Avella doubles-down on opt-out option for bioswales

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State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) upped the ante on his opposition to bioswales in his northeast Queens district in a letter addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio and the acting commissioner of the Dept. of Environmental Protection Vincent Sapienza.

Avella is not only calling for an opt-out option for the installation, but also on the drilling required to determine the eligibility for locations of bioswales.

“As you are both aware, I have been, and will continue to, fight for a full opt-out program for residents,” Avella said in the letter. “During our conversations and meetings we agreed that no actual construction would occur in my Senate district, but soil testing could be done in the interim while DEP reviewed our concerns. However, after witnessing the soil testing in person, I am calling for an immediate halt to the soil testing process as well.”

Bioswales are green infrastructure installations cut into the pavement to absorb rainwater and remove some of the burden from the sewer system. The ultimate goal of a bioswale project is to clean up waterways, in this case, Flushing Creek and Flushing Bay, a DEP spokesman said in July. A similar project in Brooklyn launched in June by the city agency will cost $35 million and install more than 800 bioswales to improve water quality in Jamaica Bay.

But Flushing residents were flustered when they discovered Dept. of Design and Construction workers prospecting outside their homes, marking sidewalks with green paint to keep track of locations where a bioswale might be installed. Many did not know what a bioswale was until they were handed a pamphlet by the workers.

Residents complained at a July news conference hosted by Avella that bioswales will take away from the parking spaces, while trees planted in the installations will cause sidewalks to crack, yet again costing homeowners money to fix. Other fears go back to the issue of city trees being planted in the homeowners’ yards and then neglected by the Parks Department responsible for their upkeep.

Joseph Branzetti, president of the Friends of Fort Totten Parks and the Northwest Bayside Civic Association, said the neighborhood of Murray Hill is the lowest point in Flushing and basement floods are common. He feared a bioswale will only aggravate this problem.

“Upon receiving complaints from constituents, I visited their homes to see the soil drilling in process. Not only is it incredibly loud, but it looks more like drilling for oil than soil testing,” Avella said. “It destroys the green strip between the street and sidewalk and can possibly damage the sidewalk as well.”

Installation of 321 bioswales in Maspeth, Ridgewood and Sunnyside began in June with the aim of cleaning up Newtown Creek, which separates Queens and Brooklyn, and catching up to 38 million gallons of rainwater every year. The creek is one of the nation’s most polluted waterways with heavy industrial development along the banks of its 3.5-mile length. Over 50 oil refineries dumped an estimated 30 million gallons of fuel along with toxins from petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, and other industries in the creek starting in the early 1800s.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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Reader feedback

acclnqs from Queens says:


The DEP should also be working with PARKS to remove excess cobblestones or pavers from existing tree pits. This is not as big an engineering undertaking as the DEP makes out. Most soil conditions in Queens are good and I wonder why all the drilling is necessary. I do not think there will be ponding in bioswales. Are there mosquitos in Bayside now?



Read more: Forest Hills Times - Bayside nabe pushing back on bioswales
Jan. 23, 2017, 2:37 pm
Concerned citizen from Queens says:
Keep these bioswales where all the Parks Dept & DEP big shots live! We were not contacted or given a flier about this waste of time and money! Parking in the Auburndale area is already at a all time low. Too many illegal dwellings,people who park cars and jump into other cars leaving them parked for days!!
Who will pay for the sidewalk they destroy in the quest for sil samples???
Jan. 23, 2017, 6:36 pm
D from Queens says:
(1) Maybe he can opt his district out of the sewer drainage system. Who needs them, right!? (sarcasm)

(2) People from Queens are usually pretty smart, but maybe the city needs to better educate the public why these bioswales are necessary.
Jan. 24, 2017, 9:22 am
Steve from Queens says:
Uh, bioswales are meant to help the flooding. If there's flooding in your basement, you should very much want bioswales.

They are a wondrous solution to many of our city's water problems. Any improvement takes a little bit of loud drilling but afterwards the benefits are worth it.

