Jerome Park Reservoir Fight that will never end

For more than 40 years, I have been involved in the Reservoir and Pigeon Park. It started with trying to find the right agency to clean up around the reservoir. Then it was creating a running path so people would not have to run on the dirt. I also had to fight to get the inner fence put in after a bunch of youth went swimming and fell in. After that I found out that the government wanted to build a plant in the reservoir, and so I had my people organize. In the end, I never did get it cleaned, and they are just getting the jogging path, but it is only built half way around.

This is a story about the construction administration which failed to care about people but instead chose the goal of productivity, along with those who quietly acquiesced to go along for the ride. This policy left a complete breakdown of community building, activity and participation. Evidenced by the worst unemployment figures in the state — more than 12%, this policy did little to spur the promised boost to the local economy. Spending close to $4 billion on the Croton Water Treatment Plant in the northwest Bronx, and other mega projects, has made little or no impact on the local or borough economy.

In 2004, in return for building a filter plant in Van Cortland Park, the City Council signed an agreement to spend $200 million to create parks — the largest capital budget expenditure for Bronx parks, which should have been completed within five years. As soon as the vote was taken, the government immediately closed off the Mosholu Golf Course and contractors broke ground. The promised parks projects were slower to start — they had the funding, but not the personnel to assure timely management and completion.

In 1970, Jerome Park Reservoir was the original site of the filter plant. When the people found out what the government had been planning, they rose up and fought for their beloved reservoir. In 1993 they asked for permission to walk on the inside roadway near the water, which was granted. The people did this upstate and in Central Park. Since that time, the community has asked for permission to walk inside the level roadway alongside the water. Every year the agency in charge put it off.

After 1999, when it became clear that they could not build the plant in Jerome Park Reservoir, the DEP went after the Golf Course, but would not give up the reservoir. They also held up the nomination of the reservoir on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2006, they told the community they had important work to do around the reservoir but it would not take long – they were going to consolidate the work and put it across the street from Bronx HS Science. In August 2013, this work was exclaimed to be completed in a press release — but alas the sound wall is still up, construction is still ongoing, and the trailers are still on parkland.

The December 2013 Croton monitoring committee explained that access to inside the fence would not be allowed until 2021 after they — complete the filter plant around 2015, complete reservoir capital projects around 2016, and then use it to prepare for the closing of and switch to a new valve for the Delaware Aqueduct. The area that they are using for construction is on parkland that they have been in control of since 1985.

Mosholu Golf Course has been off limits since December 2004. The federal agreement to build the Croton plant was signed in 2005 and it stated that if the plant were not completed by October 2011 the agency would be fined. These delays have cost the public money, removed 43 acres from public use for almost ten years, including the Mosholu Golf clubhouse, putting range and part of the course, itself.

New Parks for the 21st Century was the promise made to the City Council and the media, that $200 million would be spent on Bronx Parks. The latest report from the Comptroller shows only $146 of $186 million mitigation completed after 10 years. So what was $40 million per year is now $15 to $20 million per year, which is not a big mitigation deal.

Jerome Park Reservoir Jogging Path is one of the delayed parks projects. This work is progressing outside of the fence on Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) land. There is also not enough money to put the jogging path around the whole 2 miles of the reservoir (including the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail part).

150 or so trees were removed but never replaced. Delays incurred at JPR Jogging path were for many reasons including the need to have trees removed due to encroachment of the berm of the reservoir – a task that could have been taken care of by the DEP over the forty years the community has asked for maintenance. Trees were cut down, but the agency will not agree to pay the cost of replacing the trees.

The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail Pedestrian Bridge was part of the original ULURP approved in 1999, along with $43 million in mitigation of Van Cortlandt Park and Mosholu Golf Course. The DEP stalled on doing the study and then when it was done, stated that they do not have enough money to do it. Everything is continuous south of the Highbridge — which is part of the Old Croton Aqueduct. The full length of the trail in Westchester is a continuous path, but not in the Bronx! Guess where: the part along the Jerome Park Reservoir.