In the News: Air Pollution Not Equitable, A Long Hot Summer for NYC, Oil Spill Prep, & More

NO2 levels

Map shows nitrogen dioxide levels concentrated over urban areas.

People of Color Are Disproportionately Hurt by Air Pollution
By their measurements the urban areas with the greatest gaps in pollution exposure between whites and nonwhites are New York-Newark, Philadelphia, and Bridgeport-Stamford, Connecticut, respectively. [The Atlantic]


Central Park Conservancy to send staff to parks citywide
The Central Park Conservancy, the private nonprofit that manages the Manhattan landmark, in June will begin deploying a crew to guide workers at less-endowed parks in the outer boroughs — sharing its resources amid Mayor Bill de Blasio’s call for greater equity across city parks.  [AM New York]


This summer will be miserable, Farmer’s Almanac says
The 2014 edition of the Farmer’s Almanac predicts the New York area will be socked by a wet, hot summer that’s set to dump a higher-than-average amount of rain across the five boroughs. [New York Post


Ashokan Reservoir discharges into Lower Esopus Creek to be discussed May 12
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has scheduled four public information sessions regarding environmental reviews New York City must conduct when evaluating damage from discharging highly turbid water from the Ashokan Reservoir into the Lower Esopus Creek in Ulster County. [Daily Freeman]


Cost Among Hurdles Slowing New York City’s Plan to Phase Out Dirty Heating Oil
But three years into a four-year plan to phase out No. 6, barely more than half of the buildings that were burning it have switched to cleaner oil. And of those that have stopped using No. 6, hundreds have switched to No. 4, which though permitted for another 16 years, can be only slightly less noxious, depending on the supplier. [New York Times]


New York Spill Preparation Revamped As Oil Transport On Hudson River Booms
The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation announced last week that it’s working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard to revise and update its plans for preventing and responding to spills. [Huffington Post]


Unexpected loose gas from fracking
A survey of hydraulic fracturing sites in Pennsylvania revealed drilling operations releasing plumes of methane 100 to 1,000 times the rate the EPA expects from that stage of drilling, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Washington Post]


City heat study stalls due to lack of funding
A key initiative in mitigating intense city heat waves has stalled in the handoff between the administrations of Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, as the city heads toward more record-breaking temperatures. [Capital New York]


Resiliency expert to steer city’s rebuilding effort
Daniel Zarrilli, an engineer who authored the city’s go-to stormproofing guide, runs the new Office of Recovery and Resiliency. [Crain’s]

Photo via The Atlantic

posted @ 4:15PM

Weekly Wings & Migration Madness

Weekly Wings and Migration Madness are part of a seasonal series. To see past entries, click here!

Weekly Wings: White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

by Emily Manley

When I first started birding, I was not, shall we say, particularly discerning. So thrilled to be out in Central Park and looking at NATURE through binoculars, I’d stare at almost anything with wings that stayed still for 15 seconds.

This usually ended up being your relatively common park birds: Lots of pigeons. Some robins. Blue jays. Sparrows.

Oh, sparrows.

Once, on what was probably my second guided bird walk ever, I was examining an especially charming house sparrow taking a dust bath when a fellow birder whispered, “Ok, come on, let’s go! It’s just a sparrow.”

It’s JUST a sparrow?! Boy oh boy, that stuck with me. I don’t think it was meant to be dismissive, and yes, house sparrows are everywhere, but to me, birding was (and still is) all about peeling back the ordinary layers of this city to reveal something new.

You’ve seen a million sparrows, sure, but have you ever watched one through binoculars? Taken the time to note their markings and properly identify them? There are 29 varieties to be found in New York City you know, and they’re all pretty great.

Which brings us to our Weekly Wings. These days, most birders I know appreciate birds of all kinds (I truly think my chiding colleague was a seasonal anomaly)—even sparrows. One of my favorites is the White-throated sparrow.

Unlike our last two featured species who have just arrived in New York City, the White-throated sparrow is about to depart, heading to the northern reaches of Canada for the summer season.

Here’s a great graphic that shows the pulse of migration in spring and fall:

The migration pattern of the white-throated sparrow.

Click here for a larger version.

The White-throated sparrow is about six to seven inches long. Males are easy to recognize, with a white throat patch, black and white stripes on the head, and bright yellow blotches in front of the eye. Females are duller, without the yellow blotches.

As distinctive as its markings is the sparrow’s clear, slow song. The whistle is high-pitched, and often sounds like “Old Sam Pea-body Pea-body Pea-body.” Take a listen in this video—I bet it will sound familiar.

White-throated sparrows can be found throughout New York City—in parks and backyards, on sidewalks and feeders. They forage low in shrubby cover or on the ground, hopping and scratching with both feet, and are remarkably curious: they respond well to pishing and readily visit bird feeders for millet and black oil sunflower seeds.

Sadly, though the White-throated is one of our more common sparrow species, it is also one of the most frequent victims of window collisions, according to urban bird monitoring programs around the country

Migration Madness: Bye-Bye, Boreal Birds?

Yellow-bellied flycatcher

A new study from the Wildlife Conservation Society finds that several iconic Adirondack birds are in trouble thanks to climate change and habitat destruction.

In her paper, “Dynamics of Boreal Birds at the Edge of Their Range in the Adirondack Park, NY,” author and WCS Adirondack Program Science Director Michale Glennon explores occupancy patterns over time for eight bird species in lowland boreal forest wetlands in the Adirondacks. 

"When I incorporate data collected since 2011, I am seeing declines for all species except palm warbler, some modest but some of them more troubling," Glennon said in a statement. “The number of boreal wetlands occupied by five species—rusty blackbird, gray jay, yellow-bellied flycatcher, olive-sided flycatcher, and black-backed woodpecker—has decreased by 15 percent or more since 2007.”

You can read more about Glennon’s study in the journal Northeastern Naturalist.


