Grass Roots Assure Environmental Promises are Kept

September 6th, 2008 Posted in Environmental Reviews, Front Page News

On September 3, we returned to court to argue that 76 days ago on June 19, 2008 – the DEP announced for the first time, that it was going to make a substantial change to the 2004 Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) for the work proposed at the Jerome Park Reservoir related to the now almost $3 Billion Croton Water Treatment Plant (CWTP).

This change was not a minor deviation from a prior approved plan but rather a literal bombshell dropped by DEP when it proposed to blast a shaft through soil and rock along “Education Mile” adjacent to the Jerome Park Reservoir. Had DEP stayed this ill-advised course, this substantial change would have resulted in numerous significant adverse environmental impacts as outlined in Plaintiff’s brief.

The subject matter of this dispute involves an important project to ensure that NYC continues to enjoy plentiful and safe drinking water and the impacts of this project were reviewed for many years culminating in a then and now (even more so) seemingly wrong-headed decision to locate the plant on parkland in Van Cortlandt Park at the Mosholu Golf Course and not in Mount Pleasant at the Eastview site where we now know it would have been much less expensive to build.

Be that as it may, the many years of environmental review under CEQR, SEQRA & ULURP also resulted in a decision not to undertake major construction of the plant at the Jerome Park Reservoir or to blast there in large part because of the significant potential for adverse impacts. Final agency action and exhaustion of the then available administrative remedies occurred on July 16, 2004 with DEP’s issuance of a Statement of Findings.

Yet, knowing the concerns of the Bronx community for this site and its sensitive nature with many residential and institutional receptors of adverse impacts, DEP nonetheless proposed this past June to undertake blasting – an ultra hazardous activity – without a supplemental environmental impact statement. It proposed to do this even after the FSEIS stated that there would be “no blasting or surface drilling” at the Jerome Park Reservoir. Nothing could have been clearer – no blasting meant no blasting. This agency action motivated the Bronx Borough President to write DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd on July 11th to express his dismay that DEP did not bring this decision to blast to the public sooner. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz echoed the Borough President’s dismay in a late July letter.

We are delighted that this litigation caused DEP to re-think this arbitrary and capricious decision and now concurs with DEP – if indeed blasting at the JPR as it pertains to work related to the CWTP project is off the table and is no longer being considered as an available alternative – that this issue is now moot.

We reminded the Court that DEP has flip-flopped on the issue of blasting. In the 2004 FSEIS, it said “no blasting,” yet on June 19, 2008 DEP was extolling the “Benefits of Controlled Blasting” in its PowerPoint presentation “Upcoming Construction at the Jerome Park Reservoir.” In the late August 2008 just released Technical Memorandum (prepared solely in response to this litigation) DEP announced “updated design and construction changes” and mentions “mechanical excavation” but does not mention either blasting (or hoe-ramming or surface drilling for that matter). It is only by looking at litigation documents for this case – the August 28th affidavit of Gary Heath of the DEP that the community learned that DEP decided to proceed with mechanical excavation (i.e. hoe ramming) instead of blasting.

Because of DEP’s flip-flopping and its continuing attempts at purposeful vagueness and, while we believe Mr. Heath, we were prepared to ask the Court to conform the pleadings to this new evidence available only for the last 2 business days by amending our request for relief to now become either: a) an extension of the preliminary injunction and TRO issued by this Court on July 29th up to the date and time that DEP reviews this proposed “updated design and construction change” not to blast with the Croton Facilities Monitoring Committee (FMC) as required by City Council Resolution # 933 or b) to ensure the sincerity of DEP and to ensure that DEP ratifies its Director’s assertion that no blasting will take place, the Court issue a permanent injunction barring DEP and its contractors from any and all blasting at the Jerome Park Reservoir site as it relates to the CWTP.

The community won a big fight as there will be no blasting at the reservoir.

While the Court denied our request for a permanent injunction, it was because the Judge believed DEP when it stated that the “blasting” issue was Moot.

Justice Betty Owen Stinson will make her final decision on remaining issues concerning the FMC and surface drilling by the end of the month.

The DEP intends on beginning “hoe ramming” by the end of the month.

On July 29, 2008, the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality joined by other community organizations and leaders brought an Order to Show Cause to stop the City from blasting at the Jerome Park Reservoir. This first successful temporary restraining order (TRO) brought against the City on the Croton Water Treatment Plant (CWTP) project, was prepared by a group of community pro-bono attorneys. Aimed with the premise of we are not going to be pushed around, this grass root effort demonstrated how Bronx community people working together could assure that promises made in environmental impact statements by agencies and developers are kept. We hope this message is clear and has been heard!

For more information and/or to see the actual court documents, visit

/Karen and Walter

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