Thursday, April 30, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

St. Francis Prep Closed as Swine Flu Hits Queens

By Conor Greene

As the number of people across the globe infected with swine flu continues to grow, officials at St. Francis Preparatory High School – the epicenter of the outbreak in Queens – have closed the building until Monday in hopes of stemming the spread of the virus.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the number of infected people worldwide had risen to 132 confirmed cases in 11 countries. In the U.S there have been 91 reported cases in 10 different states, including 51 confirmed cases in New York State.

Among those infected was St. Francis Prep senior Toni Ann Abruzzino of Ozone Park. Her symptoms began with a “really bad cough” during the week and came to a head last Thursday night. “Thursday in school all the kids were going home sick and were all over the nurse’s office,” she said. “I went to my [softball] game and felt fine, but when it got home it really hit me. I stayed home from school on Friday, and there were rumors going around schools. Saturday was when it came out that swine flu was going around prep.”

She said it was “kind of shocking that it was at my school… It was scary but they said it was a mild case that we have.” Still, a mild case translated into several days of suffering for Toni Ann. “It’s just taking a while and has to run its course. It’s on and off, some moments I feel fine, then I get a headache. I’m just waiting for it to get over… I hope everyone gets better.”

Toni Ann is “very close friends” with some of the students who recently returned from Mexico, and had contact with one traveler before coming down with symptoms. “They didn’t get sick, so it’s weird how it all happened,” she said. “It’s not their fault. Of course it’s from Mexico so it’s kind of on them because they went, and they feel like people think it’s their fault but it’s not.”

During a conference call on Tuesday arranged by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills), St. Francis Headmaster Brother Conway said the decision to close until Monday was to give enough time for all cases to be identified and for students and faculty to recover. “The guidelines set by the Department of Health indicate that if we do add this time, it should provide adequate time for any students who are ill to recover,” he said. “Students are going to be told they need to keep up with their studies – this is not a vacation.”

“We’re hoping and praying that this passes quickly so next week we can get the students back into classes,” added Brother Conway. The process of cleaning the school, located at 6100 Francis Lewis Boulevard, began last Friday afternoon (April 24) and was completed by the end of the weekend.

The first sign that something was amiss came on Thursday, when about 100 students were absent, said Brother Conway. At the same time, “flocks of kids going to the nurse’s office, all reporting the same symptoms.” Because of the number of students complaining of the symptoms, the nurse, Mary Pappas, immediately contacted the city Board of Health to inform them of the possible outbreak.

Students continued to arrive at the nurse’s office the following day, with about 150 total visits between the two days. Brother Conwaycalled that number a “significant amount” compared to a typical school day. He defended the school’s decision to remain open Friday since students that day seemed to come down with symptoms later in the morning. “It wasn’t like they were lined up outside the nurse’s office as soon as we got here. I don’t know if closing on Friday would have done anything but I can’t predict that,” he said.

Brother Conway also responded to criticism that parents weren’t properly notified about the situation. “I don’t know how they could feel left in the dark,” adding that updates were constantly posted on the school’s Website. “I don’t think parents should feel they were left out of the loop.”

While there have been some reports of parents critical about the school’s response to the outbreak, Colleen Abruzzino said she doesn’t think officials could have done anything more. “They always do the right thing and really care about the students,” she said. “I don’t think they knew what they were dealing with either. I don’t think anybody knew until we realized these kids came from Mexico.”

According to a health alert issued Tuesday night by the city Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 44 cases of swine influenza among students and staff at St. Francis Prep. The illnesses “appear to be no more severe than usual seasonal influenza, and all patients we know of are recovering, with the overwhelming majority having had mild illness.”

On Wednesday morning, Gov. David Paterson announced that three new “probable” cases of swine flu were identified upstate. In addition, two cases are suspected at two Brooklyn Catholic schools. As a result, St. Brigid in Bushwick and Good Shepherd in Marine Park will be closed for the remainder of the week.

Officials say that one of the Brooklyn students has a sibling at St. Francis Prep. The CDC is stressing that this is a “rapidly evolving situation” and urged residents to stay alert for updates.

The decision not to close all area schools drew criticism from Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) whose district includes St. Francis Prep. In the letter, sent to Mayor Bloomberg and Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, Avella notes that “many parents are deeply concerned that schools in this area remain open despite the extensive and close connections between St. Francis Prep and the rest of the area schools.”

“While I am aware that the [city DOH] has recommended to keep schools open unless there are more than a few confirmed cases of swine flu in any particular school, many of these parents believe that the Department ofHealth and the Board of Education should close the public schools in northeastern Queens for the rest of the week in order to attempt to control the further spread of this virus,” wrote Avella. “Given the deep interconnectedness of St. Francis Prep and the rest of the schools in this area it seems only prudent that the City consider taking this step.”