Photo credit: gbglide (White-throated sparrow); jerryoldenettel (Yellow-bellied flycatcher).

posted @ 4:11PM

City Releases Sandy Recovery & Climate Resiliency Agenda

Sandy recovery efforts in the Rockaways.

By Sarah Crean

The Mayor’s office has just released One City, Rebuilding Together, its strategy for ongoing Sandy recovery efforts, and initial thoughts about preparing for the impacts of climate change.

The report notes that the city will be initiating a "public engagement process" to "share information, hear local concerns, and incorporate local planning efforts in advance of a revision to the city’s resiliency plan in 2015."

From today’s statement to the press:

"The report represents a major overhaul of currently active recovery programs—including expediting the process for families and businesses currently rebuilding and expanding eligibility for immediate relief; using the rebuilding and recovery process to expand economic opportunity and create job pathways for more New Yorkers; and improving coordination within the city and across levels of government.

The report also provides details on the city’s infrastructure-related efforts to rebuild a stronger, more resilient New York to protect against future extreme weather and climate change.”

The city says that more than 40 resiliency project submissions to Federal grant programs are “currently stalled, waiting for New York State to review, approve, and send applications on to FEMA for final consideration.”

Projects that the city says it is trying to move forward include:

• NYCHA Resiliency – More than $175 million in resiliency upgrades for New York City public housing, including waterproof boilers, the installation of emergency generators in public housing complexes in the 100-year floodplain, and new heat and power systems in flood-prone complexes.

• Hospital and Health Care Systems Resiliency – More than $100 million in hardening and flood barriers for hospital facilities in flood zones across the city.

• Flood Protection – More than $100 million in flood barriers, tide gates, and sustainable shoreline improvements, and flood protection improvements at critical city facilities including the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, and the Vernon Bain prison facility.

• Emergency Planning and Resiliency Capacity for Neighborhoods and Emergency Operations – More than $20 million in emergency planning and the protection of critical services and resiliency improvements to police precincts.

• Storm Water Management – More than $30 million in storm water management improvements like bioswales and permeable pavement in flood-prone areas.


Photo credit: Restore_the_Rock via photopin cc

posted @ 1:44PM

Neighborhoods Burdened by Processing City’s Trash Look to New Sanitation Commissioner

Kathryn Garcia with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

By Sarah Crean

Last month, Mayor de Blasio named Kathryn Garcia as the new commissioner of the city’s Department of Sanitation. While the Department is mainly known for picking up trash and plowing snow, it is and will continue to be a critical part of building a more sustainable New York.

The Department is a key player in one the city’s long-standing environmental equity issues. Since the closure of Fresh Kills in 2001, the city has been forced to truck its waste to out-of-state landfills, and areas like the South Bronx, North Brooklyn and Jamaica, Queens have become “saturated” with waste transfer infrastructure.

 “A Tested Manager”

Garcia, who the city describes as “a tested manager with extensive operations experience,” is leaving her post as the Chief Operating Officer of the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, where she oversaw the Bureaus of Water Supply, Water and Sewer Operations, and Wastewater, with a combined staff of 4,000 employees.

“I am committed to strengthening and expanding DSNY’s programs to deliver…critical services to every resident and business, in every neighborhood,” said Garcia at the press conference announcing her appointment. “We’ll do it consistently, effectively and equitably, and we will seek out every opportunity to do it better and more sustainably.”

Eddie Bautista, Executive Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, is watching carefully. “The jury’s still out on Kathryn- we don’t know exactly what her priorities are going to be,” he told NYER.

 An inefficient and costly system

Communities like the South Bronx are looking to Garcia to finish the massive job started by the Bloomberg administration: the steady reduction of the city’s waste stream; and the re-configuration of waste transfer operations- away from trucks, and toward a marine and rail-based system.

Transfer station.

Trucks carrying trash from residences and businesses currently go to one of 58 waste transfer stations throughout New York City, according to an analysis by Habitatmap. There, the trash is “transferred” on to tractor-trailer trucks, rail cars or marine barges for export out of New York.

“Currently, the South Bronx and the neighborhoods surrounding Newtown Creek host a combined 32 waste transfer stations,” says Habitatmap. “Collectively, these WTS handle over 60% of the 12 million plus tons of waste moving through WTS in NYC annually”.

The concentration of waste transfer stations in a handful of areas means intensified impact for a sliver of New York City’s population. Most of the city’s trash exporting is done by truck, which also adds to the local environmental impact of the stations.

And because the transfer stations are not evenly distributed throughout the city, trucks are forced to travel long distances, further compounding the pollution impact.

Addressing the lack of efficiency and equity in the system, and figuring out how to shrink the amount of trash produced in New York, are key objectives in the city’s 2006 Solid Waste Management Plan. The plan was developed by a coalition of environmental justice and community organizations in concert with the Bloomberg Administration and the City Council.

The Bloomberg administration had very practical reasons for adopting the SWMP. As out-of-state landfills ran out of space, trucking waste out of the city became prohibitively expensive. A truck-based system also adds to the city’s overall carbon emissions; reducing the city’s carbon footprint became a major focus for the Bloomberg administration.

The Toll of Trash

Arguably the greatest price of the city’s current system is the toll it has taken on public health. Advocates have maintained for years that the stream of diesel trucks in and out of neighborhoods where waste transfer stations are concentrated leads to heightened local air pollution levels.


An analysis this month by the state Comptroller’s office found that Medicaid recipients in the Bronx have the second-highest asthma rate- 130.2 people per thousand- of any county in the state. And the Bronx has the highest age-adjusted asthma death rate “by far” (43.5 deaths per million residents), of any New York county.

Statewide, the disease is most prevalent among children under the age of 17, and it is concentrated in poor communities.

Several factors are believed to impact the risk of developing asthma. According to the state, one of these is “being exposed to exhaust fumes or other types of pollution”.

