On June 3, more than 110 community members attended a visioning session to collect public input. The event was organized by environmental group Riverkeeper, which worked with the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) and design firm Perkins+Will.
“The goal of the vision plan is to consolidate a cohesive vision for the creek so we know what we want it to look like in years to come,” said Chrissy Remein, Riverkeeper’s project coordinator. “We’re looking at Newtown Creek by way of remediation, restoration, recreation and resilience.”
She hopes the plan, funded by a grant and expected to be completed by the end of 2017, will develop a vision of Newtown Creek as a fishable, accessible and enjoyable asset to the community.
“It’s building upon past visioning exercises that have happened to outline community preferences for years to come,” added Willis Elkins, co-chair of the Newtown Creek CAG.
Remein said while they’re still synthesizing the feedback, the general priorities were clear: residents want access to a safe body of water.
Mike Aziz, an urban planning expert with Perkins+Will, said the firm has been working with the community since 2012. He was impressed with the level of engagement, considering the complicated issues around Newtown Creek.
“What this community understands is how interrelated all of these are,” Aziz said. “The community event did a great job in bringing all of those core issues to the forefront and allowing the community to come and speak freely and brainstorm.”
The design firm will contribute both a “depth of understanding” about the site and visualization and communication for the plan, he said.
“In the report, we’re creating visuals, graphics, renderings of what these ideas could be,” he said. “Things that could really capture the spirit and the potential in this place.”
Remein said she expects the completed vision plan to come out in December. It will be published online with some interactive mapping components.
The report will list of all of the options that residents have suggested for possible future actions. Elkins said the specific recommendations will be given to city agencies and the five responsible parties, Phelps Dodge, Texaco, BP, National Grid and ExxonMobil, that are in charge of the cleanup.
In the meantime, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies will continue its Superfund process and the Long-Term Control Plan, two actions that seek to remediate the polluted waterway.
The Superfund process is the EPA’s procedure for remediating chemical toxins and legacy contaminants. The Long-Term Control Plan (LTCP) primarily deals with bacteria and other pollution from raw sewage going into Newtown Creek.
“There are technical differences, but from the community’s standpoint, both these processes are critical,” Elkins said. “It’s critical that the EPA and the state get both of these right to ensure a creek that’s fully accessible and basically as clean as possible for the community for generations to come.”
Riverkeeper is planning another visioning session in the fall. Until then, they’re still seeking public input and comments about the future of the creek.
“This is not Riverkeeper’s vision, it’s the community’s vision,” Remein said. “We’re working to provide this menu of options that we can bring to those parties who have control over and have a stake in the creek.”