Thursday, December 4, 2008

Broad Channel Volunteers Caught in Red Tape

DOT Inaction Delays Building Project

By Patricia Adams

For 103 years the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department (BCVFD) has served its immediate community and those surrounding it. Every year the department responds to an average of 550 calls for fire and ambulance emergencies. They average about 45 volunteers at any given time and for the last ten years they have been marching toward the future of their department– a new firehouse which will be constructed adjacent to the Broad Channel Athletic Club field on Cross Bay Boulevard.

Plans and action first taken to build this facility started ten years ago, and since, the Broad Channel volunteer corps and the entire community have done everything they can to ensure the success of the plan. The department acquired $2 million in support at the federal level from Congressman Anthony Weiner and Senator Hillary Clinton from a 2005 federal transportation bill. Although the BCVFD had their work cut out for them to raise 20 percent of the funds needed– $440,000- they put their noses to the grindstone and raised the funds.

“It’s sort of like applying for a mortgage,” organization President Ed O’Hare explained. “When we applied for the funding for the project we were told that we would need to raise 20 percent on our own. And we did.” In addition Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and state Senator Shirley Huntley both kicked in $100,000 each.

“Every 't' has been crossed and every 'i' has been dotted and at this stage of the plan,” said O’Hare. But at the very last step — getting the city Department of Transportation(DOT) to sign off on the deal — the department has run into the toughest obstacle in their decade long path—the red tape of bureaucracy.

Call, letters and e-mails have gone unanswered for months. Further communications with the mayor’s office have also gone without reply. (Please see letters to the editor “BCVFD Calls on Bloomberg for Answers”) “All we want is an answer,” stated O’Hare, “as to what’s holding up the application. We have met every requirement and there is no reason to stall us like this. Instead our efforts to better serve this community are being stymied by a city agency.”

O’Hare said he would understand if this was a question of money, but that is not the case. “This project is not going to cost the city one dime.”

There are many important factors about the new building, BCVFD volunteers contend, that make it so much more than just a firehouse. The new firehouse does not only offer a modern and safe storage and operational center for the department, it is a multi-use building which could conceivably incorporate a meeting hall for seniors, youth groups and other community organizations.

In addition the building will be completely green following an ecofriendly design plan and following a proposal to use solar power to operate. The original design plans for the 10,000-square-foot building have been modified to raise the building by 3 ½ feet making it a qualifier for the 500-year floodplain FEMA designation.

This building could act as a triage center, OEM operational headquarters and an evacuation center for hundreds of people under catastrophic circumstances. If necessary a helicopter could be landed on the adjacent athletic field since it is a private field. But all the perks for the communities served by the BCVFD now hang in the balance as a total breakdown in communication between the department and the city seem to define the present situation.

The volleys say they will continue to pressure the city and solicit the help of local officials who they say, are also baffled by the city’s lack of response. “We need answers,” said Ed O’Hare, “we need them now and we plan to get them.”

Above is a rendering of the proposed 10,000-square-foot multi-purpose firehouse and community center. The facility will include four bays for emergency vehicles, an office, state of the art dispatch center directly tied to city emergency calling systems, and a large community meeting facility.

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