“Where’s the Equity in That?”

Groups like the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and the New York League of Conservation Voters are urging the de Blasio administration to “fully implement” the 20-year Solid Waste Management Plan, which “relied for the first time on principles of environmental justice and borough equity”.

But Kathryn Garcia and the city face potential opposition no matter how waste transfer is re-configured.

A case in point is the city’s effort to implement one part of the 2006 Plan, the retrofitting and re-opening of four marine transfer stations: two in Brooklyn (Hamilton Avenue and Gravesend); one in Flushing, Queens; and one in Manhattan at 91st Street.

Both the Manhattan and Gravesend/South Brooklyn marine transfer stations are being fought by local residents, who say that the transfer stations will still generate some truck traffic and cause other quality of life issues.

“When this thing [the Gravesend marine transfer station] was first pitched, it was an environmental justice issue,” Ludger Balan of the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy stated to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle last year.

“The idea was equity, where everyone would share the garbage. That idea seems long gone now, and instead of everyone dealing with part of the burden, we’re left to deal with it. Where’s the equity in that?”

Shrinking the Waste Stream

Advocates and policy makers are hopeful that once enclosed marine transfer stations- which can process residential and commercial waste- are operational, the city will start to reduce the volume of waste accepted at land-based waste transfer stations.

That capacity reduction will require an ongoing drop in both residential and commercial waste. At the end of the Bloomberg administration, the city launched several initiatives to double New York City’s residential recycling rate from fifteen to thirty percent by 2017.

Continuing to expand projects that reduce solid waste, such as curbside organic materials recycling, will fall under Kathryn Garcia’s purview.

Commercial Waste Collection: The Final Piece of the Sustainability Puzzle

But reducing and more effectively managing the city’s commercial waste stream is the tougher challenge awaiting the de Blasio administration. 

According to the city, about 50,000 tons of trash and recyclables are generated in the five boroughs every day. One-quarter of this waste comes from homes and institutions. The remaining 38,000 tons come from the commercial sector.

Commercial waste is not picked up by the Department of Sanitation. Rather, it is taken by private carters to waste transfer stations, which are monitored by the city.

Businesses are required to separate paper, metal and some types of construction waste from their trash, and food service companies are also supposed to separate glass and plastic.

But because the city does not directly oversee private sector waste collection, it has less day-to-day information about the degree of commercial recycling taking place.

The Alliance for a Greater New York –a coalition of environmental and community-based organizations, and labor unions- has proposed a franchise system for commercial waste collection, which they say, would rationalize a system that currently operates like the “Wild West”.

Franchise awardees would be required to meet environmental standards that “increase recycling rates, reduce truck emissions, and more equitably distribute waste handling across the city.” Awardees would also need to follow standards maintaining the safety of waste sector workers.

By operating within designated zones, advocates say, the franchisees would benefit from a steady, efficiently located base of customers.

Eddie Bautista believes that if de Blasio and his team can successfully pioneer a more “forward thinking” commercial waste collection system, it will become a “legacy” of his administration.

For now, advocates are pushing the city and Kathryn Garcia to fulfill the mission of the Solid Waste Management Plan: to aggressively promote residential and institutional recycling; and minimize the impact of waste transfer by establishing marine and rail transfer stations in more areas of the city.

“Waste exporting is a horrible solution anyway,” said Bautista. “If we’re going to landfill, let’s find a way where we’re not killing communities with thousands of trucks—and include commercial waste,” he added.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Bautista concluded, “not simply from the perspective of low-income communities, but for the air quality of the region.”


Photo credit: NYTimes (Kathryn Garcia); sangudo/Flickr (transfer station); islamoyankee/Flickr (DNSY truck).

posted @ 3:02PM

In the News: East River Pool Party, Sandy Buy-Outs, a Tower in the Palisades, and More


Zany East River Pool Inches Toward Reality With Filtration Lab
Big news for everyone who wants to swim in a giant floating pool in the East River. (So that’s everyone.) The team behind +Pool just positioned Float Lab, the “mini, temporary and floating science-lab version of + Pool’s filtration system,” into its spot at Pier 40 along the Hudson.  [Curbed NY]


State Expands Sandy Buyout Program to Graham Beach
Under the program, homeowners who had their properties wiped out or heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy can receive the pre-storm value of their homes plus incentives. [NY1]


NY Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, a target of fracking critics, quits for Calif. job
During Shah’s tenure as state health commissioner, he became a lightning rod for critics of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas because of the Cuomo administration’s plan for an extended review of the technology []


Sticky Business on the Palisades
LG’s new $300 million, 490,000-square-foot headquarters would rise 143 feet high on a site next to the Palisades, which have been designated a National Natural Landmark. That’s several stories above the tree line. The site had been zoned to prohibit anything over 35 feet high, a provision that protects the view, but the company, a hefty local taxpayer, won a variance. [New York Times]


Enviros: Flood Maps Skipped 300,000 New Yorkers in Sandy’s Path
A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council puts a number, if not a face, to the idea that federal flood maps in effect when Sandy hit vastly underestimated the extent of likely flooding: 289,719. [WNYC]


NY Renewable Energy Study Finds New York Could Soon Be Powered By Wind, Water And Sunlight
A new study says New York could get the power it needs from wind, water and sunlight by 2030 with a concerted push… [Huff Post Green]


Will Bushwick Inlet Get its Park?
Slowly but surely, as if assembling a puzzle, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is trying to gather up pieces of land between Greenpoint and Williamsburg, in what is know as the Bushwick Inlet, where the city wants to build a public park. [NY City Lens]


Report Details Woes for NYC’s Electric-Cab Experiment
New York City’s experiment with electric taxis has been beset by problems, including long delays, technical malfunctions and a lack of willing participants. [City Limits]


Photo credit: pluspool

posted @ 5:10PM

Weekly Wings & Migration Madness

Weekly Wings and Migration Madness are part of a seasonal series. To see past entries, click here!

