Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund hosts third annual open house

October 17, 2018 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left, Martha Holstein, Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, North Brooklyn Community Organizer Ben Solotaire. Eagle photos by Andy Katz

The Greenpoint Community Environmental Fund [GCEF] took advantage of a gorgeous autumn afternoon to hold its third annual open house at Monsignor McGolrick Park.

Tables lined the park’s classic Shelter Pavilion, representing an array of local environmental organizations. Among them were the North Brooklyn Boat Club, New York City Audubon Society, McGolrick Park Neighborhood Alliance, the Open Space Alliance, PS 110, MS 126, the Greenpoint Monitor Museum, Audubon New York, Greenpoint Eco Schools, the Greenpoint Public Library, the Horticultural Society of New York and several other green-focused organizations.

“This is a warbler,” Richard Santangelo of Audubon NY explained after examining a cellphone photo brought in by a local resident. “They’re migratory birds. Around this time, they start fattening up for winter.”

Lena Greenberg of the North Brooklyn Boat Club presided over a tub of brackish Newtown Creek water. Inside were tiny darting fish and small crabs, swimming in the sample from the club’s Living Dock, a wooden square set to float in the western portion of the creek. “You can get to it from the pier,” Greenberg explained, pointing to an enlarged map of the creek with key access points illustrated. Although active mostly in the warmer months, the club’s Living Dock is open year-round.

NYC Audubon representative Kathryn Heinz encouraged those interested in “green roofs” to attend an Oct. 19 discussion to be held at 520 Kingsland Ave., where Marni Marjorelle and Tony Argento’s GCEF-funded project Kingsland Wildflowers has served as a model for green roofs throughout the city and beyond.

“Councilman Espinal will be on hand,” Heinz said, “along with Stephen Levin and Donovan Richards. The idea is to find ways to make the tax incentives offered by the state easier to obtain. Right now, there are a lot of hoops to jump through for any business or entrepreneur that wants to participate. So, the program could grow a lot faster if these incentives were expedited.”

GCEF is a $19.5 million-dollar grant created by the NYS Attorney General’s office, the Department of Environmental Conservation and ExxonMobil as a settlement for an oil spill that contaminated the Newtown Creek, along with much of North Brooklyn.

In addition to Kingsland Wildflowers and the Living Dock, GCEF has funded floating classrooms on the Newtown Creek, restoration in McGolrick Park, Green Tweens STEM Summer Programs, community compost programs, a green education shed at the North Brooklyn Boat Club Dock, the Greenpoint Remediation Program and dozens more projects, designs and studies.

The fund will continue to run through June of 2019, after which any ongoing projects will be left to volunteers or alternate sources of funding.

“Once the money runs out we will totally keep the garden alive,” said PS 110 PTA President Tiffaney McCannon, referring to the school’s Pollinator Garden, another GCEF project. “One lasting effect of GCEF has been to bring like-minded people to the surface in the past two-and-a-half years. They’ve done good work, and we hope we’ll be able to continue in that vein.”

“So now it’ll be a matter of whether the sustainability programs can be sustainable,” added Michael Kawochka with a laugh.

“That’s right,” McCannon nodded. “We need to hire a sustainability coordinator, but much of the rest of the work can be done by volunteers.”

Kyle Hett and Garry London, who live across from McGolrick Park, were excited to bring their two-year-old child Elwood to the park playground’s opening. The family said they had been waiting for this moment.

“The Library and the playground both being closed was like a one-two punch,” said London, as the family prepared to walk over and give the freshly restored site a proper work out. “I was told,” said London, “that nannies and kids were climbing over the fence yesterday they were so eager to try it out after waiting so long.”

The playground was already a hive of preschool activity, as parents watched their children navigate a long, elevated platform or play in tiny houses, one of which had a genuine telescope and red and green mailbox attached. Surfaces were clean and smooth and very colorful, with just enough detail to engage the youngsters while also leaving plenty of room for imagination and interpretation.

As GCEF approaches its final six months, North Brooklyn residents will be confronted with the disappearance of some of the programs that have improved quality of life in one of North America’s most toxic residential communities. Said Greenpoint Parks Project Coordinator of the Open Space Alliance Konstancja Maleszynska, “People will clamor for many of these programs to continue … There is so much left to do.”

Now that residents have experienced the effects of thoughtful remediation up close, it is to be hoped they’ll find ways to step up, continue and even expand the work that started just a few years ago.