People’s river

Dionisio Roza lives near 149th Street in the Bronx and comes to the Concrete Plant Park every day to fish in the Bronx River. Today he has caught a big Blue Fish, which he is planning to grill for his family for dinner. As the fishermen wait with their lines for a catch like Roza’s, children bike around and locals sit on the park benches by the river to catch up.

Even until a few years ago Roza did not think he would ever fish in the river. “All the fish had died, there was no fish to catch here,” he said. But today some of the wildlife is coming back—including herring and beaver.

In the 1970s the Bronx River had turned into a wasteland. The community slowly started reclaiming it in the 70s and started the cleanup work. Earlier this month Bronx River cleanup got $ 5 million in settlement money, which is a part of the $ 7 million settlement The Office of The Attorney General reached with Yonkers Raceway Corporation, and the towns of White Plains, Scarsdale, Mt. Vernon and Greenburgh accused of dumping waste into the river.

“They have polluted the river for so long, they are responsible for this and it is only justified that they pay,” said Charles Berenguer, a local amateur wildlife photographer who comes to the park with his grandchildren.

According to the locals, initially when the cleanup started the neighborhoods got together and pulled out debris as large as refrigerators, washing machines, shopping carts, tires and even cars.

“Before the 1990s people did not really recycle, so if they wanted to get rid of something they threw it into the river,” said Damian Griffin, Education Director at Bronx River Alliance, an organization that works to advocate, educate and bring together communities to save the Bronx River.

Community involvement has been a huge part of why the project and cleanups have been successful and why such a big settlement has come through. “You have a community that is interested, that demands, raises voice for what they feel is necessary and the policy follows,” said Griffin.

In large part the physical debris has been removed but the river, which runs 24 miles through the southeast Bronx and empties into the East River, still faces challenge of storm water runoff. Whenever it rains, the sewage from the streets, farmlands, lawns all go right to the river. Rainwater harvesting initiatives have started in the households where people are installing gallons to gather rainwater to use for household purposes. The settlement money will aid in the work that is underway to create wetlands to capture runoff from streets, lawns and farms so that polluted water is stopped from reaching the river.

However, Berenguer argues that in order for the river to remain clean people need to continue to feel ownership over the river. The Alliance is working on a Greenway project, which will be an almost 8-mile bike/pedestrian path and linear park along the Bronx River. Concrete Plant Park is only a year old but it has been very important in bringing the community around it together.

“Access to the river is very important—if you can’t go to the river you can’t care about it,” said Griffin. “If we want to save the river we have to connect people with the river.”

Picture caption:

The one-year-old Concrete Plant Park has been important in bringing the fishermen and locals together to discuss the importance of saving the Bronx River.