Weekly Wings: Eastern Phoebe

Eastern phoebe

For many birders, the Eastern Phoebe marks the official start of spring. The phoebe, a kind of fly-catcher, arrives in New England from its winter quarters in the Southern U.S. and Mexico right around the spring equinox, generally following the insect life as it awakens northward.

The Eastern Phoebe is not a showy bird, brownish-gray above and off-white below with a dusky wash to the sides of the breast. But, while drab in their plumage, they more than make up for it with a sweet song and an entertaining tail wag.

With a distinctive but rough two-note call that sounds like “fee-ah-bee” or “whee-bee,” phoebes can usually be found perched on low branches or fence lines, calling out its name and flicking its tail up and down, side to side. Click here to listen to a recording of an Eastern Phoebe.

When it sees an insect that looks particularly delicious, it will dart from its perch and snap it up in its beak, then return to wait for another. Occasionally the phoebe will chase flying insects to the ground or pick insects from trees while hovering.

Eastern phoebes have been sighted across New York City, from Central Park to Green-wood Cemetery, so celebrate! Spring is finally here! Have you spotted a phoebe yet?

Migration Madness: There’s Oil in Your Flyway

Oil booms in Galveston Bay.

There’s never a good time for an oil spill, but last month’s 168,000-gallon leak in the Galveston Bay came at a particularly bad time: peak migration season.

Located along the upper coast of Texas, Galveston Bay is the 7th largest estuary in the United States, and situated in the Central Flyway. On March 22, a barge carrying nearly a million gallons of especially thick and tarry marine fuel oil collided with another ship in the Houston Ship Channel.

Just to the east of this channel lies the internationally-recognized Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, a preserved area of marshy mudflats which attracts 50-70,000 geese, ducks, herons, and other waterbirds each year.

David Newstead, a research scientist at the nonprofit Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, emphasized the bad timing, noting that many of these shorebirds will soon depart for the Arctic Circle for breeding.

To prepare, they must put on a large amount of weight—but oiled birds will focus on preening instead of eating. “The consequence is that they’ll depart, basically without gas, and crash and burn on the way,” Newstead told The Texas Tribune.

Others won’t even get the chance: so far the Coast Guard has reportedly collected than 300 dead oiled birds, and observed at least 500 more with some traces of the contaminant on their bodies. Twenty-nine dead dolphins have also been found, though scientists are still working to determine the cause of their death. 


Photo credit: ibm4381/cc (Phoebe); Smiley N. Pool/Houston Chronicle/AP (Galveston Bay).

posted @ 5:28PM

City Council & Enviro Groups: “Mayor de Blasio, Show Us Your Resiliency Plan”

Floodwaters from Superstorm Sandy.

By Sarah Crean

As Mayor de Blasio prepares to give a major address at Cooper Union tonight about the future of New York City, environmental advocates and City Council members are urging him to speak to the dangers of climate change and present his strategy for developing a more sustainable city.

Last week, the U.N. released a stark new assessment of the growing impacts of climate change that are being felt across the globe.

"As a representative of the Rockaways, I witnessed how unprepared our city was during Hurricane Sandy," said Donovan Richards, chair of the City Council’s Environmental Protection committee. "I relish the opportunity to work with this administration to ensure we never find ourselves in that position again."

NYLCV lays out plans for the mayor's next 100 days.

A number of other Council Members issued similar statements at a press conference this morning on the steps of City Hall. They also argued that New York City needs an updated, far-ranging sustainability plan that looks at issues like housing and renewable energy.

Mayor de Blasio has made the development of thousands of units of affordable housing one of the key objectives of his administration.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso said today that new housing must be “equally environmentally responsible.” And Reynoso, who represents Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which has seen a proliferation of large-scale housing development, pointed to the scarcity of “green and open space” in his district.

Council Members, along with advocacy groups like the New York League of Conservation Voters and Transportation Alternatives, were joined by some members of the development community.

"Superstorm Sandy exposed troublesome vulnerabilities in the City’s major energy, transportation and infrastructure systems," stated Building Congress President Richard T. Anderson.

Those vulnerabilities can only be addressed, said Anderson, “by incorporating far greater standards for redundancy and sustainability in our capital programs.”

The coalition is calling on Mayor de Blasio to meet three “milestones” in the next one-hundred days, and to “put a healthy environment and climate resiliency…at the center of [his] vision” for New York City.

# 1: By May 1st, 2014, commit to building “affordably and sustainably”. 

On May 1st, the de Blasio administration will announce its strategy to add and preserve 200,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years. “Every effort should be made to make that housing environmentally sustainable and climate resilient,” says the coalition. 

# 2: By June 1st, 2014, “show us your resiliency plan”.

The groups acknowledged that under the de Blasio administration, there has been a “renewed focus on helping New Yorkers recover from the impacts of Superstorm Sandy.”

But, they added, “there is still much work to be done to prepare the city for future extreme weather events. We urge Mayor de Blasio to issue a comprehensive and concrete plan that will make sure New York is prepared for the next big storm and a changing climate.”

#3: By June 30th, 2014, commit to investing in infrastructure, in order to “invest in the future”.

New York City spent an average of $9.5 billion on infrastructure in each of the last five years, the coalition stated. 

As the Mayor and the Council finalize the city’s budget for the next fiscal year, which will begin on July 1st,  advocates and Council Members stated that Mayor de Blasio should “integrate sustainability and resiliency planning into the capital program.”

It was critical, they said, that the city “ensure roads, bridges, schools, parks and environmental facilities are in a good state of repair.”

Time is of the essence, the coalition added. Hurricane season starts on June 1st.

