Thursday, June 21, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake!



Father Richard F. Gorman
Community Board #12 (The Bronx)
“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!” Upon learning that poor French peasants were starving because they had no bread, a “great princess,” purportedly Queen Marie Antoinette, contemptuously spoke these condescending words. 
Brioche is a greatly enriched French pastry that looks a great deal like bread and has a very high content of butter and eggs.  Obviously, if the peasants lacked the wherewithal to bake bread, they certainly had neither the money nor the means to make brioche. Clearly, whoever pompously uttered such disdainful words was either out of touch with the plight of the poor peasants or could care less about their abject poverty. Critical investigation leads one to the conclusion that Her Majesty Marie Antoinette was not the person responsible for this snobbish statement. In fact, historical scrutiny reveals that the Queen was a generous patroness of charity and was truly moved by the predicament of the poor when it was brought to her attention.  Nevertheless, Marie Antoinette, justly or unjustly, has become categorically connected with this infamous utterance and has, consequently, been stereotyped as the quintessential symbol of the arrogance of power combined with contempt for the everyday person.

This supercilious silliness, I regret to report to you, friends and neighbors, is alive and well in The Bronx. No, Queen Marie Antoinette has not risen from the dead. Sadly, though, the haughtiness ascribed to her is manifested by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (N.Y.C.D.E.P.) in its disrespectful treatment of the residents of the Borough of The Bronx and their civic representatives. The behemoth of a bureaucracy has crucified the Northern Bronx since 2004, the year that the agency undertook the construction of one of the most wasteful municipal construction projects in the history of the City of New York. I am referring to the Croton Water Filtration Plant, which is still under construction on the grounds of the Mosholu Golf Course and Driving Range in Van Cortlandt Park, a golf course founded over a century ago as one of the very first public golf courses in the United States of America.  
For nearly a decade, the hard-working taxpayers of the North Bronx have endured earth removal, blasting, dust, trucks rumbling through our neighborhoods, garish construction site fences and walls, and street closures, more of which, incidentally, are in store this Summer. The Jerome Park Reservoir, an idyllic landmark that blessed our Borough with a bucolic, countrified setting amidst haphazard over-development and the loss of green space, has sat pitifully year after year deprived of its beauty even as Bronxites were robbed of its enjoyment and use. While several improvements to parks in The Bronx were realized as a result of this questionable undertaking being inflected upon our Borough, as of the penning of this column, all of the blood money promised for our parks has not yet materialized in completed projects pledged to our neighborhoods years ago. The most evident “gifts” accruing to the people of The Bronx courtesy of the Croton Water Filtration Plant, along with their sisters and brothers in the four other Boroughs of our great City, has been the outrageous bill for its construction costs, which will eventually top three billion dollars ($3,000,000,000.00)  --  many schools, youth centers, police officers, fire fighters, teachers, daycare workers, after-school programs, child protection case managers, paved streets, and repaired infrastructure than its original estimated cost of seven hundred fifty million dollars ($750,000,000.00).  Oh, did I forget to mention increased water bills? Yep, water rates have likewise gone up in the City of New York for the past several years  --  sometimes dramatically so  --  in no small part to foot the bill for the sky-high cost of this project.

As a sop to the neighborhoods for the fiscal irresponsibility of this project  --  along with the largely unfulfilled promises of jobs and oodles of construction spending in the Borough of The Bronx  --  the City of New York mandated in a resolution of the New York City Council the establishment of a Monitoring Committee to oversee this project. The members of this Monitoring Committee are the Chairs of Bronx Community Boards #7, #8, and #12, the Council Member in whose District the project was undertaken, the Borough President of The Bronx, and representatives of the Departments of Environmental Protection (N.Y.C.D.E.P.) and of Parks and Recreation (N.Y.C.D.P.R.). 
Let me tell you bluntly, folks, that sitting on this Monitoring Committee has been, more often than not, an exercise in futility and frustration. Apparently, our overlords at N.Y.C.D.E.P. consider monitoring as the passive and dead-headed viewing of a “dog n’ pony” show. Needless to say, “YOURS TRULY,” as well as my confreres from Community Boards #7 and #8 along with Council Member G. Oliver Koppell and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., view our obligation to monitor in a more activist, comprehensive, and intelligent fashion. The “arrogance with an attitude” of the Department of Environmental Protection (N.Y.C.D.E.P.), as of late manifested in the person of its representative, Mr. Mark Lanaghan, has been nothing short of astounding.

Witness the most recent example of this hauteur. N.Y.C.D.E.P. suggested that, since the construction of the Croton Water Filtration Plant in nearing its completion, the Monitoring Committee meet only four times per year rather than on the monthly basis on which it has been convening since its inception. The Department noted that the City Council Resolution establishing the Monitoring Committee stipulated that the Committee should meet “at least” four times a year. The Monitoring Committee voted overwhelming to continue its monthly gatherings.  
Last week, I was informed by Mr. Paul Foster, the Chairman of Community Board #7 (The Bronx) and presently acting as Chairman of the Croton Filtration Monitoring Committee (C.F.M.C.), that N.Y.C.D.E.P. would not be sending Mr. Lanaghan or any of its employees to this Thursday evening’s meeting of the Monitoring Committee because the agency had unilaterally decided to attend only four meetings per annum.  Moreover, the members of the C.F.M.C. were informed that, since no N.Y.C.D.E.P. personnel were coming to the meeting, the D.E.P. Community Outreach Office at 3660 Jerome Avenue, at which the Monitoring Committee has been assembling for years, would not be available. “YOURS TRULY” immediately advised Chairman Paul Foster to secure another location for our meeting of Thursday, 21 June 2012 and to formulate an Agenda for it. I further requested that in place of Mr. Lanaghan and his N.Y.C.D.E.P. colleagues, the media be invited to witness this latest sample of government-by-arrogance. Astonishingly, as this column goes to press, an Agenda, accompanied by the news that, indeed, the D.E.P. Community Outreach Office will be the site of our June C.F.M.C. Meeting, was e-mailed to me by Ms. Martha Holstein, a former N.Y.C.D.E.P. official now working as a consultant in the private sector, who was hired by the contractors for the Croton Water Filtration Project. Even better still, Mr. Lanaghan and Friends are going to come to the meeting. I would venture to guess that my complaining on this Monday morning with Bronx Community Board #8 Chairman Robert Fanuzzi to the Bronx City Council Delegation about N.Y.C.D.E.P.  --  and, more importantly, a very busy telephone in the hand of an angered City Council Member G. Oliver Koppell  --  had a great deal to bring about this change of events.  Thanks, Oliver!

Whether undeservedly saddled by history with a bad rap or not, it is so very true that Queen Marie Antoinette, along with her hapless Husband, Le Roi Louis XVI, lost their heads at the guillotine because the “99%” of their day got totally fed up with the abuse of the “1%’s” of the time. Perhaps, our friends at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (N.Y.C.D.E.P.) need a reality check as to who are the servants and who are the masters.  I am concerned that these supposed “civil servants” have  --  please, pardon the pun!  --  lost their heads! 

Until next time, that is it for this time!

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