“By saturating these areas with as much green infrastructure as feasible, we expect to improve water quality in Newtown creek, East River and Flushing Bay,” said Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, director of Community Affairs with DEP. “What we’re doing is making Newtown Creek a better place to walk by. It might not be the greatest place to smell right now.”
The bioswales comprise curbside plots of trees, shrubs and flowers, which sit atop five feet of broken stone and sandy soil engineered to absorb rainwater from sidewalks during torrential downpours.
Funneling excess water into the bioswales and away from wastewater treatment plants cuts down on chances of combined sewer overflow (CSO), which occurs when overburdened sewer systems expel excess rainwater and sewage into local waterways, Abdul-Matin said.
“When it rains in a forest, the ground naturally soaks it up,” said Abdul-Matin. “But New York’s infrastructure is very hard, asphalt, concrete. In a sense, green infrastructure is peeling back a layer of that hard infrastructure and replacing it with what used to be there.
“We’re making the land sponge-y again,” he added, “which is great, because God had a good idea when he built all this stuff anyways.”
Construction on the bioswales is slated to begin later this month and will largely be around the Newtown Creek area, in locations which the DEP determined contributed to the highest number of CSO events.
Abdul-Matin said the Queens office of the Department of Transportation had also helped determine in which areas the bioswales should be constructed. He added that the DEP would be open to suggestions from the community for future bioswale locations.
Maintenance costs of the project will be covered by the DEP, he said.
CB5 member John Meier said he was excited about the project.
“I’d just like to say thank you, it’s about time,” he said. “We’ve been impacting the pavement and hardening the environment for too long. This is what we need to do to get back to the earth a little.”
However some members of the community questioned if the new infrastructure might have adverse impacts on older members of the community.
“I can’t see my mother or father walking next to that and trying to balance their way on that little curb,” said Glendale resident Dawn Scala. “They’re going to break their ankle and fall.”
Abdul-Matin said that the DEP’s designs complied with DOT pedestrian access rules.
Rich Hueber, a former CB5 board member, also submitted a number of criticisms of the project, saying the bioswales could have negative consequences on homes over the years.
“We’re not all living in modern construction,” he said. “You dump 3,000 gallons of water in front of your house, you don’t think your basement’s going to be damp? You’re not going to have water coming in?”