Avella, civic groups continue fight against bioswales
by Melissa Goldin
May 01, 2018 | 545 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
State Senator Tony Avella, joined by seven Queens community leaders at his district office, continued his fight for homeowners’ rights last Friday in regard to the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) rain garden installation program.

This most recent push was in response to green markings indicating possible rain garden, commonly known as a bioswale, sites that have appeared in Whitestone.

It can take a number of months from when these markings appear to the actual installation, however, as each site goes through an extensive review process, according to a DEP spokesperson.

Avella, who is a member of the State Senate’s Environmental Conservation Committee, is still intent on making sure anyone can opt-out of the bioswale program, though installations are built on public property. He has been publically fighting the initiative since 2016.

“The decision by DEP to offer certain opt-out provisions was a great first step,” he said. “However, it is also incredibly insufficient. The mayor and DEP cannot continue to force this upon these residents.”

“This community and the city as a whole deserves the right to a full opt-out no matter the reason,” Avella added. “Installing a [bioswale] in front of someone’s home is a serious burden on the homeowner.”

DEP now allows residents to request not to have a bioswale installed in front of their property if they own a one-, two- or three-family house, if someone with a valid handicap parking permit lives on the property or if the grass strip in front of the property has an in-ground sprinkler system.

Bioswales help prevent sewers from overflowing during heavy rainstorms, an infrastructure problem which sends stormwater and raw sewage into the city’s waterways, by absorbing water that falls on the streets.

They often resemble tree pits or small gardens, and have received support from environmental groups. Approximately 4,000 have been built citywide.

Locals, however, have complained that soil testing, which involves large drills, is disruptive, that the untreated water creates an environmental hazard and that the gardens are simply another place for garbage to collect, among other concerns.

Seven community leaders aired their thoughts about the program last Friday. Some were receptive to the installations, as long as the appropriate sites were chosen and the homeowners approved.

“I was very open-minded to the idea because anything environmentally good is fine with me, but I am hearing too many horror stories,” said Ronnie Brancazio, a board member of the North East Flushing Civic Association. “I can see places where [a bioswales] would be a good decision, but as a homeowner on a corner where litter is a problem, I could just see it becoming a dumping ground.”

Other residents were less amenable to the initiative.

“Our experience with bioswales and the testing for them thus far has been abysmal and just horrible,” said Eliane Young, president of the West Cunningham Park Civic Association. “We don’t trust that it won’t cause flooding, that it won’t cause environmental issues, we don’t trust [DEP] at all.”

This type of green infrastructure is less expensive or disruptive than other constructions, according to a DEP spokesperson, and the ones in northern Queens will help clean up Flushing Bay.

Dedicated crews maintain bioswales, a process which includes removing trash and pruning greenery. They work seven days a week and visit each bioswale approximately once a week.

Additional crews will be hired as the rain garden initiative grows.
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