Photo credits: CNBC; NYLCV.

posted @ 12:33PM

A Tale of Two Cities and 1,900 Parks: NYC Has a New Parks Commissioner

Mayor de Blasio with Mitchell Silver.

by Emily Manley

Eighty days into his first term as mayor, Bill de Blasio has finally named a parks commissioner for New York City—and he went out of state to find him.

Mitchell Silver, Chief Planning and Development Officer of Raleigh, North Carolina, is no stranger to New York City, though: a Brooklyn native, Silver earned degrees at both Pratt Institute and Hunter College, and worked in the city’s planning department in the late 1980s.

De Blasio appointed Silver to oversee the city’s 1,900 parks and 29,000 acres of green space, with a focus that falls squarely in line with de Blasio’s now familiar “Tale of Two Cities” narrative. Silver is specifically tasked with addressing inequality in the city’s park system.

“No one is more qualified to usher in a new era of expanded access and sustainability than Mitchell Silver,” the mayor said in a press release.

Equity Mantle No Walk in the Park
The issue of “park equity” gained momentum in 2013, after State Senator Daniel L. Squadron introduced legislation that would force New York City’s thriving private parks conservancies to send 20 percent of their operating budgets to a fund for needier parks.

The era of privately funded park conservancies began after the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, which left many New York City parks in a state of deep disrepair.

When the city emerged from the worst of it in the early 80s, so also emerged privately funded parks conservancies, like the Central Park Conservancy, established to advocate and raise funds for individual New York City parks.

As the 1980s gentrification boom took hold, wealthy New Yorkers enjoyed being able to contribute directly to the park of their choosing, often located in their own neighborhoods and backyards.

While this is of tremendous benefit to the parks with wealthy patrons, what of the hundreds of other parks located in less-well-to-do neighborhoods?

City spending on parks maintenance is allocated by borough, but the majority of parks projects and improvements are funded through capital allocations from Council Members and Borough Presidents, rather than with Mayoral funding. This means that these projects are at the mercy of local city council members who control discretionary budgets—and who don’t always share park-based priorities. (New Yorkers for Parks has a great primer on this issue here.)

Maintenance needs in MacNeil Park.

MacNeil Park on the northern tip of Queens received the lowest score in NY4P’s 2012 Report Card on Large Parks

It’s not surprising that the leaders of these well-funded conservancies consider Squadron’s method to “level the playing field” a terrible idea—but so do many other parks advocates as well. Instead, they are encouraging a deeper discussion of how conservancies might help their poorer neighbors without siphoning off their own funding.

Holly Leicht, former executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, summed up her thoughts in an editorial last year: “Redirecting a percentage of their operating budgets toward a citywide fund would result in debilitating cuts to these parks’ maintenance staffs and programming. What’s more, the sum total of funds from such a tithe would not actually generate enough money to make meaningful improvements in other parks.”

De Blasio endorsed the bill during his campaign, but stopped short of reiterating his support during Silver’s appointment, instead referring to the idea as “creative.”

Silver declined to give a definitive answer on the proposal, stating instead that “the first step you want to find out is that you have legal authority to actually make a proposal like that happen. I’m going to start with a conversation, bring the conservancies to the table.”

Silver Up to the Task
While Silver has much on his plate, it appears that he has the chops needed to do the job. During his last stint in New York in the 1980s, he played a central role in formulating the ‘Harlem-on-the-River' plan, where he helped redesign a site originally pegged for a hotel development and turn it into a $20 million park.

“He is perfectly suited to look at the bigger picture and address park issues,” said Adrian Benepe, a senior official at the Trust for Public Land and a parks commissioner under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Silver said when appointed, “This city’s parks, athletic fields and beaches all provide a unique, public space for education, physical exercise and recreation — and I look forward to expanding these opportunities to even more of New York’s residents. From Van Cortlandt Park to Coney Island Beach, every green space in this city deserves constant care and innovation—and I’m honored to lead the department as we pursue the Mayor’s vision for equal and expanded quality access to parkland in every neighborhood.”


Photo credits: Mayor de Blasio - nycmayorsoffice; MacNeil Park - Lizabeth Nieves

posted @ 3:19PM

Preparations Continue for Closure of Tunnel Supplying Half of City’s Drinking Water

Original construction of the Rondout West Branch Tunnel of the Delaware Aqueduct in 1942

Original construction of the Rondout West Branch Tunnel of the Delaware Aqueduct in 1942.

You may not feel it, but major developments are afoot in the city’s water supply.

New York City is preparing to close down a massive—and leaking—aqueduct which delivers over half of the city’s drinking water from upstate reservoirs, more than 120 miles to the north.

The billion-dollar, multi-year repair work on the Delaware Aqueduct is the “central component” of the city’s Water for the Future program, which “aims to ensure clean, safe and reliable drinking water for future generations of New Yorkers.”

On Friday, the city announced that blasting had begun in Wappinger, N.Y., on the Dutchess County side of a new tunnel that will permanently bypass a leaking section of the aqueduct.

The 85-mile long Delaware Aqueduct conveys drinking water from four major reservoirs in the Catskill Mountains -Cannonsville, Neversink, Pepacton and Rondout- to the city’s water distribution system.

The city says that, on average, the Delaware Aqueduct provides more than half of the approximately 1 billion gallons of drinking water consumed by New Yorkers every day. The aqueduct, reportedly the world’s longest continuous tunnel, was constructed between 1939 and 1944 and crosses Ulster, Orange, Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties.

New York City’s water supply system is used by more than 9 million people, including 8.4 million in the five boroughs, along with residents of Ulster, Orange, Putnam, and Westchester counties.

City water comes from the Catskill, Delaware, and Croton watersheds. 

Leaking Millions of Gallons Per Day

The Department of Environmental Protection, which manages the water supply system, has been monitoring two leaks in the Delaware Aqueduct since the 1990s. The leaks—located in Newburgh and Wawarsing—release a combined 15-35 million gallons a day, “depending on the rate of flow inside the aqueduct.”

