Nature’s ugliest eyesore - Fed up residents want Fresh Creek area cleaned up

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A Canarsie nature preserve continues to vex nearby residents, who say that it is more concrete jungle than urban oasis.

Instead of plump grasses and lush greenery, termites and trash thrive at the Fresh Creek Nature Preserve.

For months, Maria Garrett has been coming to Community Board 18, hoping to raise awareness to the issue—which remains inexplicably unresolved, she said.

“It has gotten worse. We are very frustrated,” she said.

The nature preserve surrounds the 74.3-acre Fresh Creek Basin, an area bounded by East 108th Street, Louisiana Avenue, Shore Parkway and Flatlands Avenue.

Residents have told this paper that the preserve, which sits on city-owned land, is poorly maintained, a problem that is made worse by students from the nearby Young Israel of Canarsie, who reportedly sneak on the preserve, smoke, and litter.

There was suspicion that the teens may have started a June 3 brush fire that forced firefighters to cut through a resident’s back fence to extinguish the blaze.

Garrett stressed that the yeshiva—whose rabbi she said vowed to rid itself of its ‘bad apples’—was not the root of the problem. The behavior of its students simply shed light on the deplorable conditions, she said.

“We didn’t see what was going on until they started going back there,” she said. “When we went back there, we said, ‘this is not how a nature preserve is supposed to look.’”

“That just opened our eyes,” she added.

Garrett said she was told by a fire marshal that the weeds must be cut down—otherwise, a strong wind could spread a raging inferno that could engulf people’s homes.

Captain Milt Marmara, the new commanding officer of the 69th Precinct, has said that the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation has promised to put up new signage that states that the nature preserve is off-limits to the public.

Parks maintenance crews routinely clean the Fresh Creek Nature Preserve off of East 108 Street of the debris that is illegally dumped, according to Philip Abramson, a Parks spokesperson.

“We have been working with the local police precinct and have met with the new commanding officer, Captain Milt Marmara and the rabbi of the nearby school,” he said.

The main concern of the complainants now isn’t the trash, but the they would like the entire marsh to be cleaned up and restored, he said.

“A project of this scope would require a full capital restoration and we don’t have funds currently in our budget for that purpose,” Abramson continued.

The community board has told the residents that they need to meet with their elected officials to see if resources could be allocated to initiate such a project, which Abramson said his agency is amenable to reviewing.

“In the meantime we will repair the fence that was damaged and hopefully nature will fill in the area that the kids were hanging out in,” Abramson said.

While the community board is on recess for the summer, Garrett vowed the fight to clean the preserve will not be taking time off.

“I’m not going to stop,” she said.

Dorothy Turano, the district manager of Community Board 18, said the board plans to send a letter to Parks, hoping to impress on the agency the need for sustained action, as well as seeking a clarification about which agency holds what responsibility.

“We will try our utmost to get them the attention they deserve,” Turano said.

The district manager said the responses so far have been confusing. “Who’s responsibility is it?” she asked.

“I empathize fully with [residents]. I understand their frustration. I really wish we can come up with a solution and an answer.”

Garrett’s 26-year-old daughter, Candice, said the problem has persisted for well over a year.

The hope, she said, is that the community board takes an active role in the future of the preserve.

“They have the power to alert people to what we want to happen there,” she said.

The most pressing problem, she said, is having the right agencies take responsibility for the nature preserve.

Community Board Chair Saul Needle summed up residents’ problem: “The state is telling you it’s the city. The city is telling you it’s the state. And both are going to tell you it is the feds.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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