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Threatened: Activist Aaron Mair claims that a city plan to “restore” the scenic Tivoli Lake will actually destroy it.

Photo: Chet Hardin

Preserve the Preserve?

The plans to “restore” the long-neglected Tivoli Lake makes one activist nervous

Aaron Mair stepped over a felled tree and ducked under a branch that stretched across the overgrown trail in Tivoli Preserve. This is Mair’s trail. The W. Haywood Burns Environmental Education Center, Mair’s nonprofit environmental group, funded the trail’s $1 million construction in 2005, with no assistance from the city. When it was new, it looped uninterrupted around the preserve’s lake—two tracks of 4-by-4s set roughly four feet apart and filled in with stone. Now, there is little left of the trail. The rock bed has long been scattered. Most of the 4-by-4s are gone, burned in fires or kicked far off their original line. ATV joyriders from Colonie did most of the damage, Mair said, as the city did nothing to stop them from ripping through the park, leaving deep ruts in the trail. The rest of the damage, he said, was due to the city letting nature grow wild.

Tivoli Preserve is situated between I-90 and Livingston Avenue in Arbor Hill. It is a lush and overgrown 80 acres of forest and wetlands that surround a quiet, idyllic lake—a startling respite from the city streets and sidewalks that crowd up to its edges. Also startling is the state of disrepair the city has allowed the park to fall into. The city established the urban nature preserve in 1975, and Mair argued that it has done very little since to protect the extraordinary environment.

He called it a “perfect metaphor” for how the city treats Arbor Hill. Compare the disrepair of Tivoli to the careful care of Washington Park, he said, pointing out that Washington Park has a staff of more than two dozen maintenance workers attending to it—Tivoli, which is larger in size, has none. He walked farther, to the bank of Tivoli Lake, and stood on a mound of what looked like construction debris, at least 10 feet of brick and rubble that the city dumped there to build up the eastern bank of the reservoir.

“This is their idea of ecological sensitivity? This isn’t sound stewardship. This is damage,” Mair said. “I tell you what, if this is appropriate erosion control, I dare them to dump it into Washington Park. The Washington Park Neighborhood Association would kiss their ass.”

Ward 4 Common Councilwoman Barbara Smith, who represents part of Arbor Hill, agrees with Mair that the preserve has been left by the city to ruin. This week she sponsored legislation supporting a $1.2 million grant application for federal stimulus funds to “restore Tivoli Lake” and daylight sections of the Patroon Creek, which winds through the preserve in above-ground streambeds and underground culverts.

The Patroon begins at the western edge of Albany, coming close to the Rapp Road Landfill, where it takes on a sickening orange color, thanks to the dump’s oozing leachate. The creek then continues through the Pine Bush Preserve and along Central Avenue and I-90, where it collects a wide variety of contaminants, including industrial wastes and road salts. Along the way, it is fed by a creek that runs near the former NL Industries site. It finally empties into the Hudson River, just north of the boat launch in Corning Preserve.

The Patroon once was considered the dirtiest creek in New York state.

According to the grant application, there is a chronically elevated level of coliform bacteria in Patroon Creek, “likely related to an aging sewage system,” as well as “widespread contamination of soils and sediments with heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants.” The goal, the grant states, is to “daylight” sections of the creek—exposing it to the sun, which can help break down contaminants—and redirect it into Tivoli Lake.

Tivoli Lake was fed by Patroon Creek until late 1970s, when the creek was diverted around the lake. The lake, said Mair, was loaded with depleted uranium that made its way through runoff from the NL Industries site into a creek that fed the Patroon. The lake was dredged in 1984, and restored. But it wasn’t maintained. Now, the lake is in danger of dying due to an overgrowth of vegetation that starves it of oxygen. Evidence of mercury, it is claimed by the city’s grant, also has been found in the lake.

Mercury, when left in an oxygen-starved environment, the grant states, will form a “soluble organic compound that is toxic and that accumulates in fish.”

