Rev. Gabriella Velardi-Ward
40 Wolkoff Lane
Staten Island, New York 10303
October 27, 2019
City Council Environmental Committee
New York, New York 10007
Greetings Council Member Constantinides and Staff,
You may not recall, but I testified before the Environmental Committee in April of 2018, concerning the possible loss of the 18 and possibly 30-acre Graniteville forested wetland aka the Graniteville Swamp in Staten Island. The South Ave Retail Project will destroy the only resilience against flooding this community has.
I stated at that time that in light of climate change, this wetland must be protected and saved. It is the only open green space in an area that is filled with air toxins. We have been out of the NYC approval process and have been in the State process for the last 1 ½ years. We are still fighting to protect it. And we are very concerned that if we lose it to this very large strip mall, our community, our property and our lives will be destroyed.
I’d like to mention again, my background because there are those in Staten Island who claim that we, the Coalition for Wetlands and Forests, which I lead, are making up our own facts and misleading the public. I have the education as well as the experience to name that comment, at best, a distraction. My architecture degree comes from Pratt Institute, one of the top ten architecture schools in the country. I know that because I spent two years on the Pratt Institute Board of Trustees. I graduated from Pratt, Summa Cum Laude. I later worked for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Capital Projects Division for 23 years, as an architectural designer and as a construction supervisor. In the late 1990s, I represented the Parks Department on the Mayor’s Office of Construction for Sustainable Construction. We were formulating policy for all NYC Agencies that ended in the requirement to follow LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)
In 1999, I was transferred into construction where among other projects, I supervised the re-construction at Gracie Mansion. One of my last projects before retirement, was at Midland Beach, Staten Island, right on the beach. The project called for the cutting down of the trees and shrubs on the property. I was the Resident Engineer before, during and after Hurricane Sandy. I saw firsthand, the destruction that was caused by that storm. I saw homes destroyed and peoples lives lost. Because the trees had been cut down, there was no buffer against the force filled storm surge. 24+ people died in Midland Beach.
According to the FEMA maps, which indicate flooding that has already occurred and projected flooding, the north west corner of Staten Island is in as much danger as the south shore was and will be. And there is no talk of protecting it. NY City Planning put out a Flood Risk Mapper. It’s interactive. You can change the map according to the year and find other information. It shows the whole City but you can zoom in on any area in the city and find the flood risk. The Map indicates that, in this corner of Staten Island, there will be a higher risk of high tide flooding than was ever thought of before and that will happen by the year 2020! By 2050, this whole north west corner will be at higher risk of flooding, all the way from Kill van Kull to Arthur Kill. And the City is not planning on protecting this area. In fact, the City has approved the destruction of the only resilience we have in Graniteville. Here is the link to that Flood Risk Mapper:
We, Coalition for Wetlands and Forests, CWF, have been organizing the community and educating them since the summer of 2017. When we started this work, we were extremely surprised at how many people did not know what was being planned. We went door to door leaving flyers. We were a presence on the corner of Amador Street and South Avenue every Saturday morning educating people. We were there for over a year. We visited junior high and high schools. We held four educational forums on Climate Change and flooding, on how to survive a flood with NYC Emergency Management, and the last one, this past July, with Carl Alderson from NOAA and Ellis Calvin from RPA. We showed slides, videos and we talked about climate change and its effects as well as the importance of wetlands in this age of climate change. We also talked about managed retreat. And we visited many of our electeds.
This past summer we in Graniteville, have had one or two torrential rain storms every week. I have been filming them. All the water moves toward the wetland. What will happen when there is no wetland and the proposed project is raised much higher in grade then the street level? Carl Alderson mentioned that there are streams and creeks now culverted emptying into the Graniteville wetland. He showed us that every underground waterway in this area is still emptying into the wetland. What will happen when there is no more wetland?
Here is the link to Carl’s talk:
Climate Change is already here and going faster than what was expected. One reason for that is the fact that as the ice melts from the poles and elsewhere, it releases greenhouse gases that was trapped in the ice for thousands of years. As the ice melts, CO2 and methane are being released and the effects are increasing at an exponential rate.
How could the ULURP process have let us down to this extent? How could the NY City Council have let us down and approve such a dangerous plan at a vote of fifty (50) for the Retail Project to one (1) against it because we were going to be flooded? The City approved DEIS as well as the FEIS were extremely flawed. There is a mobile home park to the west of the wetland it was not even mentioned in the EIS. The project was not compared to a no project scenario, so there was no effect on anything, traffic, air quality, aesthetics, quality of life etc. And there are many other flaws.
In this age of climate change, we can no longer have business as usual. We must address these issues with a new vision. If we are serious about climate change, the destruction it brings, and the dangers it brings to our next generations, private designers, contractors and developers must be held to the same standards as public designers, contractors and developers. If the public sector is held to climate change standards, the private sector must also be held accountable to those same standards. If we are serious about climate change, the Department of Buildings in their structural, electric, plumbing and HVAC reviews of contract drawings, must now include an environmental review, a climate change review, to make sure that the communities around the new project are not put in danger by climate change, now and into the future.
The IPCC from the UN gives us 12 years to slow down the climate change process, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. This will not help if just a few follow this warning. It will take all of us civilians and electeds. If we have children or grandchildren, if we love children or grandchildren, we must rethink our way of life for their sake.
I have included in this package many documents and photos concerning the Graniteville wetland/swamp. Some of our electeds who were elected to represent the people, are saying that they are not building in a wetland. I have included a photo of where the gas station and attendant gas storage tank is to go. It’s filled with water. What are we to think when comments like this are made? I’ve seen people die in Midland Beach with Sandy. I don’t want to go through that again. No one should have to. Flooding may not occur next month or in a year. We don’t know. That is the nature of climate change. It’s also called climate chaos. But when we are flooded, there will be many people to hold accountable.
Coordinator of the
Coalition of Wetlands and Forests
Members of the National
Anthropocene Alliance / Higher Ground