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$2.5M city project prevents erosion of Oakland Lake Park

What started off as a project to improve the flooded streets in and around the Bayside Hills neighborhood has resulted in a lushly landscaped and more accessible Oakland Lake Park.

“Seventeen years back this wasn’t a Parks project. Bayside Hills flooded every time it rained. They used to call 56th Avenue Lake 56th Avenue,” Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece joked at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held Monday to herald the completion of a $2.5 million city Department of Environmental Protection project designed to improve stormwater runoff and avoid erosion in the 46-acre park.

Representatives from the DEP and the city Parks Department stood on a new paved pathway off of 56th Avenue just east of Springfield Boulevard, in front of a ravine covered in new plantings that not too long ago had been scarred and stripped of vegetation from stormwaters following rainfalls that would run down the impermeable streets and out of the large parking lot of nearby Queensborough Community College.

“As this community knows all too well, stormwater literally destroyed this landscape,” said DEP Commissioner Cas Holloway.

The neglected landscape even became a dumping ground for discarded automobiles, the rusted shells of which DEP removed as it simultaneously installed storm sewers on the streets to help redirect the destructive power of the waters’ force.

The capital improvement project was the first Bluebelt project implemented in Queens. Bluebelt is a program the department runs in Staten Island that uses green (natural) and gray (infrastructure) design features to best manage stormwater runoff and watersheds.

“You look and think that Staten Island has all this open space and that wouldn’t work here. This proves that’s wrong,” Holloway said.

Features such as a rain garden, which allows water to infiltrate and be filtered by the ground, the storm sewers and new plantings — including more than 1,000 trees, all of which count toward the city’s MillionTreesNYC initiative — make Oakland Lake a drainage project just as much as it is a park.

The new drainage system will feed into the DEP’s newly completed Alley Creek Combined Sewer Overflow facility, which ultimately improves water quality in Little Neck Bay. Convinced the project should serve more than a utilitarian purpose, Iannece said he dragged the DEP “kicking and screaming” in order to have the improvements made to the site that include new pathways, seating, three paved fishing pads and canoe launches.

“This really makes this a wonderful place to live and work and raise a family,” said City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens).

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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