The grant argues that redirecting the creek back into the lake, running through the wetlands and vegetative buffer on its west side, will prove beneficial to both bodies of water. The water from the Patroon will be introduced to the critical process of biofiltering, where the contaminants in the stream can be modified by “combinations of physical and biological processes.” Redirecting the creek also will ease the frequent flooding upstream that erodes the bank and threatens to damage sewer lines and roadways. And the lake will be fed a constant supply of water, supplying it with much-needed oxygen.

The grant proposal, said Smith, was the product of thorough research by state and national agencies, as well as scientists from the University at Albany. However, it was already days late on its deadline when the city presented it to Smith—a common occurrence, she complained. She proposed her resolution of support—a necessity for such a grant—with little time for the council to debate its merits, yet the council moved to pass nearly unanimously. Ward 3 Councilman Corey Ellis voted a neutral “present.”

Passing that resolution was a mistake, Mair argued. Although Smith has assured that the lake will be protected from any further pollution by “a number of layers of oversight,” from the Common Council to the state, he said that he sees it as the worst possible plan for the lake.

“It makes no sense to take Superfund equivalent contamination, divert it to a clean water body that people utilize and eat fish from,” Mair said. If saving the lake was really the goal of the city, there are cheaper and safer ways, including simply dredging out the vegetation, like they do at Lake George, or installing an aerator similar to the one in Washington Park’s lake.

“Why are they offering extreme solutions when there are already proven technologies that will get the effect done?” Mair asked.

Because it is not about maintaining Tivoli, he said.

Mair argued that instead of being restored, Tivoli will be turned into “a sediment pond . . . a big toilet bowl” where the contamination from the Patroon can be filtered out and remain, thus cleaning the creek before it dumps its water into the Hudson River. “This is just a shortsighted project that will only benefit suburbanites who are coming to party at Alive at Five.”

Mair has received support for his arguments from many in the scientific community, among them Ward Stone and Jay Bloomfield, both with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Bloomfield reached out to Mair after reading about the grant application in the Times Union, letting him know that he, too, opposed rerouting the Patroon back into the Tivoli.

Stone told Metroland he believes that the Tivoli ought to remain segregated from the contaminated Patroon. He said that he would ideally like to see the Tivoli tested for pollutants, restored if necessary, and then stocked with fish and maintained. That way, he said, the residents of the communities surrounding it would have a safe place to eat fish from.

“Why is this community being forced to take that burden?” Mair asked. “You do nothing for the community already. Here is a safe place that the people use, and you are going to destroy it.”

—Chet Hardin

What a Week


Blogging for Mayor

Albany mayoral campaign blogs have new home on Metroland’s Web site

This week, Metroland began hosting blogs on its site for four of the candidates running in Albany’s mayoral election. Democratic candidates Albany Common Council President Shawn Morris, Common Councilman Corey Ellis, and incumbent Jerry Jennings, along with Republican candidate Nathan Lebron, will be able to use these forums freely to discuss their campaigns and their visions for the future of the city.

Metroland reached out to the candidates last month after Ellis announced he would be postponing use of his blog on the Times Union Web site in reaction to the paper’s parent company, Hearst Corp., failing to renegotiate its contract with union employees. Ellis, who began blogging on Times Union’s Web site in April, announced on May 15 that that he was going on a “blogging hiatus.”

“In support of the Times Union employees,” the freshman councilman wrote, “I will be suspending my blogging on the Times Union site until the existing union contract issues are resolved.”

Soon after, Morris announced that she too would cease her blogging, stating that she would not cross the “virtual picket line.” Jennings, who also writes a blog on the TU site, hasn’t announced his stance on the paper’s union battles, yet he hasn’t written a post since May 13.

All four candidates, either personally or through their campaigns, told Metroland that they are happy to have this opportunity to blog. In Lebron’s case, the Metroland blog is his first political blog, he said, in his entry posted on June 1.

“In the coming months,” he wrote, “I will be talking about backyard, front stoop, and store front issues that are driving decent people out of our city. The core issues will be crime, schools, and taxes.”

You can read the rest of his post at, and you can find the other candidates’ blogs by visiting

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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