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Health Scare Likely to Keep Hudson River Park Play Fountain Dry This Summer

By Mathew Katz | May 1, 2012 7:57am
The fountain at Pier 84 has been blocked off since last summer.
The fountain at Pier 84 has been blocked off since last summer.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

HELL'S KITCHEN — Tiny bacteria are putting a damper on summer fun.

A popular Hudson River Park water fountain that was shut down in the middle of last summer likely won't re-open anytime soon because the sprinkler system can't filter out miniscule organisms.

The Hudson River Park Trust shut down the fountain at Pier 84 last summer after representatives from the state Department of Health told them the fountain's water recycling system didn't filter out Cryptosporidium, a tiny parasite that can cause diarrhea, cramps and vomiting.

Now, the group is estimating the cost to install a UV filter into the ground-mounted sprinklers will be hundreds of thousands of dollars — cash the park doesn't have.

"The cost will be somewhere around $300,000," said A.J. Pietrantone, who heads up Friends of Hudson River Park, which fundraises for the park's maintenance and operations costs.

The fountain on the park's biggest pier first opened in 2006, less than a year before the state imposed new regulations in 2007 that required spray-parks to have UV filters, which kill Cryptosporidium.

The park voluntarily shut down the fountain after the Health Department brought the violation to its attention. The state Health Department has also cited a handful of other fountains around the city.

The regulations came in the wake of a 2005 outbreak at a water spray area at Seneca Lake State Park, where the parasite infected thousands of people. There have been no incidents of illness at Pier 84.

The plan to install the filters, which is still in the works, would involve ripping up the cement ground that houses the fountain's dozens of sprinklers, not to mention a long approval process.

"If people are expecting it to open by Memorial Day, that's probably doubtful," said Vivian Liao, a spokeswoman for the Hudson River Park Trust.

"We'd obviously love to have it as soon as possible."

Until the retrofit happens, the fountain will be surrounded by metal barricades and pylons warning people away from it.

"It looks like a jail, a cage," said William de Fonera, 48, who brought his 8-year-old son Billy to the park dozens of times last summer.

"It was safe then, why not now? I'm all for safe water, but this is useless here."

De Fonera added that Hell's Kitchen has so few sprinklers for kids to play in that elected and city officials should make the new filter a priority, no matter the cost.

That's exactly what the Hudson River Park Trust is hoping for as well. The Trust has put in a request to the city for some of the cash, and is also trying to rally support from Community Board 4.

"We are definitely looking to the elected officials for help," Liao said.

Pietrantone added that his organization is also trying to drum up support for the retrofit money.

For its part, the Department of Health is hoping to work with the park to make sure the fountain can re-open as soon as possible.

"The department is in discussions with the operators and we are waiting for them to submit their engineering plan to us for approval," said Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesman for the department.

But de Fonera said that any wait is too long.

"I'm hoping that it opens up again soon, but I don't think it will," said de Fonera.

"It's going to be one hot summer."