Monday, January 25, 2010

NY Times 1/24 article on Staten Island's Pouch Camp

The following piece appeared in the NY Times , Pouch Camp, which is under threat of sale and potential developement , which means destruction and fragmentation of the famed "Greenbelt".

January 24, 2010
A Celebrated Scout Camp on Staten Island Is in Jeopardy
IN the wooded heart of Staten Island lies a rugged spread of land, crowned by a rustic lake, that has provided camping grounds for Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from the New York area for 60 years.

It is called Camp Pouch, and though relatively few New Yorkers know of it, in the subculture of scouting it is celebrated. Many of the 52,000 scouts in the region visit throughout the year to pitch tents; build fires; apply their half hitches, bowlines and other knots; use a compass; apply first aid; and otherwise practice sometimes old-fashioned scouting skills.

“You walk up to a piece of dirt and you have to make a home and a community and live together for a week” is how William S. Kelly, a scouting official, strips the program down to its essentials.

But all that is now in jeopardy. In November, the Greater New York Councils of the Boy Scouts of America, the owner of the camp, announced that financial pressure might force it to put Camp Pouch on the market.

The group, hit hard by the recession, has been operating at a deficit, and corporate and other donations have fallen by $5 million over the past 18 months — a colossal wound for an organization that until recently ran on a $15 million budget.

The staff has already been cut by 40 percent, to 60 employees, and the group’s space in its Empire State Building headquarters has shrunk by 60 percent.

The Boy Scouts hope that a conservation organization like the Trust for Public Land will buy the development rights to most of the 140-acre property, Mr. Kelly said. The sale would provide an infusion of as much as $30 million to the Boy Scouts, and the trust, a preservation group, would see to it that the land is never developed for purposes like housing.

The Boy Scouts, which have had conversations in recent years with the trust, would keep the lodges and cabins and use the rest of the property just as they now do.

Trust officials confirmed that discussions have been held.

“The camp is not currently for sale,” said Mr. Kelly, 30, an Eagle Scout who is the group’s spokesman. In a later interview, however, he bluntly added that if the gambit with the trust fails, the Scouts would have to sell all or part of the property. In that event, the camp might host another sprawl of houses that, at least until the recession, were consuming the borough like Pac-Man.

Staten Islanders are closely watching the fate of Camp Pouch because it lies in the core of the borough’s Greenbelt, 2,800 acres of woodlands and meadows that wind through several neighborhoods. The land includes parks, golf courses, ball fields and Moses Mountain, a 200-foot mound of rock blasted during construction of the Staten Island Expressway, a Robert Moses project.

The camp, which was named after William H. Pouch, a scouting advocate, is not technically part of the Greenbelt, but it helps to create a contiguous scenic expanse and a habitat for deer, owls, snakes, turtles and herons.

“It would fragment the Greenbelt,” said Kathleen Vorwick, president of the Greenbelt Conservancy, referring to any development of Camp Pouch. “It would lose its value to humans but also to animals and flora.” The conservancy oversees the Greenbelt along with the city’s parks department.

The loss of Camp Pouch would be most painful for the scouts. Matthew Brown, 16, a junior at New Dorp High School on Staten Island and a scout since he was 5, told how camping regularly at Pouch had taught him to put up different kinds of tents, to whittle wood with a pocketknife to help build a fire and to tie a clove hitch to drag the heavy wood needed to sustain a fire.

As important, doing such things with 30 members of his troop had taught him how to work cooperatively. Those skills, he said, could not be learned as well in the church hall where his troop — Troop 37 — meets, and he and his troop would be upset to lose a vibrant patch of the natural world like Camp Pouch.

“Camping outdoors is the cornerstone of scouting,” he said. “And at Camp Pouch we can get more in touch with the wilderness and real outdoor scouting.”

Many troops use it not only for camping but also as a base from which to tour New York. Rich Perrone, scoutmaster of Vista Troop 101 from Lewisboro in Westchester County, visited Camp Pouch recently with his troop to see whether they could stage a bicycle tour of the city while camping there.

After surveying the property and the five miles of roads leading to the Staten Island ferry, they decided that they could. And if the camp were sold? “We could go to a hotel,” Mr. Perrone said, “but our objective is to set up our camp and use the scouting skills we stress with the boys.”

The New York Scouts also own two other camps — Ten Mile River in the Catskills town of Narrowsburg, N.Y., and Alpine, north of the George Washington Bridge in Alpine, N.J. But those sites are far from Staten Island, whose scouts are Pouch’s prime consumers.

