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$1M Wetland Proposed for East River Park

By Serena Solomon | January 3, 2013 7:31am

LOWER EAST SIDE — Migrating birds may soon have a plush new place for food and lodging as they pass through New York City.

The Lower East Side Ecology Center (LESEC), a recycling, composting and educational organization, is planning to develop a wetland ecosystem in the East River Park. The proposal, likely to cost about $1 million, would use gravel and native plants to naturally filter water while also providing food and shelter for local birdlife. 

"The wetland is really an opportunity to demonstrate alternatives on how to manage storm water or any dirty water," said Christine Datz-Romero, executive director of LESEC.

Datz-Romero is hoping to gain support for the idea, which has been in the works for two years, at a meeting of Community Board 3's parks committee next Thursday, Jan. 10.

The wetland would occupy part of the 1-acre area the center already uses for its composting program, located below the amphitheater in the park's southern end near Cherry Street, Datz-Romero explained.

"The wetland can be viewed as a cleaning system," she said. "We will be using water that we are generating from our composing process instead of discarding it."

Water leftover from vegetables, coffee grounds and other compost material would be channeled through layers of gravel and soil that are inhabited by cleaning organisms, eventually draining into a pond on the site.

The roots of native plants, such as dogwood, would also filter the water before it is collected in the pond.

"The birds travel along the waterways. and it is important for them to have access to fresh water," Datz-Romero noted.

The native plants would also provide much-needed food for the birds, she said.

But airborne animals won't be the only visitors to the fenced-off wetland. The LESEC will incorporate the site into its public education program and will have regular open hours for the general public.

"The idea [for the wetland] is compelling because our curriculum already deals with the city's water system," Datz-Romero said.

LESEC is intending to fundraise throughout 2013, aiming for City Council and state government funds, grants and private donations. The nonprofit hopes to begin construction of the wetland early in 2014.