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DEP seeks green relief for Flushing Bay woes

The city is looking for companies to build green infrastructure projects in three different areas in Queens. Image courtesy city Department of Environmental Protection
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The city wants actual plants in the concrete jungle and is seeking companies to build green infrastructure in central and western Queens neighborhoods that will help clean some of the borough’s toxic waterways.

The city Department of Environmental Protection released a request for proposals Monday that seeks to parcel out $12 million total for three contracts to build green roofs, enhanced tree pits, porous pavement and other infrastructure initiatives designed to capture excess rainwater that currently overwhelms the city’s sewer system and discharges into New York City’s waterways during heavy storms, polluting water bodies like Flushing Bay and Newtown Creek.

It is part of the NYC Green Infrastructure Plan first proposed in 2010 by the mayor, according to Carter Strickland, commissioner of the DEP.

“Implementing the plan will improve water quality throughout New York Harbor and our neighborhoods,” Strickland said.

The request for proposals identify three separate contract areas.

The first contract seeks companies to install these green projects on public property in a large section of central Queens, comprising mainly Forest Hills and Rego Park. Another contract seeks companies to install the same devices in another area covering Corona and Elmhurst.

If a contractor installs green roofs on one of the many schools or city-owned buildings in the area, for example, the water trapped in the soil will not flow into the city’s sewer pipes and overwhelm the system. In this case, the excess combined rainwater and sewage, called combined sewer overflow, would belch out into Flushing Bay through two pipes at the water’s edge.

So much rancid sediment from the sewer outfalls has accumulated in the bay under the pipes that during low tide the exposed soil emits a nauseating odor.

In response, the city had planned to dredge the area and remove some of the soil, but the DEP’s request for proposals seeks to eliminate the problem at the source.

Western Queens is home to a toxic waterway of its own: the superfund site known as Newtown Creek, which has problems similar to Flushing Bay with sewer outfall pipes.

In neighborhoods including Ridgewood and Glendale, the city is seeking a third contract to install green infrastructure there.

Again, public and city-owned property is fair game, including schools and sidewalks.

Some other suggestions for any companies seeking to apply include enhanced tree pits, according to the DEP website.

The extended tree pits provide not only a larger area of soil for water to soak into, but also an underground cistern of sorts that can act as a reservoir for trees and flowers above, and more importantly hold rainwater that might otherwise flow into the sewer system.

Porous sidewalks act in a similar manner, allowing light and water to filter through the top surface to some sort of foliage planted underneath it while still permitting walking.

Discharge of sewage and the pollution of Flushing Bay and Newtown Creek have been a concern of Queens residents.

In College Point, residents there are advocating for the DEP to restore wetlands around the bay in exchange for construction that will upgrade sewer pipes in the neighborhood.

In western Queens, the city and oil companies are currently conducting a study on the best way to clean up the fetid Newtown Creek.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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