More help on way for Bronx River

Gregory Kiss, Kiss + Cathcart, Architects

Flowering vines clamber up the sides of River House, the new home-to-be of the Bronx River Alliance, in this architect’s rendering.

New home/education center highlights Bronx River Alliance plans

The Bronx River Alliance plans to build a new riverside headquarters, to construct a highway for fish and to engage local volunteers in a study of the mysterious migration of eels to the river, speakers at the organization’s annual Winter Assembly at the Bronx Museum of the Arts on March 4 told several dozen supporters.

Dubbed the River House, the new headquarters, to be built in Starlight Park, will also serve as a boathouse and a community educational facility.

“We’ll really be able to dramatically expand our programming and educational opportunities right on the river,” says Maggie Greenfield, the organization’s deputy director, in a new documentary, “Water Blues, Green Solutions.”

The building’s green design will include solar panels on the roof and devices to capture storm water to prevent it from carrying pollution into the river. Instead, the water will be diverted to holding tanks to be used in the building and will irrigate vines growing along the walls. The plantings will lower the temperature inside by five degrees or more, according to architect Greg Kiss, reducing the need for electricity to power air conditioning.

“There wouldn’t be maybe such a big deal if this were happening in lower Manhattan or in Greenpoint, Brooklyn or in some of these places that have become so very gentrified and very expensive,” Kiss says in the documentary. “But the fact that we are devoting this kind of attention to this community, I think is really exciting and totally appropriate.”

This spring work will also begin on a “fish ladder,” an underwater passage to permit fish to swim upriver past a dam built in the 17thcentury at what is now 182nd Street in Bronx Park, said Sarah Tobing, the Ecological Restoration Project Manager for the Parks Department.

Plans to bypass this and two other dams in the park were laid in 2003. In 2006 the alliance and the Parks Department’s Natural Resources Group successfully introduced alewives, a kind of herring in the river.

The bypass will allow alewifes, which live their adult life in the ocean then returns to rivers and lakes to spawn, and other species of fish to make their way north of the dam. The presence of fish, in turn, encourages birds and animals that feed on them– from egrets to otters– to return to the Bronx River.

The fish passage will also help the eel population, whose life cycle is the opposite of the alewifes’. They spawn in the ocean and live in rivers as adults. No one knows precisely where they lay their eggs, but eels like those in the Bronx River have been found in the Sargasso Sea, 1,600 miles from the mouth of the river at Hunts Point Riverside Park.

The eel population is crashing worldwide, in part because of dams that fence away their habitat, according to Greenfield. In an effort to understand them better, the alliance plans to continue a project begun last year when volunteers undertook a census of eels in the Bronx River.

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