If DEP is destroying a sidewalk while drilling, they are paying for the repairs.
Jan. 24, 2017, 9:33 am
ItsEasyBeingGreen from Sunset Park says:
Is there any issue that Tony Avella won't take a ridiculous reactionary crank stance on in total ignorance?

We can't opt out of cleaning up our polluted waterways, though perhaps Avella's new friend in Washington will do something about that.
Jan. 24, 2017, 9:34 am
JDH from Bklyn says:
Was the City reached out to for comment? It seems like there are a lot of questions/accusations made by constituents and the senator that the City could/should address. Flooding is a serious issue and bioswales are an excellent, easy, cheap way to help with the situation.
Jan. 24, 2017, 9:46 am
Jon from Prospect Heights says:
We have bioswales here in Prospect Heights. They don't take away parking and they add a little more greenery to our neighborhood, all while helping reduce the burden on storm drains. Also, most of them do not have trees planted in them. There's no good reason that I can see to oppose them.
Jan. 24, 2017, 10:36 am
Fear Next Sandy from NY says:
This is like allowing homeowners to opt-out of having a fire hydrant in front of their house.

Bioswales are proven to mitigate flood-risk, and each bioswale protects many people. If each resident got to opt-out, then everyone would suffer.

Avella is pushing a selfish and stupid proposal.
Jan. 24, 2017, 10:48 am
ripper from park slope says:
These bioswales present a clear threat to our precious bodily fluids!
Jan. 24, 2017, 11:28 am
Anna from Flushing says:
Is there any common sense policy that Avella doesn't oppose? If there implementation issues, sure, address them. But bioswales are an important part of keeping our water clean. To pretend otherwise is just dumbing down public discourse.
Jan. 24, 2017, 6:09 pm
boof from brooklyn says:
Clean waterways??!!! What will these commies think of next??!
Jan. 24, 2017, 9:10 pm
mtblbrwn from bushwick says:
This is puzzling. We had two of these installed in front of my apartment building about a year and a half ago. They provided a nice improvement to the overall look of our end of the block and I'm excited for the trees to get a bit taller so that there is more shade in the summer. They planted many varieties of native flowers so that there were blooms from spring to fall. They haven't eliminated any parking whatsoever. Not all types of trees create problems with roots and with the right selection, I would think that adding trees would add value to their homes.

The only issue that I have noticed with them is the tendency for trash to collect in them on windy, winter days when the foliage is reduced. The city has been fairly good about picking out the trash, but could be better. I imagine in a more suburban, residential part of Queens that problem would be virtually nonexistent. Ours happen to be right next to curb-side trash pick-up.
Jan. 24, 2017, 11:42 pm
D from Qns says:
Keep them in Bklyn if you love them so much!!
Who pays for the broken sidewalks that installers and roots break up?? The homeowner gets the bill!!!
Jan. 25, 2017, 4:34 pm
Terence from Bayside says:
This area already has plenty of bioswales. We call them front and back yards. We also have a lot of large parkland. As a result, we have a much higher percentage of open land here in Bayside than in Downtown Brooklyn, for example. Consequently, we are already absorbing our fair share of rainwater, thank you very much.
I live on a block that is prone to basement flooding when clogged catch basins back up. The seepage comes in from every direction, including down. Intentionally pouring up to 5000 gallons of water directly into a giant bio-sponge adjacent to my property is only going to make this a routine, rather than occasional problem. IT IS NOT GOING TO HELP. Take the money earmarked for this initiative and clean or upgrade the sewers in open areas like Bayside. Homeowners deserve an opt-out because although there are many places where these things will work, there are also many places where they won't. More care needs to be taken in choosing their locations. My basement was not designed to be a storage facility for storm runoff.
The drilling crews in my neighborhood report that there is a very high percentage of clay in the soil here up to ten feet deep and it is not absorbing water sufficiently fast to make a bioswale practical. If the DEP does it's job as advertised, these locations will fail and no further work will be done.
The engineers know that if the water ponds here, mosquitoes will become a very real concern.

BTW, People concerned with the possible increase in mosquitoes such projects might create near their property should see the study done in Delaware at:
Feb. 6, 2017, 12:33 pm

Comments closed.


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