities between newly restored brownfield landscapes and areas where nesting has been long established.
According to Dr. Hauber’s initial findings, Tree Swallows or House Wrens are the dominant species found in the nextboxes. The newly set-up nest boxes in the Bronx and Staten Island are only 30 percent occupied, whereas the long-standing nestbox colony in Jamaica Bay’s National Gateway Park has 75 percent occupancy. His team is also finding that more young Tree Swallow females, which have a distinctive brown coloring at the age of one, settle in boxes that are recently set-up, compared to the well-established sites. The age of nesting males is much more difficult to determine considering that all males have the same green coloring, irrespective of age. An analysis of abandoned eggshells and nestling down feathers is still underway.
On their recent trip, the team checked the 80+ bird nestboxes located in South Park and North Park. Corresponding with his initial findings, the nestboxes were found to be primarily inhabited by House Wrens and Tree Swallows. Upon inspection, it was discovered that several of the nests contained recently laid eggs, some with a single egg others contained up to seven. Dr. Hauber and the Freshkills team will be returning to the site to check on the nests and the soon to be hatched baby birds in the next few weeks.
Though the 2012 Olympic Games have come to a close, the landscape of London’s East End has been dramatically transformed for the long-term utilizing a ecologically-based design approach that has much in common with the Freshkills Park master plan.
According to The Dirt, nearly 250 acres of formerly-industrial land were turned into a beautiful setting for the Olympic venues inspired by Victorian and post-war English pleasure and festival gardens. The landscape design, by LDA Design and Hargreaves Associates, incorporated hillocks with views of the surrounding city, stormwater management practices including bioswales and rain gardens, and new bio-habitats such as wildflower meadows, wetlands, and wet and dry woodlands. The site designers even had an Olympic Park Biodiversity Action Plan to attract native species like kingfisher, sandmartin, and European eel! The River Lea, which flows through the site, was previously canalized, but now benefits from wider, more natural banks. All of these designed landscape improvements contributed to the 2012 Olympics being heralded as the most sustainable Olympic Games yet.
Many of the same types of interventions are being incorporated into Freshkills Park, as the former landfill site is transformed into an expanse of rolling hills and restored woodlands and wetlands. Many of the native flora and fauna have already begun to return to the site!
The Olympic site in London will now be converted to public park land. James Corner Field Operations (the landscape architecture firm that created the master plan for Freshkills Park) has re-designed a 55 acre piece of the new public park, set to open in 2014 as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. According to inhabitat.com:
The redesigned Olympic Park will include a 12-metre wide tree-lined promenade that will open up to a series of outdoor “rooms”, separated by tall grasses. These active spaces will host a classic carousel, an amphitheater and a play space with a climbing wall. There will also be spaces reserved for picnics, concerts and other events.
(via The Dirt)
It is inarguable that trees are an integral component of a healthy life. Despite this fact, the case for trees in urban environments needs to be continually proven in order to prevent their elimination. As Atlantic Cities reports, the City of San Diego is setting an excellent precedent by collecting data which demonstrates the overwhelmingly positive mental and physical effects of trees on densely populated environments. San Diego County Trees has created a fascinating interactive map (with much of the information contributed by the county’s own residents), showing the precise economic and energy benefits that each tree has on its surrounding neighborhood. As the reporter Kaid Benfield explains, this kind of information becomes critical when other cities such as Washington D.C. are actively trying to reduce its tree canopy out of fear of damaged power lines and pressure from energy companies. More cities should feel inspired by San Diego’s initiative in order to make a stronger case for the preservation of trees as an essential part of their urban fabric.
(via Atlantic Cities)
An interesting experiment in water pollution management is taking place in the Bronx River estuary near Hunts Point in New York City. Scientists are testing the use of a ‘Mussel Raft’ for addressing nitrogen pollution from treated sewage that ends up in the water from a nearby treatment facility.