To address the leaks, DEP has begun construction of a 2.5-mile bypass tunnel that will run 600 feet below the Hudson River, from Newburgh to Wappinger. The bypass tunnel, which is scheduled for completion in 2021, will convey water around the leaking portion of the Delaware Aqueduct in Newburgh.

DEP spokesman Adam Bosch told NYER that the aqueduct would be shut down for about eight months in 2021, in order to drain it and connect it to the bypass.

Delaware Aqueduct bird’s-eye view

Delaware Aqueduct bird’s-eye view. Click here for a larger version.

What Will Happen When the Delaware Aqueduct is Closed?

The city says that it has developed a “portfolio” of projects that “will ensure New York City has high-quality and reliable drinking water while the aqueduct is out of service.” This portfolio includes rehabilitating water supply sources used by the city in the past.

The 74-mile-long Catskill Aqueduct, which delivers water from the upstate Ashokan and Schoharie reservoirs, will undergo a repair and rehabilitation project starting in 2016.

The city plans to increase the tunnel’s capacity by approximately 30-40 million gallons of water each day.

For additional water supplies, DEP will also rehabilitate the Queens Groundwater System, formerly the Jamaica Water Supply, which will “sustainably provide more than 33 million gallons of water a day in southeast Queens”.

Groundwater in Queens? Is it safe to drink?

DEP has “committed to using proven technologies to ensure these wells produce high-quality water that meets or exceeds all water quality standards”. The Queens Groundwater System consists of 68 wells at 48 separate well stations.

Another highly complex and expensive project, the new Croton Water Filtration Plant, is entering its final stage of construction in the north Bronx. The city says testing of the filtration system and water lines is nearly complete.

Once online, the filtration plant will allow New York City to again use water from reservoirs in Putnam and Westchester counties that are part of the Croton System. DEP says this will provide nearly 300 million gallons of “high-quality” water each day.

And New Yorkers will have to start thinking more seriously about water conservation.

Between now and the shutdown of the Delaware Aqueduct in 2021, DEP will implement several initiatives to reduce water consumption in the city by as much as 50 million gallons a day.

Water conservation tools –like activation buttons on spray showers- will be rolled out in city parks and public schools. The city is also developing incentives to encourage water conservation in private homes and hotels.

Photo credit: NYC DEP Archive.

posted @ 11:39PM

In the News: De Blasio Announces Sandy Recovery & Resiliency Team; U.N. Releases Stark Report on Climate

Elegy For a Country’s Seasons

"The weather has changed, is changing, and with it so many seemingly small things—quite apart from train tracks and houses, livelihoods and actual lives—are being lost…Every country has its own version of this local sadness." [The New York Review of Books]


Frame climate change as a food issue, experts say

"The stark language marked a departure from the last IPCC report in 2007 when the picture on food crops was more mixed…"This is no longer a picture about poor farmers in some regions being hit by climate change. This is a picture about global agriculture being hit – US, Russia, and Australia – with global implications for food prices." [The Guardian]


Delayed by Stubborn Winter, Spring’s Colors Are Ready to Burst

“This spring we might have a little bit of everything blooming at the same time,” said Kristin M. Schleiter, associate vice president of outdoor gardens and a senior curator at the New York Botanical Garden. “It’s possible we’ll have daffodils and tulips overlapping. It could be an extraordinary year.” [The New York Times]


Renewable energy Production Tax Credit passes critical test as Senate Finance Committee sends tax extenders bill to floor

"The renewable energy Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit were included today with bipartisan support, as the U.S. Senate Finance Committee reported out a tax extenders package whose swift passage is critically important to the continued growth of the U.S. wind energy industry." [American Wind Energy Association Media Center]


We’re Citibiking to Work, Not Play

"New Yorkers are using Citi Bike as a key part of their commute, not just for touristy joyrides, according to new data released by the bikeshare system and analyzed by NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation." [WNYC]


Parks Need More Money to Repair Sandy Damage

"New York City parks are still in dire need of repair due to damage from Superstorm Sandy…preliminary budget hearing revealed. Sandy damage to parks was worth $800 million, inundating more than 5,700 acres of land in the Parks system and 430 Parks sites…" [NY City Lens]


Sierra Club critical of plan to restart Danskammer power plant

“When the plant was operating before, it had a lot of problems with air pollution — things like sulfur dioxide, which causes asthma attacks, and nitrous oxide. We want to make sure this plant does not burn coal and does not continue to pollute the air of communities in the Mid-Hudson Valley.” [The Daily Freeman]


The Huge Correlation between Median Income and Recycling in NYC

"The map shows that the relatively affluent district of Brooklyn 06 leads the pack on percent of all garbage that is recycled, coming in at 30%, (Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Cobble Hill, Park Slope, Red Hook, South Slope).  The lowest rate was 8%, seen in Bronx 01, (Mott Haven, Port Morris and Melrose)." [I Quant NY]


City Completes $24 Million Upgrade of Water and Sewer Systems on the South Shore of Staten Island

“The completion of this project is good news for the South Shore, particularly for those streets that flooded with even the slightest bit of rain,” said Borough President James Oddo. “And it should serve as a reminder about just how critical our Bluebelts are and how, at every opportunity, we should create, embrace and enhance our Bluebelt system.” [NYC Department of Environmental Protection Press Release]


Congress to EPA: Investigate and Address Water Contamination From Fracking

"For the first time, members of Congress today called upon U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy to “investigate and address the water contamination” in Dimock, PA, in Parker County, TX, and in Pavillion, WY. In all three communities, the EPA has previously withdrawn investigations into water contamination…" [Eco Watch]


After Sandy, feds explore artificial islands

"A string of artificial islands off the coast of New Jersey and New York could blunt the impact of storm surges that proved so deadly during Superstorm Sandy, according to a proposal vying for attention and funding as the region continues its recovery." [The Daily Journal]


