Thursday, March 25th 2010, 1:00 PM
The city is running out of excuses for continuing to keep the area around the Jerome Park Reservoir fenced off, according to local residents, who say the reasons offered so far don't hold water.
The 125-acre area around the reservoir has been fenced off since World War II, but in 1994, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Parks Department agreed that the outer fence would eventually come down, according to Anne Marie Garti, head of the Jerome Park Conservancy, which brokered the deal.
In 2004, when the state Legislature offered $200 million for Bronx parks improvements to overcome local opposition to a new filtration plant, $5 million of that funding was earmarked for a recreational path around the reservoir.
Since then, however, DEP has backed off its original commitment and now says the agency is on the fence about the fence around the reservoir.
"The commissioner is in the process of making a determination and he's looking at all the options," said DEP spokeswoman Mercedes Padilla.
At a recent meeting of the facilities monitoring committee for the Croton Filtration Plant project, attended by new DEP Commissioner Caswell Holloway, agency officials told residents that one reason they wanted to restrict public access was that chlorine - a dangerous chemical used in water treatment - would be stored at the site.
However, the environmental impact statement for the reservoir work stated several times that chlorine will not be stored at the site after the filtration plant is completed.
Previous DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd said a permanent perimeter fence was necessary to protect the city's water supply, suggesting that Jerome Park water flows directly to household faucets.
But Garti pointed out that the water would first flow through the Croton Water Treatment Plant.
Another reason DEP has given for keeping the fence is that its workers need the area clear in order to operate the active reservoir.
Garti, who has spent over 15 years fighting to reopen Jerome Park to the public, countered that DEP had no problem operating the Central Park Reservoir when it was active, despite droves of Manhattan joggers on its surrounding running path.
"Why do they have a problem doing it in the Bronx?" asked Garti. "I think they have a prejudice against the Bronx."