Mussels are known for their filtration properties and are being tied to lines on the raft to assist in water filtration. Non-edible ribbed mussels were chosen in the hope they would not be harvested to be eaten. The mussels filter about 1.6 liters of water (0.4 gallons) every hour. Find the full story in The New York Times.
Recently, UK scientists and environmental organizations teamed up to create a smartphone app that allows users to track invasive plant species. PlantTracker “tells people how to spot invasive plants and lets them snap geo-tagged pictures of the species and submit them to the organizations to better help them manage the populations.” This crowd-sourced tool was developed by the UK’s Environment Agency, along with the Nature Locator project at Bristol University and the National Environmental Research Council’s Center for Hydrology and Ecology.
TreeHugger reports “invasive species are considered to be the second biggest threat to biodiversity after habitat destruction.”
New research shows coastal seagrass store up to twice the amount of carbon as above-ground forests, but are being threatened by dredging and water pollution, among other factors. Treehugger reports on the global analysis by Nature Geoscience showing seagrass can store “83,000 metric tons of carbon per square kilometer, versus 30,000 tons for a typical forest” and “29% of all historic seagrass meadows have been destroyed, primarily due to dredging and water pollution, with 1.5% of seagrass meadows destroyed each year.” The recent release of the New York City Wetland Strategy appears particularly timely in light of these findings.
A 2-acre wetland restoration project, including coastal seagrass plantings, is currently underway at Freshkills Park as a model project to be replicated elsewhere at the 2,200-acre park site.
Mayor Bloomberg and several City of New York agencies recently released The Wetland Strategy report, which outlines plans to protect and improve city waterways. The report contains strategies to address goals in PlaNYC 2030. Among the 12 initiatives are plans to:
- invest $48 million in projects that restore and enhance nearly 127 acres of wetlands and neighboring areas,
- add 75 acres of wetland to the New York City Parks system,
- create the natural areas conservancy to encourage a public-private partnership for wetlands management,
- create a wetlands mitigation banking or in-lieu fee mechanism for public projects.
Freshkills Park, featured on the report’s cover and throughout the document, contains approximately 360 acres of wetlands and is about to begin a 2 acre wetland restoration pilot project in North Park.
(via City of New York)
Starting this weekend, NYC Wildflower Week presents a terrific series of events focused on New York’s open space and rich native plant communities. To celebrate, our partners at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center on Staten Island are welcoming the public next Monday, May 14, on a tour of their facilities.
The Greenbelt Native Plant Center is the only municipal native plant nursery in the country. It is a 13-acre greenhouse, nursery, founder seed and seed bank complex owned and operated by the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation. Over the past fifteen years, the center has grown hundreds of thousands of specimens from locally collected seed of the city’s indigenous flora for use in restoration and replanting projects, and is currently developing bulk seed mixes for the city. The GNPC is a partner in the establishment of the first national native seed bank called Seeds of Success.
The tour is free and open to the public. Space is limited, so advance registration is encouraged.
Monday, May 14 | 10 am – 12 pm
Greenbelt Native Plant Center
GNPC Nursery | 38-08 Victory Blvd, Staten Island
Guide: Timothy Chambers, Nursery Manager, GNPC, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation
Register for the tour
Eel populations are making a comeback in the metropolitan region and along the eastern seaboard. After years of rehabilitation of the area’s waterways, eel populations are showing signs of a resurgence in Staten Island.
Joining the work of the American Eel Research Project, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection has set up a testing site in Staten Island’s Richmond Creek, one of the improved waterways.
Richmond Creek, a prominent waterway on Staten Island, originates by La Tourette golf course east of Freshkills Park and weaves its way through the new park to the Arthur Kill on the New York-New Jersey border. An article by the Times cites improved waste management methods as a major reason why the eels have repopulated the cleaner waters – the closure of the landfill significant among them.
The eels, a vital element of the local ecosystem, migrate from the Sargasso Sea near Puerto Rico to various locations along the eastern seaboard. Upon reaching their reproductive age at about 10 years, they return to the Sargasso Sea to spawn. Adults will only make the trip once in their lifetime.
(via New York Times)