Thursday, June 28, 2012

Filter Plant, Homeless Shelter Debates Heat Up



Father Richard F. Gorman


Community Board #12 (The Bronx)

Summer has arrived. 

Officially, it came at 7:09 p.m. on Wednesday evening, 20 June 2012. Even if we were not aware of the official starting time for the season, we have already witnessed indications of its advent.  School is out and our children are on their annual 10-week hiatus from pens, pencils, and books for reading, writing, and arithmetic. We had our first blast of “triple-H”  --  as in “H”azy, “H”ot, and “H”umid  --  weather. The Fourth of July is upon us and already there is talk of expeditions for sales at shopping malls and of excursions to a favorite park site or beach front.  Swimming pools have had pool covers and tires subtracted and chlorine to the water added. Barbeques have lost their cold weather coat. Yes, it is time for relaxation, refreshment, and renewal. Now is the moment to cast routine aside and take a break from the humdrum of the usual.

I am afraid, though, that such is not going to be the case for us folks at the Town Hall Headquarters of Community Board #12 (The Bronx) this Summer. In addition to the usual Summertime public safety and quality of life issues  --  and those problems have already begun to rear their ugly head  --  many other concerns appear not to be taking Summer vacation at this point.  For example, in my column last week, I related to you some of the controversies that continue to attend the construction of the Croton Water Filtration Plant in what used to be Van Cortlandt Park’s Mosholu Golf Course and Driving Range. It never ceases to amaze me how the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (N.Y.C.D.E.P.) can find every nickel it needs  --  not to mention literally tens of millions of dollars  -- to accommodate its unquenchable thirst for additional funding in order to cover the ever-escalating costs of this behemoth of a project. N.Y.C.D.E.P. even knows how to spend our money in covering the costs of projects connected to the Croton Water Filtration Plant that proved to be unnecessary  --  e.g., the force main that was supposed to run the length of our Borough from the plant site to Hunts Point, for the most part under Webster Avenue. Meanwhile, there is not a solitary cent from the City of New York  --  and specifically, its Department of Environmental Protection (N.Y.C.D.E.P.)  --  to honor the commitments made to the people of the Borough of The Bronx, such as building the long anticipated pedestrian bridge in Van Cortlandt Park! What must Bronxites do to get the Bloomberg Administration and N.Y.C.D.E.P. to abide by its promises to the people, not to mention legislative actions of the New York City Council? Must we occupy a park on Wall Street or scream at night outside the Mayor’s Manhattan townhouse?

While we are on the matter of the Croton Water Fleece-the-Taxpayer Project, at last week’s June meeting of the Croton Filtration Monitoring Committee (C.F.M.C.), N.Y.C.D.E.P. representative Mark Lanaghan matter-of-factly announced that there would be no Summer meeting of the Monitoring Committee and that he would only be attending quarterly meetings of the Monitoring Committee henceforth.  The absence of a Summer C.F.M.C. Meeting is no great deficiency as the Monitoring Committee only met once during the Summer since its inception. When “YOURS TRULY” was C.F.M.C. Chairman last year, I called a Summer meeting since N.Y.C.D.E.P. was completely closing down and totally tearing up Goulden Avenue during July and August. I felt that convening a meeting of the Monitoring Committee would provide local residents with a public forum at which to register any complaints or inconveniences arising from the street closure as well as affording the C.F.M.C. an opportunity to keep an eye on it.  
As far as Mr. Lanaghan’s “four-meetings-only” decree, it is any surprise that he and his bureaucratic cohorts would disregard the majority decision of the Monitoring Committee to conduct monthly meetings if N.Y.C.D.E.P. ignores with impunity legislative decisions of the New York City Council?  Curiously, Bronx Community Board #7 Chairman Paul Foster, who is serving as Monitoring Committee Chairman for 2012, is neither as surprised nor outraged at this disrespect to his C.F.M.C. confrères as is “YOURS TRULY,” who vigorously challenged Mr. Foster on his determination to forget about Mr. Lanaghan’s impertinent effrontery until the Committee’s September gathering. 
Fortunately, Council Member G. Oliver Koppell, also a member of the Monitoring Committee, has indicated that he will again approach N.Y.C.D.E.P. Commissioner Carter Strickland on this issue as I trust will our Borough President of The Bronx, The Honorable Ruben Diaz, Jr., who weighed in along with Council Member Koppell in support of the Monitoring Committee’s majority vote to meet on a monthly basis.