Camp Pouch features several spots for pitching tents and other sites equipped with cabins or open-front lean-tos. There is also an archery range and a climbing wall on the grounds, as well as Ohrbach Lake (named after the department store family), where thousands of children have learned to swim and row. A store at the camp sells scouting uniforms (about $100), camping equipment and scout insignia.

In the summer, there is a day camp for boys and girls that can handle 500 children.

On the drive into the campground, 12 signs display the 12 qualities of the ideal scout — “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

On Dec. 12, a rally to save Camp Pouch drew 1,500 people, some holding signs with slogans like, “Scouting Without Pouch ... Ouch.”

The city has also been involved in discussions about rescuing the camp, said Adrian Benepe, the parks commissioner. He pointed out, however, that with agencies required to cut their capital budgets by 30 percent this year, it was highly unlikely that the city would buy the property. Instead, he said, the city might encourage a white knight, like the Trust for Public Land, to do so.

As they confront tough fiscal times, camp and Greenbelt officials do have one ace in the hole. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is an Eagle Scout — a lifetime distinction.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Artificial Turf debacle in the Bronx

This item appeared in the 1/19 NYC Post..One of the pressing issues with turf is that feeding grounds are destroyed for geese and other waterfowl, pressing more geese into tighter flocks during winter, increasing disease potential like avian botulism..( and winter when sports activities are minimal.;and also the exorbitant waste of tax dollars that could have been used wisely for other city parks.....)

Updated: Tue., Jan. 19, 2010, 3:51 PM
Bronx field now city's $14M blunder land

Last Updated: 3:51 PM, January 19, 2010

Posted: 2:31 AM, January 19, 2010

A city plan to rebuild one of The Bronx's biggest sports fields has morphed into a money pit for taxpayers.

Workers renovating Harris Field in Bedford Park recently uncovered contaminated soil under the playing surfaces, helping push the anticipated cost to nearly $14 million, city officials told The Post.

The price tag for the renovation had already gone from the $6.6 million announced in 2007 to $8.7 million, records show.

Now the Parks Department is confirming that it has to add another $5.2 million for cleanup because of the high levels of lead unearthed while workers were preparing to install drainage-system tanks needed to restore the popular park's six playing fields.

Harris Field used to be part of a reservoir before the city acquired the 15-acre site in 1917.

Department spokeswoman Vickie Karp said it is believed that the park was created with "the use of incinerator ash as fill, which would explain the presence of lead."

The original playing fields at the park were grass, but the city plans to cover two with synthetic turf.

A Parks Department official wishing to remain anonymous said that contamination wouldn't be an issue if all the fields were going to be grass but that replacing two with turf requires digging deeper to install the drainage tanks. Karp says this is untrue.

A fiscal 2008 mayoral report showed the Parks Department topped city agencies in cost overruns with projects costing an average of 50 percent more than the original contract price. The city average was 17 percent.

Harris Field is in line to rise by more than 110 percent.

"The project shows just how poorly the city does its due diligence on parks projects," said Geoffrey Croft, of the nonprofit group New York City Park Advocates, when told of the costs.

The project's long delays are crippling a popular Little League that plays there.

"The Parks Department only cares about construction, not children," said Don Bluestone, executive director of the Mosholu Montefiore Community Center.

Bluestone said the nonprofit group's youth baseball league has gone from 1,000 players to 500 since construction began. He ripped the department for closing the entire park and relocating the league miles away to parks filled with drug dealers and plagued by flooding.

The city's Web site says construction will be complete by the spring, but Bluestone was preparing to have his league play elsewhere this season.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Black Skimmer recovery project

From: Thomas Panzone
Date: Fri, 08 Jan 2010 16:20:07 -0500
Subject: Black Skimmer Recovery Plan Stakeholder Meeting February 24th

Dear Colleagues:


Black Skimmer (Rynchops niger) Recovery Plan: Stakeholder Meeting

February 24th, 2010
2 – 4 PM
Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
Cross Bay Blvd, Queens, NY

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is pleased to announce a stakeholder meeting for the Black Skimmer Recovery Plan being held at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on February 24th, 2010 from 2 – 4 PM.

This meeting will inform concerned stakeholders of the ecological status of black skimmer in New York State and the process for developing the recovery plan. Local and expert stakeholders on black skimmer ecology will be encouraged to additionally participate on the Black Skimmer Recovery Team. The Recovery Team will provide input and guidance for establishing recovery goals, restoration methods, and monitoring protocols during the development of the recovery plan.

There is no cost to attend but participants are asked to register by contacting either Jason Smith ( 718-482-4919) or Citizen Participation Specialist, Thomas Panzone ( 718-482-4958).

