Public access to the Jerome Park Reservoir could very well be headed to permanent public access pending the outcomes of a pilot program scheduled to begin sometime in September of this year. / Photo Credit and courtesy - Gary Axelbank
Public access to the Jerome Park Reservoir could very well be headed to permanent public access pending the outcomes of a pilot program scheduled to begin sometime in September of this year. / Photo Credit and courtesy – Gary Axelbank

Last night at a meeting for the Croton Facility Management Committee, the Commissioner Emily Lloyd of New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection surprised all in attendance that the agency will move forward with a pilot program granting public access to The Jerome Park Reservoir—one of The Bronx’s greatest treasures that has been cut off from the public for some 20 years now. (see transcript from last night’s meeting here in pdf format)

“This was a surprising, if not a totally shocking development, something those of us who have been working on this for a long time never expected. After all we had been thorough over this, I remarked to a few people afterwards it’s like we had just entered some alternative universe.” commented Gary Axelbank host of New York City’s longest running talk show, BronxTalk and a resident living in front of the reservoir.

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Axelbank added, “As recently as a month ago the commissioner made it clear to me that there were many impediments to this and one of the asst. commissioners said point blank at a previous meeting and behind the scenes to someone i know that public access to JPR was essentially not going to happen. so many of us were prepared for a long meeting. i’m not sure (nor do i care) what caused the change of mind, but this is the right thing for the Bronx, that’s for sure.”

This is a victory for Bronx residents as many parts of our borough lack direct access to one of our most precious resources and that is our waterfront and bodies of water.

Now while this is not a guarantee whatsoever that this will ever come to fruition beyond the pilot program, which is currently being discussed to begin sometime in September, for now we can celebrate the fact that DEP has done a complete about face on the issue.

During the pilot program, access will be limited to 2 hours of walking, biking around the reservoir in between the fences surrounding it, walking tours of groups of up to 25 people per tour to provide a history of the reservoir, and also educational programs in conjunction with local schools by developing special curricula on surround the Jerome Park Reservoir. Access has been denied due to safety concerns for New York City’s water supply.

“Improved public access to the Jerome Park Reservoir will not only create new recreation activities in our borough, it will help unite communities across the Northwest Bronx. I congratulate the elected officials, community boards and dedicated activists whose work has helped make this announcement possible, and I look forward to walk around the reservoir this fall,” said Borough President Diaz in a press release issued by his office.

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Protected paths that are currently off limits around the Jerome Park Reservoir / Image Courtesy Gary Axelbank

Diaz Jr, along with New York State Senator Jeff Klein and NYS Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz joined forces, with great community support, to back legislation that would declare Jerome Park Reservoir a public park according to the press release issued by the BP’s office.

One thing that many may or may not remember, the original location for the controversial and filtration plant was actually the Jerome Park Reservoir itself that would have eliminated this beautiful and iconic body of water that is part of the fabric of The Bronx and the Northwest Bronx in particular.

Eventually the filtration plant was constructed in Van Cortlandt Park and was completed 9 years behind scheduled (original target date was 2006) and way beyond the original estimate of $800 million which ballooned to $3.2 billion dollars footed by taxpayers.

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr added in his press release:

“This is incredibly welcome news, and something my office has advocated for over the past few years. Jerome Park Reservoir is a historic gem of the Northwest Bronx, yet for too long access to its paths has been denied to the public for a variety of reasons. The announcement by Emily Lloyd, commissioner of the City’s Department of Environmental Protection, to begin the process of expanding public access to the Jerome Park Reservoir is incredibly welcome, and I look forward to helping plan and implement access for the reservoir in the fall,” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

Borough President Diaz added, “It is my hope that this announcement is the first step towards greater, permanent access to this incredible amenity.”

Protected paths that are currently off limits around the Jerome Park Reservoir / Image Courtesy Gary Axelbank
Protected paths that are currently off limits around the Jerome Park Reservoir / Image Courtesy Gary Axelbank

The ultimate irony about this statement is that residents of the South Bronx have been fighting for the same amenities to waterfront access along the Harlem River where FreshDirect continues to plan to build a massive facility—something which the area has been fighting against due to overwhelming issues with asthma and quality of life issues, particularly poor access and lack of access to open spaces.

The community has even come up with a comprehensive waterfront plan backed by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and was given priority by the New York State Deparment of Environmental Conservation known as the Mott Haven-Port Morris Waterfront Plan.

All people in our borough deserve equitable access to green spaces especially those that are public land such as the Harlem River Yards where FreshDirect plans to build their headquarters.

Let’s hope that we can use this small yet huge victory in the Northwest Bronx to set a precedent for access to other spaces that our residents are clamoring for.

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Protected paths that are currently off limits around the Jerome Park Reservoir / Image Courtesy Gary Axelbank

In the meantime, Gary Axelbank had a few important words to impart to the community:

“The most important thing for us to know is that when the pilot access is permitted, that we have a lot of people peacefully and responsibly make the most of it and enjoy it. the more people who do that, the better chance there will be to do things on a more permanent basis. that’s going to be crucial.”

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