New Flood Barrier System Protects Entire 55 Water Street Building from Flooding

"The new flood barrier protection system…is designed to protect against an eight-foot flood line, higher than 7-1/2 foot flood line recommended by FEMA to protect against storm surges for the next hundred years." [AzoBuild]


De Blasio Appoints His Sandy Recovery Team

"Bill Goldstein will serve as senior adviser for recovery, resiliency and infrastructure, Amy Peterson will be the new director of the Housing Recovery Office and Daniel Zarrilli will lead the new Office of Recovery and Resiliency." [The New York Observer]


And coming to NYC’s Pier 94 on April 26th and 27th, the 2014 Green Festival, sponsored by Green America and Global Exchange.

posted @ 4:27PM

Top 5 Environmental Issues for 2014, Pt. 2

This list is part of an ongoing feature showcasing New York’s diverse group of environmental organizations and their priorities for 2014. To read more (and check out Part 1), click here.

Do you have a Top 5 list to share? Email us!

Top 5: The Nature Conservancy in NY

Hudson River view.

For more than 60 years, The Nature Conservancy has worked to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. From China to Belize, California to Maine, they carry out this mission in all 50 states and 27 countries. 

What you may not know is that The Nature Conservancy got its start right here in New York at the Mianus River Gorge! Today, they have protected hundreds of thousands of acres across the state, and are tackling serious issues like invasive species, coastal resilience, and shellfish restoration

This year, they’ve got big plans, too. In 2014, The Nature Conservancy in New York will work to:

  1. Ensure that New York’s fresh water remains plentiful and pure, that our marine systems thrive, and that communities have the tools they need to manage these precious water resources wisely.
  2. Protect and restore the health, integrity and resiliency of New York’s most important lands and forests.
  3. Invent and implement innovative policy and best practices to make New York a place where all energy, infrastructure and community development works in concert with nature.
  4. Cause New York’s urban, suburban and rural areas to be more resilient by creating and promoting nature-based solutions to climate risks.
  5. Catalyze a larger and more diverse constituency for conservation in New York and elsewhere.

You can follow The Nature Conservancy in New York on their journey by checking out their website and following them on Facebook or Twitter.

Photo credit: Katy Silberger via photopin cc

posted @ 5:50PM

Migration Madness & Weekly Wings

Bird migration

by Emily Manley

Fellow New Yorkers, take note: we are on the verge of a population explosion.

Over the next few months, hundreds of thousands of visitors will cross our state line, some taking up residence here through the end of the summer, others just doing a bit of sightseeing before heading on to more northerly locales.

Yes, spring bird migration is finally is upon us.

Despite the acres of asphalt and miles of traffic, New York City is actually a tremendous place to observe migratory birds. Our prime location in the Atlantic Flyway means that hundreds of species pass over us every spring and fall.

And while the dense urban development makes finding safe, suitable habitat challenging for our feathered friends, it also means that the small squares of green space in our city become concentrated islands of bird diversity as they seek out food, water, and resting places.

From Central Park in Manhattan to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx to Forest Park in Queens and Conference House Park in Staten Island, the five boroughs each contain prime birding locations.

In fact, migration season often sees an influx of human travelers too, as birding enthusiasts come from all over the world to spot rare species in the Big Apple.

A Hidden Layer

And yet, it’s startlingly easy to live in New York City without ever noticing the hundreds of thousands of birds that pass through each spring and fall.

That’s why we’re excited to announce a weekly migratory bird column here on NYER. With a few tips, the right equipment, and a small amount of basic knowledge, anyone can become an amateur avian enthusiast.

Spring is a fantastic time to start your new hobby. The birds are in full breeding plumage as they pass through New York, making identification a little easier, and the timeframe is a bit more compressed when compared to fall.

While the migratory traffic will truly peak in mid-May, things have already gotten started—not even the lengthy winter and lingering cold can postpone this natural phenomenon.

The Weekly Wings: American Woodcock

Our inaugural migratory bird profile is the American Woodcock. Appropriately, the woodcock is one of the first migrants to make an appearance in New York, arriving as early as February, even when snow is still on the ground.

It’s also a pretty charming little creature (affectionately called a Timberdoodle) with a silly walk, and if you’re able to spot one and hear its call, you’ll understand why we chose it!

American Woodcock

A rotund bird about the size of a dove, the woodcock has a bill that looks too big for its body, and eyes that are set high on the back of the head, enabling it to see all around—even behind itself. Its long bill has a flexible tip specially adapted for probing into moist soil in search of earthworms. It can eat its weight in worms each day!

The woodcock’s mottled brown and black body enables it to blend in with the forest floor. As such, they can be difficult to spot and will often startle you if you walk by them. When they are found resting, however, they usually stay in place unless approached very closely. 

Each spring, male woodcock perform an unusual courtship ritual in an attempt to attract mates. At dusk, a male will sit on the ground in an opening or small field and repeatedly utter a low, nasal ‘peent.’ He then takes off and spirals upward on whistling wings to heights of 100-200 feet before spiraling back down and landing near where he took off. He makes a chirping sound during this downward spiral. Males repeat this act again and again until well after dark.

Birders have spotted woodcocks across NYC already this year, including in Central Park, Prospect Park, and Greenwood Cemetery. Let us know if you see one!

Photo credits (top to bottom): -Num- via photopin cc; nebirdsplus via photopin cc

posted @ 4:22PM

Environmental Protection Fund Bumped Up in State Budget Deal- still short of pre-recession levels

The Environmental Protection Fund -which helps to support capital environmental projects throughout the state- will see an increase this year from $153 million to $162 million.

Established in 1993, the Fund is a dedicated source of revenue for efforts to protect local drinking water and air quality, restore public parks, maintain agricultural lands, eliminate solid waste, prevent the proliferation of invasive species, and other objectives.

