February 5, 2023

An environmental victory for the Bronx

Restoring Tibet Brook: An Environmental Victory for the Bronx

Mascota Marsh, Harlem River, Henry Hudson Bridge, Sputnik Deauville train station, and some Bronx apartment buildings as seen from Inwood Hill Park.
Picture: Beyond my Ken

Much of New York City’s ecosystem has been paved over, reconfigured, and destroyed. But nature persists and sometimes teaches us that it is better to live in harmony with it and literally “go with the flow”. Tibbetts Brook once drained into the Harlem River, but to make way for land development in the Bronx, it was buried underground and discharged into the New York City sewer system. On days when it rains heavily, river water and sewage overwhelm the capacity of the city’s sewage treatment plants, and raw sewage is released into the Harlem River. The solution is to divert or “daylight” the creek, and since the water is clean, it can bypass the sewer system and discharge directly into the Harlem River. Van Cortlandt Park Alliance The website provides a detailed description of the problem:

Tibbets Brook is a body of water that flows from Yonkers to the Bronx in Van Cortlandt Park. The water is now partially flowing in pipes under roads, while other parts are visible in Yonkers and Van Cortlandt Park. The creek ends at Hester & Piero Mill Pond (formerly Van Cortlandt Lake) and enters the sewer system for unnecessary treatment. On a dry day, 4 to 5 million gallons of water enter the sewer system from the creek. The combination of water from the creek and the sewer system causes overflow problems for the sewer system during rainfall. These events are also known as combined sewer overflow events (CSO) … Tibbetts Brook unnecessarily adds to the sewer system. [since it is not sewage]Therefore, environmental activists have supported its removal from the sewer network and “brightening the day”. Daylighting of a body of water is the process of transferring water that has been diverted to an underground pipe above ground and adding components to increase the space.

Community groups in the Bronx have advocated for the project since the 1990s, and last week, Gov. Adams cleared the final hurdle to brighten the river’s opening and expand the greenway that surrounds the revamped waterway. According to It’s Gothams Jacqueline Jeffrey-Wilinsky:

The city will pay more than $11 million to CSX Transportation for the strip of abandoned railroad tracks where the “daylight” waterway will run. It is stated in the notice. The project had been stalled for years while the two sides went back and forth over the cost of the property … Tibbetts Brook, named Moshulu by the Lenape people, once it flows freely through the Bronx and empties into the Harlem River. Over the centuries, parts of the waterway have been dammed, buried underground, and rerouted through the sewer system… Local advocates have also called on the city to build a park along the newly cleared riverbanks, adding to the park. Connect Putnam Greenway and Van Cortlandt Park. Designs “By city parks and conservation departments, they feature trails where residents can walk, run and bike, flanked by pocket wetlands and waterway views.”

The event that helped make this dream of green infrastructure a reality was the rainfall from the remnants of Hurricane Ida that hit New York City in September 2021. The city experienced a severe rainstorm that not only overloaded the sewage treatment system, but also caused heavy rainfall. Also, the flood of Digan highway caused cars and trucks to be stuck for hours. Report on Tibbetts’ proposal at New York Times In late 2021, reporters Vinnie Hugh and James Thomas observed that:

“The Tibbetts Brook Daylight Project will be one of the city’s most ambitious green infrastructure projects. The creek meanders above ground for a mile—including along a former railroad track that becomes a new greenway—before descending for half a mile in a new dedicated pipe to the Harlem River below. The land should be returned.

The project’s $130 million price tag wasn’t the biggest problem getting it started. The problem was the price of abandoned train tracks owned by CSX Transportation. The Adams administration decided to pay CSX most of what it wanted because of the sheer logic of the plan and, I suspect, a realization of the project’s starkly positive financial benefits, even with the added costs of land acquisition. CSX should be ashamed of holding the Bronx environment hostage, especially given these kind words Their website:

CSX makes a positive impact in the communities in which we operate by being responsible, creating economic opportunity and giving back. Each year, CSX awards millions of dollars in grants and in-kind contributions to nonprofit organizations. “We also offer community service opportunities for our employees and their families.”

They are proud to announce that they are on Newsweek’s “Most Responsible Companies” list. Yes, they are Responsible to receive $11 million from New York City for abandoned train tracks. Details of the company’s behavior last November in a Riverdale Press piece by piece Sachi McClendon.

On our warmer planet, New York City can expect many extreme weather events. Given the imperviousness of many city surfaces, we need to do more to capture, store and direct water away from places where flooding can do the most damage. Hurricane Ida not only flooded the Bronx, but more than a dozen people died in illegally converted basement apartments in Queens, where five inches of rain fell in an hour. The project is one of many efforts to develop green infrastructure projects that will build New York City’s ability to withstand the effects of climate change. According to New York City Department of Environmental Protection 2021 Green Infrastructure Report:

In 2021, DEP provided a list of constructed assets A total of 1181 green acres and 507 million gallons per Year (MGY) CSO Volume Reduction for Green Infrastructure Program Rate Milestone Certification 1.5%. More than 9,100 assets, built through more than 50 individual construction contracts, achieved certification, demonstrating the tremendous effort that has gone into achieving the goal… As of early 2022, the program is over 1.09 billion dollars of capital has been committed since fiscal year 2012 and Approximately $771 million is currently budgeted fiscal year 2032.”

Efforts are also being made by the Department of Transportation and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, as well as private developers, to reduce the number of paved surfaces in these five areas. These projects reduce the risk of flooding, but also add green spaces and carbon-absorbing plantings that can help mitigate climate change. They also provide parking for neighborhoods not traditionally served by our parking system. One of the goals of the Bloomberg-era sustainability plan was to ensure that every New Yorker lived within a 10-minute walk of a park. According to Trust for Public Lands:

“New York is home to some of the most iconic parks in the world. From Central Park to the Federal Gateway National Recreation Area—and every neighborhood park in between—99 percent of New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of a publicly accessible green space. Residents visit their parks more than 527 million times a year.

While no one would mistake New York City for an urban ecotopia, the 21st century has seen tremendous progress in understanding the importance of adding green space and utilizing ecosystem services in New York City. Mayor Adams is grappling with enormous financial challenges, from the post-pandemic economic recovery to the costs of absorbing thousands of immigrants. Yet somehow in this environment, he managed to provide the funding needed to get the Tibbetts Brook project back on track. It keeps our water cleaner and creates miles of new green space in the South Bronx. Thirty years of advocacy by environmental groups and community-based parks in the Bronx has resulted in this amazing victory for people and the planet. Mayor Adams is to be commended for making this investment in the Bronx and its bright future.

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