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Bioswales and sewer improvements in Brooklyn

by: RITA A. LEONARD - B.E.S. Representative Rhetta Drennan, right, explains to Brooklyn residents at an open house the impacts of green street structures, such as bioswales.Warm summer weather was ideal for sidewalk and street improvements. All across the Brooklyn neighborhood, curbs and corners at intersections have been measured, marked, and replaced with sloping access ramps, in accordance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Many corners also saw storm drain replacement, and the installation of nubbly yellow traction patches.

At the same time, planning for the “Tabor to the River Green Street and Sewer Project” came to the neighborhood. This natural stormwater management plan uses plants and soil to slow, filter, and clean the rainwater on the streets. The program improves water quality in rivers and streams, replenishes groundwater supplies, improves air quality, and frees up capacity in sewer pipes to carry more wastewater forward to treatment plants.

In Brooklyn, the Lower Powell Green Street and Sewer project will replace and upsize about 4,000 feet of aging sewer pipe, construct about 40 bioswales, and plant trees. The Bureau of Environmental Services is designing the project, and construction should begin in 2014.

Rhetta Drennan, BES Community Relation Representative, and Kate Hibschman, BES Environmental Tech II, held a neighborhood open house in August, offering an opportunity to talk to design staff and to view detailed project plans.

Bioswales – also called green street planters, or rain gardens – can be installed in existing parking strips or in redesigned curb extension structures. The plants are generally a mix of native and non-native wetland species, such as rushes and sedges, that tolerate wet winter soils and dry summers. They add urban green space and wildlife habitat, and offer increased safety for pedestrians and bicycles. However, they may eliminate some on-street parking.

At that open house, Drennan answered questions from homeowners who had received notices in the mail. She said the project is still in the design stage, and may be adjusted after considering neighborhood input. Most of the bioswales will be installed along S.E. 8th and 10th Avenues, and will be maintained at least twice a year by BES crews.

“We’re still collecting modeling data and public input,” Drennan said. “Wherever possible, we can reduce or adjust the sizes of the facilities. By keeping stormwater out of the sewer system, we save money by not transporting and treating more than we need to.”

Bioswales help filter out impurities before returning rainwater to the local water table. BES locates green street facilities where they will be most effective; but, based on street width and planting strips, underground utilities, and driveways, the city will likely site some structures in the on-street parking zones next to curbs.

Some homeowners without driveways said they are concerned about losing their street parking spaces. Drennan assured visitors that future neighborhood meetings would address design changes in the coming months. In the meantime, she can be contacted at 503/823-6006 – or via e-mail at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .