July 18, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
Elected officials and local leaders held a rally in Long Island City Friday calling on the city and state to repair a badly damaged section of the Newtown Creek.
The rally took place in front of the Dutch Kills Tributary near 29th Street, where large chunks of a retaining wall surrounding the creek have collapsed, causing concrete and debris to spill into the waterway.
The demonstrators say that the damaged bulkhead has polluted the waterway with dumped tires, concrete blocks, and other historic fill. The collapse, campaigners say, has also created dangerous instability in the adjacent roadway – located just three feet away from the unstable shoreline.
They demanded the three governmental agencies — the state Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the city Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) which owns the adjacent land — immediately address the deteriorating containment walls.
The campaigners presented renderings of redesign proposals showing how the agencies could create a new shoreline around the Dutch Kills Tributary that adds a public access point to the waterfront. It also incorporates native species and habitat restoration.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Councilmember Julie Won, members of the volunteer group the Newtown Creek Alliance and LaGuardia Community College President Kenneth Adams attended the rally. Juan Ardila, who won the Democratic primary for the Assembly District 37 seat in June, also participated in the event along with a number of environmental activists.
“This shoreline is in need of investment if it’s going to reach its full potential,” Richards said.
“It needs to be restored… to be made accessible for everyone to enjoy, helping families in our community thrive for generations to come. We are calling on our agencies to get their act together, now is not a time for bureaucracy, now is the time for the cure.”
The Newtown Creek Alliance, a local non-profit group which aims to revitalize the creek, presented renderings of redesign proposals which they say would transform the area into an environmentally friendly site. The project would also create much-needed open space for local students attending La Guardia College, which is located across the street.
The designs show large boulders and terraced seating placed in front of the repaired bulkhead. There is also a salt marsh area which advocates say would improve water quality and provide habitats for marine ecology like mussels that remove fecal bacteria from the water.
The plans also call for a canoe and kayak launch at the site.
Furthermore, two rusting, abandoned barges that have been docked in the creek for years would also be removed as part of the plans.
Willis Elkins, the executive director of the Newtown Creek Alliance, called on the NYSDEC, the DOT and the MTA to urgently act on the matter.
“We need full buy-in from the agencies… to transform this state-owned shoreline area from a public liability to a community asset,” Elkins said.
“We are eager to work together and make this transformation a reality.”
The rally comes nearly five months after the group penned a letter to the three agencies calling for the creek to be repaired.
In response to the Feb. 17 dated letter, the MTA and DOT said they were working on plans to address the issues at the creek.
The MTA reiterated that same position in a statement to the Queens Post Monday.
“We are working with state and city partners to ensure there is a comprehensive plan of action to protect the roadway and integrity of the bulkhead by mitigating any future deterioration,” a spokesperson for the MTA said. The agency did not provide any further details on the matter.
Meanwhile, the Queens Post reached out to the DOT and the NYSDEC for comment Monday but has yet to receive a response. In February the DOT committed to limiting overweight vehicles on the adjacent roadway.
Nevertheless, Won on Friday called on the agencies to immediately clean out the creek and said that residents deserve access to the space. She said that since the site is publicly owned, it should be used by the public.
The lawmaker also said that the NYCON concrete company has been dumping its concrete waste into the creek for years. The company’s premises surrounds the north and west side of the Dutch Kills Tributary.
“This [site] has been unusable for so many years, and yet the MTA has still chosen to take inaction,” Won said.
“We will not idly stand by any longer to allow illegal dumping or illegal squatting on public land.”
“We have so many of us here saying enough is enough.”
Won and Richards also signed the Feb. 17 letter along with Rep. Carolyn Maloney, State Sen. Michael Gianaris, Assembly Member Cathy Nolan, the president of LaGuardia Community College, various local business owners and civic association leaders.