BY NATHAN DUKE
While a plan to clean up the long-polluted Newtown Creek is not expected to be completed for nearly 25 years, a water advocacy group and design firm have released a report that outlines how they intend to revitalize both the creek, which borders Long Island City and Brooklyn, and Flushing’s waterfront.
Tarrytown’s Riverkeeper, Newtown Creek Alliance, Guardians of Flushing Bay and the global architecture and design firm Perkins+Will’s New York Studio unveiled a detailed plan last week to restore, revitalize and transform the two waterfronts.
An oil spill was discovered at Newtown Creek by a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter in 1978, but is believed to have started anywhere from 60 to more than 100 years ago along the bank of the creek, where Standard Oil once operated an oil refinery. In 2010, the creek was added to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund toxic site remediation program. A plan by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection to make the creek comply with the federal standards of the Clean Water Act is projected to cost $600 million and be completed by 2042.
At Newtown Creek, proposed revitalization plans include permeable pavers and green infrastructure to capture storm water in the parking lots draining from industrial areas around the creek, restored salt marshes, bulkhead designs that protect the water from contamination, oyster cages and “street-end parks,” where dead-end zones of crumbled concrete would be turned into community gardens and parks.
For Flushing Waterways, proposals include a community boathouse and educational facility at the site of an old pier on the Flushing Bay promenade that will provide space for research, dragon boat racing and canoe and kayak rentals; a large-scale oyster reef off LaGuardia Airport’s waterfront; a restoration of the World’s Fair Marina that would utilize its pavilions for park cafes; the creation of “water trails” that would make navigation easier for boaters; and improved pedestrian bridges to connect neighborhoods—such as East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Corona—with Flushing Bay.
“These plans will help assure that the billions being spent on remediation for these two waterways will be coupled with robust new commitments to habitat restoration, climate resilience and public recreation,” said Paul Gallay, president of Riverkeeper, which has long advocated for the cleanup of Newtown Creek.
The vision plans for the two waterfronts were inspired by more than 50 community meetings and workshops held within the community boards where Newtown Creek and Flushing Waterways are located. Each plan is grounded in data and expertise on local environmental conditions.
Once implemented, the plans for the waterways would restore native salt marsh habitats, make the shores more accessible to the public for recreational activities, spur economic growth by creating employment opportunities and help protect the areas from potential future floods and rising sea levels.
Newtown Creek occupies an area of approximately 1,000 acres between Brooklyn and Long Island City. Flushing Waterways spans 600 acres between LaGuardia Airport, Willets Point, Downtown Flushing and Flushing Meadows Corona Park.