Advocates were pushing the Governor and the legislature to bring the Fund back to a pre-recession level of $200 million. The Fund is derived as a percentage of the real estate transfer tax.

“This year’s budget is a step in the right direction for the Environmental Protection Fund,” noted New York League of Conservation Voters President Marcia Bystryn in a statement.

posted @ 11:35AM

Electric Car Sales Projected to Grow in NYS, Despite Battle in Albany

Electric vehicle charging station.

By Sarah Crean

This story was updated on March 30th.


The electric car, long dismissed as too expensive and impractical, has been the center of a fight in the corridors of Albany. A deal struck by Governor Cuomo on friday to resolve the dispute now awaits approval by the state legislature.

New York environmental groups, auto dealership lobbyists and legislators have battled it out over whether luxury electric car manufacturer, Tesla, can sell directly to consumers.

A bill forcing Tesla -and other automakers- to sell to consumers through licensed dealerships only gained significant traction in the state assembly this year. The legislation, sponsored by Rochester Democrat David Gantt, has been presented as an attack on the electric car.

On friday, Tesla reached an agreement with Governor Cuomo and the state’s car dealership lobby which would “allow it to keep five existing company-owned stores, as long as it doesn’t open more direct sale outlets in the state”.

But no matter what happens in Albany over the next few days, New York is positioned to become one of the leading U.S. markets for electric cars, surpassed only by California, say analysts.

Trying to Reach New Customers

Tesla reaches consumers through its network of stores and service centers, which are mainly concentrated on the east and west coasts. The company has five stores in New York, including one in Manhattan.

The legislation currently under review by lawmakers would have closed Tesla’s stores. Similar legislation was just passed in New Jersey.

“New York is a state that’s committed to sustainability, clean energy, energy security, on a level you don’t find every place across the country,” Tesla Vice-President Diarmuid O’Connell stated recently, according to the New York Daily News.

“It’s deeply ironic there is a movement in the [New York State] Assembly to shut down … an all-American company that makes cars in the United States and supports sustainable transportation,” O’Connell added.

Because traditional dealerships are independently owned, electric car advocates fear that many of them will not be willing to take a chance on electric cars. Selling plug-in electric vehicles [known as PEV’s or EV’s] requires charging stations, specially trained personnel, and other additional expenses.

Those fears do not seem totally unfounded. Last month, Inside EV’s reported that over forty percent of Cadillac dealers had opted out of selling the [Cadillac] ELR, a luxury hybrid, “due to low return on investment”.

Projected to Grow

Despite challenges faced by Tesla and other electric car manufacturers, nearly 2.6 million plug-in vehicles will be sold in the U.S. between 2013 and 2022.

And California, New York, Washington, and Florida will likely lead the way in sales says Navigant, a firm which analyzes global clean technology markets. Almost 150,000 electric vehicles will be sold in New York over the next decade.

Much of the demand for electric vehicles will come from New York City and four major urban areas in California. Together, they will account for nearly one-third of U.S. PEV sales by 2022, reports Navigant.

EV’s are steadily becoming more affordable. The cost of an electric car’s lithium battery -a major component of the sticker price- will continue to drop, says the Department of Energy.

EV purchasers can apply for a $7,500 federal tax credit. And in New York State, they may also be eligible to drive in New York’s HOV lanes and receive up to a 10 percent E-ZPass discount.

Making Room for Electric Cars

The Bloomberg administration must have read the same projections. Electric cars are part of the former mayor’s sustainability blueprint, PlaNYC. Bloomberg’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability even had a staff person dedicated to promoting electric car use.

Mayor De Blasio’s office did not respond to questions from NYER about electric cars. But before leaving office, Mayor Bloomberg laid the groundwork to eventually make 20% of the city’s parking spots “plug-in ready” over the next decade.

New York City has an estimated 200 electric-car charging stations at the moment.

A law passed in December by the City Council, which amends the city’s building code, will create approximately 10,000 plug-in ready parking spots, with 5,000 available over the next 7 years.

"Powered by Sunshine"

The next step, say environmentalists, is to re-charge electric cars with solar power, further minimizing their impact on the climate.

Solar powered EV charging stations are already in use throughout the country. And New York State has embarked on a multi-year expansion of its solar power capacity. Will we start to see solar powered charging stations on the New York State Thruway, or on Coney Island Avenue? Stay tuned.


Photo credit: Mark Turnauckas via photopin cc

posted @ 8:25PM

In the News: Bag Ban, Fossil Fuel Divestment, Straphanger Records, & More

Plastic bag in tree.

Plastic Bag Law Is Recycled Back Into City Council
City Council members relaunched efforts this morning to reduce plastic and paper bag use, introducing new legislation that would place a 10-cent fee on every non-reusable bag distributed at grocery stores. [New York Observer]


NY State Pension Fund Asked to Divest Its Fossil Fuel Portfolio
“We want the State of New York, particularly Tom DiNapoli, the state comptroller, to show some real leadership in becoming the first state to pull pension funds out of investing in fossil fuels,” said Mark Dunlea, a spokesperson for 350NYC. [The Epoch Times]


EPA proposes greater protections for streams, wetlands under Clean Water Act
The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule Tuesday that would give the federal government regulatory authority over millions of acres of wetlands and about 2 million miles of streams. [The Washington Post]


2013 MTA Ridership Reaches 65-Year High
Annual subway ridership of 1.708 billion is now the highest since 1949, and weekday ridership of 5.5 million is the highest since 1950. [MTA News]


Appeals panel: Christie administration improperly pulled N.J. out of program to cut greenhouse gas emissions
“This is an issue where the governor is clearly out of step with the public,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “The governor’s stance on this issue becomes harder and harder to justify.” [North Jersey]


Photo credit: jonathanpercy via photopin cc

posted @ 5:52PM
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