A list of the most important questions and issues to be addressed and answered during the development of the recovery plan will be sent to registered participants. These issues will include regulatory concerns, threats to the species, restoration and creation of beach habitat, and the potential impacts to existing habitat due to climate change. Opportunity for discussion and comments will be provided to stakeholders in attendance.

An agenda is currently being developed and will be circulated prior to the meeting date.

Please feel free to circulate this announcement to any interested staff or colleagues. Thank you and I hope to see you there.


Thomas V. Panzone
Citizen Participation Specialist
Division of Public Affairs and Education
NYSDEC - Region 2
(718) 482-4958

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ridgewood Reservoir

This greenspace is subject of a NYC Dept Parks capital project , controversial in that there is /will be discussion of razing the natural forest within one of the three reservoir basins for articfial turf ballfields.

For more on this, see this website set up to inform concerned citizens about what Ridgewood Reservoir is facing:

And the latest developement , written up in the NYC Daily News.

With some back and forth, Queens park will get upgrade

BY Lisa L. Colangelo

Wednesday, January 6th 2010, 4:00 AM

Crumbling staircases, poorly lit pathways and missing fencing will finally get fixed during the first phase of renovations to the Ridgewood Reservoir-Highland Park site, a city official said.
But the devil is in some of those details, according to members of several local community boards who got a chance to comment on the plan at the Queens Borough Board meeting on Monday.
The site, which straddles the Queens-Brooklyn border, has been slated for a multi-year, $26 million upgrade.
However, it's still unclear whether that includes the addition of ballfields and recreational facilities in some areas. Community members and elected officials have lobbied the city to the keep it a natural green space.
The project's first phase, which has not yet gone out to bid, includes infrastructure improvements such as paving, lighting and fencing. It's expected to cost about $7.6 million, a Parks Department official said.
But Steve Fiedler, chairman of Community Board 5's parks committee, said the 4-foot fences planned for certain portions of the reservoir will be inadequate to stop vandals.
"I can step over a 4-foot fence," he said. "At least a 6-foot fence will deter someone."
Local residents would also like to see a wheelchair-accessible ramp near one of the parking lots, he said. In addition, board members asked the Parks Department to keep some of the 19th-century gates that date back to the early days of the now-decommissioned reservoir.
"They don't make this design in heavy wrought-iron gates anymore," Fiedler said.
But Kevin Quinn, a Parks Department representative, said the old fencing isn't up to snuff.
"We fell in love with it also," Quinn told the Borough Board, which cconsists of community board leaders and the borough president. "But the spacing of the pickets no longer meets code as a guardrail."
The fencing will rise as high as 6 feet in some sections, he said, but it will stay lower in other areas to provide better sight lines.
"Why spoil the view?" Quinn asked. "If someone wants to get down there, they will get down there. This size works for Central Park."
The Parks Department is expected to release three preliminary plans in the coming weeks for the second phase. One will focus on using the site for passive recreation, another for active recreation and a third for a combination of the two.
Read more:


Community boards not happy with Ridgewood Reservoir plans
by Holly Tsang, Queens Ledger

On Monday, members of Queens and Brooklyn Community Boards 5 and Queens Community Board 9 were presented with the Parks Department’s plans for phase one of a new park at the Ridgewood Reservoir, which straddles Queens and Brooklyn, and they were not happy.

CB5Q submitted its recommendations in July consisting of seven points that needed to be addressed, including the construction of a six-foot wrought iron fence with spikes at the top to deter trespassers and the construction of a pedestrian bridge that goes over high-traffic Vermont Place to the reservoir.

Much to the dismay of CB5Q, the Queens Borough [Parks] Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski wrote back in August that the Parks Department would likely take a different direction on most of the points; to name a few, the wrought iron fence in question would be four feet tall and instead of a “cost-prohibitive” pedestrian bridge over Vermont Place, an ADA-approved ramp would be constructed at Vermont Place, where a stop sign would also be installed.

And while both parties agreed that they wanted as little light as possible spilling into the reservoir basins, which house many species of birds and plants and serve as an East Coast fly-by for birds heading south, they couldn’t agree on where to place the electrical service conduit and lighting fixtures.

The Parks Department’s lighting plan costs an extra $90,000. According to Kevin Quinn, Capitol Projects Team Leader for Queens under the Parks Department, the construction budget for phase one is $7.6 million.

“We always try to give the community what they want, but we need to operate the parks, so there are certain operational concerns we need to look at,” said Quinn.

