In the News: Roundup

by Anne Schwartz, June, 2000

Final Stages of Brooklyn Bridge Park

The final master plan for the Brooklyn Bridge Park will be presented in mid-June. Earlier in the spring, after a six-month process that included numerous public workshops, the park planners presented the draft design for the 1.3-mile-long waterfront park. The reaction was reported to be positive from the Port Authority, which owns the piers where much of the park would be built. Some Brooklyn Heights residents remain concerned about an increase in pedestrian traffic on Joralemon Street, a residential street that would be the only access route to the park from Brooklyn Heights; park planners have met with the residents, but the issue has not been fully resolved. Meanwhile, park advocates have been working to build support for the park as well as to get more people down to the waterfront even before it is built.

Litterers Beware!

The Parks Department launched an anti-littering campaign in May, hoping to change our wayward ways with trash. New Yorkers are champion litterers, as anyone who has visited the parks on a summer Monday morning knows. The Parks department says it picks up nearly 1,300 cubic yards of litter every day, a fact that it will dramatize with cubic-yard-sized plexiglas boxes (a new form of art installation?) The campaign is stressing public education, including children's anti-littering contests and clean-up projects. The department is posting signs in five languages warning of $100 fines for littering. Large groups that are required to hold permits will have their permits revoked if they leave a mess, as well as forfeit their clean-up bonds. It is not clear, however, whether there will be additional enforcement. On Staten Island, Borough President Guy Molinari launched his own anti-litter initiative two weeks earlier, but with more teeth: the assignment of ten specially designed sanitation cruisers as well as ticketing by the police.

Parade Grounds' New Duds

The construction of a new football field will kick off the restoration of the dismal playing fields in Brooklyn's Parade Grounds. Renovation plans also include new soccer, softball, baseball, and multi-purpose fields, basketball courts, a concession stand and a new playground. Drainage problems will be addressed and several fields will be covered with a new low-maintenance artificial turf. It is a happy ending to a controversy that erupted when the City decided to build a temporary minor-league stadium in the park. Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden blocked the plan, refusing a compromise in which the City would have paid for fixing up the entire Parade Grounds. Now Golden has come through with $10 million that will make the complete restoration possible.

Anne Sounds Off

Anyone who cares about parks and open space and outdoor recreation should be drumming up support for a landmark piece of legislation now working its way through Congress. In May the House voted to dedicate, for the first time, nearly $3 billion a year in offshore oil revenue to a variety of park, wildlife and recreational needs, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The receipts would go into a trust and could not be diverted elsewhere. The measure, called the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA), passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support, despite opposition from the House Republican leadership.

Beginning in 1964, when the LWCF was established, royalties from offshore oil and gas leases were supposed to go to federal land acquisition and matching grants to states for local parks and recreation. A fund called the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program (UPARR) was later set up to give matching grants for recreation projects in the inner cities. But in reality, oil receipts have been included in the general federal revenue that gets divvied up during the annual appropriations process, and actual funding for parks and recreation has never been close to what was authorized. Even so, many significant open space acquisitions and recreational projects in the New York were made possible by LWCF money -- a listing is available on the web site of Americans for Our Heritage and Recreation.

Looking at LWCF-funded projects in the five boroughs over the past thirty-five years, there is a noticeable pattern: many projects funded in the late 60s through the 70s, fewer in the 80s, virtually nothing in the 90s. For four years in the late 90s, Congress appropriated zero dollars state in matching grants.

If CARA becomes law, federal spending for conservation could not be held hostage to politics during the budget process. Every year the LWCF would automatically get $900 million, with half going to the states. Of this, $102 million would go to New York State, including $28 million for land acquisition. UPARR would receive $125 million annually.

CARA has broad public support, but could face opposition in the Senate, particularly from a small but vocal group of property-rights advocates. The bill is scheduled to be marked up in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in mid-June. With only about 40 working days left in this session of Congress, early consideration by the full Senate is important if the legislation is to be finalized this year.