By Jennifer Ward
The Blind Brook where the berms were proposed to be placed (Photo by Barbara Kay)
After months of petitions, protests, and professional opinions it was announced that the highly debated berms would not be built on campus. But one question remains: how is the flooding in Rye going to be solved?
Berms are essentially mini dams– humps with water behind it. Underneath the hump is a controlled flow of water. This way, if there is a massive flood, the area will fill up and only a small amount of water will come out.
The berms were a consideration on campus because the local area of Blind Brook has suffered from many floods, some so severe that residents died. The berms were designed to help be a flood mitigation to help protect against flooding. This, however, could lead to devastating consequences for the residing forest.
Milagros Peña, Purchase College President, stated, “Our campus's position is that we oppose having something like the berms actually intrude in changing that dynamic of the ecological flow that is occurring because of the 100-year-old forest. The ecological environment that is there is especially good for research and is unique to the area.”
The building of the berms would require a part of the forest on campus to be cut down, hurting the historical wetland Purchase has, as well as the wildlife that is present on campus. The trees in that area cannot retain long-term flooding.
“I'm just hoping that we can get legal protection for those acres of wetland on the north side of campus because it's really in need of being protected,” said Uri Sarig, a senior art history major as well as co-creator of the @opposepurchberms Instagram account.
The layout of the berms proposal
(Photo via Dr. Allyson Jackson's PowerPoint)
Very soon after the proposal for the berms went public, Purchase students were quick to rise to opposition against their construction. Protests took place outside of the administration, petitions were signed both online and in person around campus, and students spread a message opposing the berms through social media.
“I was in a weird position because I have an opinion on this, I had the very strong opinion of I didn’t want the berms put in,” said Dr. Allyson Jackson, an environmental studies professor. “But I also wanted to make sure we would listen to other voices and hear what the students thought, what faculty thought, and what different people thought in this area because I can’t be all one person when it comes to making a very big decision.”
The student-organized petition that was placed outside of Student Services (Photo via @opposepurchberms on Instagram)
Social media played a vital role in the spread of information about the berms. Sarig, as well as Robyn Graygor, a sophomore environmental studies and journalism major, created the Instagram account in order to stop the spread of misinformation about the berms and to help ensure that students remained as educated as possible.
“We kind of wanted to centralize the narrative in a way because there was so much misinformation,” said Sarig. “Misinformation is not good in any context, but especially when being misinformed can be a really easy way to discredit students in general.”
“A lot of what I did was try to have the student’s voices be heard as much as possible so that people with more power could hear that in response,” said Grace Castle, a senior theater and performance, and literature major, as well as the Purchase Student Sustainability Coordinator. “I’m really happy to see how many people showed up in opposition to the berms, it was really exciting to see so many people ready to speak out against harm on our campus.”
“I hope that I continue to see that turn out moving forward with other initiatives. As much as it’s important to jump on in crisis mode, it would be exciting to see those people come in later on and help build initiatives,” Castle continued.
Although the berms were opposed for many environmental reasons, they were also opposed for many mental health aspects as well. According to Jackson, many students opened up about how they enjoyed walking through the woods when stressed and having that sanctuary available to them when needed.
Many students began to attend meetings, send emails to professors, and even take time out of their days to educate themselves on what the building of the berms would mean for the campus community.
“It was kind of a horrible thing that we went through, but it really made me appreciate our students a lot for how much they cared about this. How much time, effort, and research they were willing to put into this,” said Jackson.
“I would say that I think that one of the things I love about Purchase College is that we have ways we come together that more than anything informs us of just a knowledge of things. This process shows really the strength of our community, and I think that we really learned a lot from that, I certainly did and I value that,” said Peña. “I think the perspective of faculty, staff, and students is important to me. One of the things that is really strong about Purchase is that we give ourselves the opportunity to come together and be able to understand the importance of some of these questions that come up.”
With the opposition to the berms being official, many are left to wonder what this means for the remaining flooding situation of Blind Brook. Purchase is getting an engineering study done on the campus to help come up with solutions to help fix the flooding issue without harming the rest of the environment on campus. The end goal of this study is to hope to reduce the water runoff that runs into neighboring towns.
Proposals are in place with engineers, leaving conversations with environmental scientists more crucial than ever. Proposals were also introduced in order to help protect the 80 acres of land that were set for the berms to be built on.
"I represent the campus sentiment so after hearing a lot of the perspectives, expertise, and the intended use of the land I support us being able to maintain the intended designated area as we have said as a campus over time is important, and I share that view,” Peña said.
Although there is yet to be an official solution set to help stop the flooding in neighboring towns, vulnerable areas on campus are protected from construction on campus that would harm, rather than help, the environment.
“We don’t have a lot of answers yet but as we talk to professionals in the field and look for those solutions hopefully we come up with a list of things we can do to make our campus decrease water runoff,” said Castle.