Steven Fiedler, Co-Chair of CB5Q’s Parks Committee, disagreed. He said the Parks Department rejected CB5Q’s proposal just days after it was submitted, ignoring the suggestions made in the public listening sessions on the Ridgewood Reservoir that have been going on for the last two years.

“My objective here is to make sure the Parks Department realizes, one, they’re not listening to the community and, two, phase one has to enhance phases two and three,” said Fiedler, emphasizing the need for a high fence around the perimeter of the basins to ensure that the reservoir remains wild.

He said that, for example, a higher fence would protect the reservoir’s wildlife for the implementation of phases two and three, which may include something like a boardwalk down in the basins for exploratory and educational purposes.

The master plans for the next phase will be unveiled at the end of the month. Fiedler said the community boards are advocating for a plan that will leave the reservoir natural as it is now. Other options include the construction of on-site sports fields or mixed-use.

CB5Q enlisted the written and voiced support of over a dozen elected officials and community groups including Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez, State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Assemblyman Mike Miller, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, Queens Coalition for Parks and Green Spaces.

“They’re not listening to us. They’re designing in a box like they always do and they’re wasting money,” said Fiedler. “It’s a terrible waste of money.”


CB 5, city clash over reservoir plans
Board to see proposals for revamp of Ridgewood site this month, Parks Dept. says
By Jeremy Walsh, Times Ledger
Thursday, January 7, 2010 11:13 AM EST

The city Parks Department is planning to unveil three potential plans to revamp Ridgewood Reservoir at a meeting this month.

After a two-month delay, plans for the future of Ridgewood Reservoir will finally be unveiled to Community Board 5 probably later this month, officials told a Borough Board meeting Monday night.

But the selection or implementation of any of these plans could still be years away as CB 5 and the city Parks Department continue to spar over details of the first phase of the plan, which will repair crumbling concrete stairs, widen turns in the perimeter path and build an observation path on a causeway between two of the three reservoir basins.

CB 5 wanted several concessions from the Parks Department, including a pedestrian bridge over Vermont Place between the parking lot and the park, eliminating a ramp for the physically disabled because it would be redundant with the proposed bridge and raising the height of fences from 4 to 6 feet.

“I could step over a 4-foot fence,” CB 5 Parks Committee Chairman Steve Fiedler said. “At least a 6-foot fence is going to deter somebody.”

But Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski has turned down most of the board’s requests. Kevin Quinn, director of Queens capital projects for the Parks Department, defended the agency’s firm stance at Monday’s meeting.

A pedestrian bridge would cost between $2 million and $3 million, eating up a substantial chunk of the $7.6 million allocated for the first phase of construction, he said.

“We’re really tight on funds here and we want to get this going as soon as possible,” he said.

CB 9 Chairwoman Andrea Crawford also slammed the current state of the crossing.

“If I’m in a wheelchair and I drive my wheelchair-accessible van [to the parking lot] ... then I have to play ‘Frogger’ to get across Vermont,” she said, referring to the classic video game depicting a frog attempting to cross a traffic-choked highway.

The fences will remain 4 feet tall in most locations because the Parks Department does not want to restrict parkgoers’ views of the reservoir basins, Quinn said.

Quinn also said the Parks Department had petitioned the city Department of Transportation for a traffic signal and pedestrian crossing at the parking lot, but the DOT turned them down.

Planners have put forward three possible directions for developing the reservoir as a city park: making it a nature preserve with minimal facilities, turning it into an active recreation site with numerous ballfields and a combination of the first two plans. CB 5 favors the nature preserve course.

The community boards in both Brooklyn and Queens have faced pressure to support the active recreation model because Highland Park’s existing ballfields are overused and in poor condition.

CB 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri said little money had been spent to maintain the Upper Highland Park athletic fields.

“That’s partly our fault,” he said. We haven’t been paying much attention to it over the years.”

But he and Fiedler also warned that the reservoir project essentially doubles the size of parkland that Forest Park is responsible for maintaining and both questioned where the funds would come from.

Quinn also pointed out that the city Public Design Committee had approved the Phase 1 plan, which made it complicated and time-consuming to alter.

“This is only the beginning of our process trying to get the Parks Department to listen to the community,” Fiedler said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

NY Times article on property purchases = preservation

From the New York Times:

Preservation Groups Find Bargains in Housing Bust
Conservation organizations have taken advantage of
depressed property prices and foreclosures to protect open

January 1, 2010
Preservation Groups Find Bargains in Housing Bust
From the Florida Everglades to the bluffs overlooking the Deschutes River in Oregon, conservationists are snapping up prime property for preservation, often at a fraction of what the asking price was at the real estate market’s height.