Closer to Town Hall, however, after months of no news, there is no good news about the homeless colony being planned for the intersection of Bronx Boulevard and East 238TH Street/Nereid Avenue in the Wakefield section of Bronx Community District #12.  
On Monday morning, 18 June 2012, Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond paid a visit to me and District Manager Carmen L. Rosa at Town Hall accompanied by his aides Douglas C. James and Alex T. Zablocki.  Commissioner Diamond is well aware of our continued opposition to the homeless facilities to be operated by PROJECT RENEWAL at 4380 Bronx Boulevard and by THE DOE FUND at 555 Nereid Avenue/East 238TH Street in the shuttered Sergeant Joseph A. Muller United States Army Reserve Center (Muller U.S.A.R.C.). Nonetheless, Community Board #12 (The Bronx) is prudently pursuing a two-pronged approach in this regard. While seeking every avenue available to prevent either or both shelters from ever opening, the Community Board will simultaneously engage in a respectful dialogue with Commissioner Diamond and the New York City Department of Homeless Services (N.Y.C.D.H.S.) in an effort to pre-empt altogether, or at least to mitigate, any injurious impact upon the local neighborhood due to the operation of these shelters. Issues such as the congregation of the shelter residents on sidewalks outside of these facilities for purposes of recreation, socialization, or smoking; the presence of security measures, such as cameras, within and without the facilities; staffing levels; and the involvement of shelter residents in the daily life of our neighborhood were discussed. The lack of straightforward and ongoing communication with the proposed operating agencies of these facilities as well as the operators’ need for recurrent participation in Community Board and in other meetings and events in Bronx Community District #12 were examined as well. I wish to thank most sincerely N.Y.C.D.H.S. Commissioner Seth Diamond for his courtesy and respect to me and to Ms. Rosa in coming to Town Hall in order to confer with us on a contentious matter. Perhaps, Mr. Lanaghan and Commissioner Diamond’s fellow supposedly “civil” servants at N.Y.C.D.E.P. could learn a lesson or two (2) from him on how to deal maturely with the taxpayers who pay their salary

Commissioner Diamond’s appearance at Town Hall presaged, and, perhaps, was in his anticipation of our impending receipt of correspondence from Federal agencies involved in the closure and the transfer of the Muller U.S.A.R.C. to Mayor Bloomberg and to Borough President Diaz that likewise arrived at Town Hall last week. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (U.S.H.U.D.) has written to Mayor Bloomberg indicating that, since the procedures for legally transferring jurisdiction of the Muller U.S.A.R.C. to the City of New York have been suitably complied with, the City’s Department of Homeless Services (N.Y.C.D.H.S.) may now proceed to utilize the former National Guard base for homelessness assistance. Concurrently, an official in charge of the Environmental Division of the 99TH Regional Support Command of the United States Department of the Army corresponded with our Borough President in order solicit concerns relative to the environmental impact upon the neighborhood as a consequence of the transfer and the re-use of the Muller U.S.A.R.C. Appropriate courses of action have been undertaken and/or are being contemplated relative to both of the issues addressed by the aforementioned letters  --  viz., adherence to the prerequisites of the transfer process and the environmental safety of the site. Our side is certainly at a disadvantage, but we are neither out of options nor ready to throw in the towel as of yet.

Summer may be the time for vacation, but there will be no vacation for Community Board #12 (The Bronx) on any number of concerns confronting our neighborhood. Hopefully, all will be able to find cool spots and moments from the hot weather that comes with this season. Your Community Board promises to maintain a cool head as it deals with these and several other hot topics during July and August.

Until next time, that is it for this time!

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