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Water tunnel project opposed.

The New York City Planning Commission has ordered the Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) to seriously consider other sites for a third water tunnel entrance shaft in Jackson Heights, Queens. The DEP had targeted a location on property owned by the Blumenfeld family that houses the Bulova Corporate Center, but met with vociferous objections from both the Blumenfelds and the community at large, as well as elected officials.

The Blumenfelds are concerned any tunnel work would jeopardize plans to construct 1 million square feet of offices, hotel, garage and a multiplex cinema as a second phase of development at the corporate park. Additionally, they believe the blasting work necessary to carve out the 800-foot six-shafted tunnel would impair the computer usage by the numerous corporations that currently have offices in the buildings.

"We feel we don't want the water tunnel there," said David Blumenfeld, vice president of the Blumenfeld Development Group, the owner of the corporate park. "It's not the appropriate site and we are looking forward to this being put to bed."

Over 2,000 people work at Bulova for corporations including British Airways, Met Life, Time Warner and Allstate.

The second phase of the Bulova development has already been approved by the community board and Blumenfeld is awaiting further changes in the ever-improving economy to move ahead. The proposal by the DEP would have interfered with those plans, Blumenfeld charged.

Prior to the Planning Commission meeting, DEP Commissioner Marilyn Gelber met with Bulova executives and Queens Borough President Claire Shulman and subsequently instructed the Bureau of Engineering to try to find another site. DEP spokesperson Ian Michaels said they have not ruled out the Bulova site entirely because they are not yet positive they can find a suitable alternative. The Bulova site was the ninth site that had been investigated.

"This is a particularly thorny one," said Michaels. "This is the most opposition we've had because most of the time, the [shaft] end up in industrial areas and that is part of the reason the Bulova site was so attractive."

Both Community Board 3 and Shulman voted against the DEP's plan to locate water shaft 17B in what is now a Bulova corporate parking lot. The property lies at 25th Avenue between the Brooklyn--Queens Expressway and 75th Street. The remand by the City Planning Commission will derail the shaft project at least for the time being.

According to Michaels, the proposed $166 million shaft would be 800 feet deep and take about four years to complete. This is not just a simple shaft, or even a construction shaft, he explained, but a complex site where two phases of the third water tunnel project will intersect. A total of six shafts must be sunk, with two of them reaching the surface. An elaborate valve chamber will control the water between the tunnels. To operate the valve, a machine will turn it 100,000 times, Michaels said - a 24-hour process.

The tunnel project requires that shafts be sunk about every mile, Michaels continued, so that water can be drawn up to the surface for distribution to Jackson Heights homes and businesses. "You can't just move this tunnel to Astoria," he said, "because Astoria already has one."

This was the ninth Jackson Heights site DEP considered, since others either interfered with a community activity or were unacceptable from an engineering standpoint. DEP settled on this site because it was in an industrial area and was so confident, Michaels noted, it started the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), which brought the plan before the Community Board and Shulman's office for approval.

The $5 billion tunnel itself is designed to improve water service to Queens. Upon completion, the DEP would empty the two other water tunnels, which date from 1917 and 1936, and inspect them for damage.

Meanwhile, community leaders say the work on the proposed shaft would require constant dynamiting and transportation of debris through neighborhood streets. The nearby Brooklyn-Queens Expressway reconstruction, expected to take about five years would overlap the water shaft work by at least six months, while the light rail system construction, expected to bring passengers from Manhattan to the Queens airports, would also be underway over the next decade.

At the Planning Commission meeting, said Blumenfeld spokesperson Tom Butler, elderly residents complained that while being subjected to ten years of ongoing construction might seem minor to the members, it could be that these senior citizens would be spending the rest of their lives with their neighborhood under construction.

Other sites are on the DEP's menu and project objectors are certain another satisfactory location can be selected.

Butler noted the Bulova site is within an area designated by the Federal Aviation Administration that must conform to height restrictions so as not to interfere with air traffic. When the Bulova center was built, he said, the Blumenfelds worked with the FAA. A tall crane is also used during the construction of the tunnel shafts to lower equipment and personnel. Michaels said the shaft construction crane would be about 40 to 50 feet tall and would probably be within the FAA hazard rules for that locale.

According to an FAA spokesperson, for every 100 feet a project lies from the nearest point of a runway, an object can go up one foot. At 20,000 feet or 3.79 miles away, an item like a crane or building can project 200 feet, but that number includes any additional ground height above the airport. Since the FAA considers locations on a latitude and longitude basis, he was unsure how high a crane could go on the Bulova site. It does, however, lie less than one mile from a major LaGuardia runway and an object can only go up 52.8 feet one mile away.
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Title Annotation:New York, New York
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:May 18, 1994
Words:963
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