On Wednesday, the threatened bog turtle got a reprieve when conservationists scooped up 166 acres of marshland in Frankford Township in northern New Jersey, where developers had planned to build luxury homes. Hours later, city officials and environmentalists in Boise, Idaho, were rejoicing as they closed a deal to protect 1,300 acres of wooded foothills beloved by local hikers.

The victories reveal a green lining of sorts in a credit crisis that has depressed real estate prices, prompted foreclosures and derailed development projects across the nation.

The purchases by conservationists and state and local governments assure that thousands of acres will be put aside in perpetuity for parks, watershed protection or simply preservation of open space.

“We are getting a second bite at properties that never should have been developed in the first place,” said Will Rogers, president of the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit group that buys land for preservation. “We are working on dozens of these deals across the country, and I know other land trusts are as well.”

Although the real estate bubble burst in 2008, it was only in the last 6 to 12 months that many developers and banks became desperate enough to slash prices deeply enough for the trusts, Mr. Rogers and several other conservationists said.

Suki Molina, vice president of the Foothills Conservation Advisory Committee, which joined with the City of Boise in spending $10 million to preserve open space, said her group noticed a change in the way local landowners were approaching the committee early this year.

“The prices were lower,” Ms. Molina said, “but what has really changed is the attitude of the developers — they want to get out. Before this year, they would call, say they had a great piece of land and wanted top dollar. Now, they just want to sell.”

So what seemed like dream property forever out of their reach — including waterfront sites near cities or land bordering untouchable parks — is suddenly attainable.

In Little Egg Harbor, N.J., north of Atlantic City, Mr. Rogers’s group is buying 46 acres covered with pine scrub and marshes for $3.5 million. A year ago, it was priced at $6.2 million after its developer dropped plans for 73 single-family homes as part of a development called the Landings. Now it will become part of the adjacent Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.

Similarly, officials in New York City announced on Tuesday that a park would be created on a site in Jamaica Bay, Queens, where 21 two-story attached houses with views of water had been planned only a year ago. The bay is polluted yet nutrient-rich, and buffering wetlands are needed there for bird and wildlife protection.

And in Portland, Ore., 27 acres of grassy and wooded hills at the city’s southeastern end that were to become a residential subdivision are now open for hiking, picnicking and dog walking.

The land has been added to a city park called Clatsop Butte. It sold for $4.4 million when the market collapsed, down from its estimated worth of $5 million a few months earlier.

In many cases, the preservation deals are negotiated with banks that have foreclosed on property and are eager to get bad assets off the books.

Bill Eshenbaugh, a real estate broker in Florida who goes by the promotional moniker the Dirt Dog, said the trusts’ endowments often allowed them to pay cash, which banks now require in such cases.

In 2009, “we did over $60 million in land deals, and not one penny financed,” Mr. Eshenbaugh said. “It was all cash. The trusts can come up with the cash, and cash is what it’s all about.”

Still, while the trusts see more opportunities, they have also been taking in fewer donations since the economic downturn. Local and state governments enlisted to cover part of a purchase or to maintain donated land are usually struggling as well.

Keith Fountain, director of land acquisition for the Florida chapter of the nonprofit Nature Conservancy, which focuses on preserving large swaths of undeveloped land to protect ecosystems, said the past year’s offerings were the best in the 17 years he had pursued properties, among them 500,000 acres that protect rivers feeding the Everglades.

But this year, for the first time in two decades, shortfalls led the State of Florida not to budget its annual $300 million for land conservation. Previously, the conservancy had put together deals and the state put up the cash. As a result, Mr. Fountain said, the conservancy has had to pass up some gems.

When a preservation purchase succeeds, not every municipality is necessarily happy. Towns may mourn the loss of development that could have generated revenue.

Officials in Albemarle County, Va., for example, are frustrated that Forest Lodge L.L.C., a local developer that had permits to build 3,100 houses and apartments on 800 acres of meadows and forest, gave that land and 400 acres more to the state for a park this week in return for tax credits.

Supervisors had anticipated $38 million in commitments for public improvements from Forest Lodge. What is more, said Dennis Rooker, a member of the board of supervisors, the county spent more than $200,000 in staff time to hammer out that plan.

But in the long run, said Mr. Rogers of the Trust for Public Land, even developers recognize that newly protected lands can have a positive effect on real estate prices.

“Developers have long seen that conserved land next to a development adds value,” he said. “There are genuine economic benefits for everyone that will come out of this.”