BY LYNN EDMONDS
Forty-two Bayside residents gathered with state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) on Thursday at the intersection of 201st Street and 36th Avenue to voice concerns about bioswales, small gardens designed to catch rainwater, in their neighborhood.
Avella argued that the bioswales were an imposition on property owners.
“You cannot dictate to homeowners what’s going to happen in front of their house. The homeowner should be allowed to dictate what’s in front of their house,” he said.
He also said he thought they were a Band-Aid in place of more costly upgrades to the City’s straining sewer system.
“In my opinion, this is the city’s cheap way of resolving the city’s storm water issue, which is just not going to work,” he said.
Homeowners at the press conference said they began seeing mysterious green markings spray painted on their sidewalk and became alarmed.
“The buzz around the neighborhood was, ‘oh they’re just putting in trees.’ We had no idea they were putting these things in, and we don’t know what they are and what they do,” resident Gale Molinari said.
Joe Branzetti, President of Friends of Fort Totten, said he had stopped in front of 90 houses that had markings near them and only three individuals knew what a bioswale was.
Bioswales, or “rain gardens,” are a relatively new initiative on the part of New York City. Their primary goal is to prevent untreated storm water and raw sewage from entering NYC water systems by catching some of the water that often courses down the street during a rainstorm. That dirty water can discharge into Newtown Creek, Flushing Bay and Flushing Creek during heavy rainstorms, and serves as a major obstacle in improving water quality in the NYC area.
When residents found out from other neighbors that the markings, which outlined the corners of a rectangle about four feet by 12 feet, were meant to designate where the City Department of Environmental Protection could potentially install a new bioswale, they had a host of concerns; among them, mosquitoes, maintenance and flooding.
The idea of ponding in the bioswales raised concerns about the potential for mosquitoes to breed. Though the ponding is supposed to absorb or evaporate within 48 hours, and mosquitoes need 72 hours to reproduce, some residents thought it was risky.
“Should we even be chancing that?” resident Susan Bolger said.
Several residents said they had been burned before with expense and hassles related to city trees, and they feared the same from the bioswales.
“You got these big trees. Where are the roots? Into the sewer,” Molinari said. “So it’s a big problem.”
They also felt like the bioswales infringed on their rights as property owners. Though the bioswales would be placed on city sidewalks, homeowners said they feared the bioswales could have hidden maintenance or labor costs that would impact them down the line.
“From the perspective of a homeowner…I don’t want this. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t want it, and I don’t want to be responsible for it,” Lanzetta said.
“That tree has not been pruned once,” Lanzetta said, referring to a city tree planted in front of her neighbor’s house about seven years ago. “It’s now a very large tree. It’s making a mess all over his property, and my property, and all the surrounding properties.”
Other than maintenance, the biggest fear for many homeowners was how bioswales might impact flooding, particularly basement flooding, a common problem in the area because of the high water table.
The DEP said there was no chance that bioswales would make flooding worse. They also said that bioswales would not be installed in an area with a high water table.
A high water table means the soil and gravel are already saturated, negating the need for construction of a rain garden since no absorption could occur, the agency said.
For every potential site that is selected, the city bores holes to check the water level.
For every site that is marked, only about a third to a half of them are actually turned into Bioswales, the DEP said. It is at that point that they reach out with brochures and supply contact information for a community liaison.
For some, though, it seemed to be too late.
“With the lack of information you get people that panic. This is the biggest investment in their life,” Molinari said.
But the DEP assured residents that they had nothing to worry about.
“Rain Gardens beautify neighborhoods, clean the air, improve the health of Flushing Creek and help keep water bills low. Sidewalk markings indicate potential locations for rain gardens and over the next few months each site will go through a thorough analysis before a finalized list of locations will be shared with homeowners, elected officials and the community board,” a DEP spokesman said.