The designation would subject the city's planned redevelopment of the reservoir to a state review, and would set the stage for a possible confrontation over the site with the Bloomberg Administration.
The city is planning a $26 million project that would convert part of the three-basin reservoir into a recreation area, despite objections from residents who want the site protected as a natural preserve.
Thomas Panzone, a DEC spokesperson, confirmed the state is eyeing the 160-year-old reservoir, which was decommissioned in 1989 and has reverted back into unkempt parkland.
“DEC is reviewing whether or not the Ridgewood Reservoir should be classified as a state-regulated freshwater wetland,” Panzone said in an email. If that happens any planned changes to the site would be subject to review by the state, and could require a permit under the state's Freshwater Wetland regulations, he said.
The full implications of a wetlands designation on the city's plans for the reservoir remain unclear. But someone with knowledge of the negotiations between the city and state said the DEC's interest has complicated the city's efforts to remake the reservoir.
The city is planning to start phase one work- to upgrade lights and fencing around the reservoir and rebuild a pathway between the second and third basins- this fall.
But the thought of complex wetlands regulations has raised concerns inside the Parks Department over its phase two plans to replace part of the third basin with an active recreation area. The work could prove difficult if the site were protected.
Parks Department spokesperson Trish Bertuccio said the city is working closely with DEC to "investigate conditions on the site."
The phase two plan is deeply unpopular with local preservationists and Community Board 5, which recommended improving the existing ball fields in adjacent Highland Park instead of building new ones inside the reservoir.
“We'd like to see it be a nature preserve,” said Gary Giordano, CB5's district manager. If the wetlands designation allows for passive recreation on the reservoir's pathways “that's a lot more palatable than any kind of recreation development inside the reservoir,” he said.
Assemblyman Mike Miller said a state-regulated wetlands would provide important protection for wildlife within the reservoir, home to over 100 bird species. “It would curtail some of the changes the parks department wants to make,” Miller said, “but it would protect the basins the community wants protected.”