The state Association of Homes and Services for the Aging is stressing that the elderly and frail population is especially at risk of contracting the flu. “If you
are not feeling well, we’re asking you to visit your doctor, not your dad in a nursing home or your grandmother who gets home care visits,” said Carl Young, NYAHSA president. “Our nursing homes and senior service staffs are following strict infection control programs, and the public’s compliance will be of enormous help.”

Meanwhile, officials at St. Francis Prep are continuing to navigate through this “very difficult time,” said Brother Conway. “With a very large school like this, we’re taking everything day by day and even moment by moment,” he said.

After Years of Erosion, Jamaica Bay Marshes Make a Comeback

By Conor Greene

In honor of Earth Day, Rep. Anthony Weiner announced last week that 50 acres of Jamaica Bay’s marshland has been restored, reversing years of erosion.

Already, 50 acres of the bay’s threatened marshland has been restored, and another 100 acres are slated for restoration in the coming years, as the congressman plans to make the issue of wetlands preservation a top issue. “Jamaica Bay is going back to the birds more and more each year,” said Weiner (D-Forest Hills).

The bay’s 26,645 acres of marshes suffer as buffers that help mitigate waves, wind and floods and reduce damage to surrounding residents. The salt marshes are home to 91 species of fish, 325 species of birds and 214 species of special concern, including threatened and endangered species.

Experts have concluded that rising oxygen levels in the bay have caused the marshes to erode at an ever-quickening pace. According to Weiner, much of the blame for the rising oxygen levels rests with four nearby wastewater plants, which dump more than 250 gallons of nitrogen-rich wastewater into Jamaica Bay everyday. This kills delicate marsh roots and retards re-growth.

To make matters worse, the rate of loss has been increasing over the past few decades. Between 1924 and 1994, more than 1,800 acres of salt marsh disappeared, at an average rate of about 26 acres a year. However, the rate of loss increased between 1995 and 1999, with 220 acres of salt marsh disappearing at an average rate of 44 acres per year.

To combat the quickening salt marsh erosion, Rep. Weiner helped fund a $16 million Army Corps of Engineers project in 2006 to rebuild Elders Point East. As part of that project, engineers rebuilt 48 acres of marshland, adding more than 240,000 cubic yards of beach and transporting more than 750,000 native marsh plants including Saltwater Cordgrass, Salt Meadow Grass, Salt Grass and Rush into the depleted area. Weiner now calls that effort “a major success story” as recovery efforts now outpace marsh erosion for the first time by 15 acres.

“These marshlands are the very foundation of this ecosystem. They are a haven for insects, attract clams and support fish and birds,” said Weiner. “For years, concerned residents and environmentalists have warned us that they are disappearing. We can now say that the marshlands are coming back.”

To ensure the marshes’ survival, Weiner has announced two key upcoming projects that will help restore the marshland, as well as a four point plan to save the marshes. Both projectsare expected to commence next year. First, Elders Point West, located in the north-central part of the bay, will be rebuilt at a cost of $10.6 million. Building on the successes of the restoration projects at Elders Point East, the next step is building up 34 acres of marshes with 200,000 cubic yards of sand. Engineers will replant native Saltwater Cordgrass onto the restored land.

The second project is the restoration of Yellow Bar Hassock, located in the center of Jamaica Bay, west of Broad Channel. Due to erosion of the beach foundation, the salt marsh habitat here has been converting to mucky peat and mudflat at an estimated rate of six acres a year. The rising saltwater was drowning the marsh habitat and National Parks Service officials have projected that Yellow Bar will be completely lost by 2020.

Using Elders Point East as a model, the Yellow Bar Hassock design proposes building up to 60 acres of marsh with 250,000 cubic yards of sand. Within this new elevated marsh foundation, engineers will replant existing salt marsh plant hummocks to spur growth. There currently is no final cost estimate available for this project.

These projects will coincide with Weiner’s four-point plan,which includes reducing nitrogen in the bay by 60% in 10 years, including a 20% reduction in the next three years. Under the plan, Weiner will provide $9 million to fully fund the Yellow Bar Hassock and Elders Point West projects and study restoration options for other sites around the bay. In addition, federal stimulus money will be used to retrofit four sewage plants surrounding the bay. Finally, the plan doubles the number of Saltwater Cordgrass and Salt Marsh Plan Hammocks to be replanted in the two upcoming projects.

Gateway National Recreation Area attracts 10 million visitors a year, making it the third most popular park in the country. While great strides are being made to restore the wetlands, Weiner noted that there are other factors jeopardizing the marshes, including global warming and rising ocean levels, meaning they likely will never return to their natural state.

Animal Rights Activists Rally for Angel

By Conor Greene

A group of animal rights activists gathered on the steps of City Hall on Sunday to hold a protest and vigil for Angel, a 13-year-old Collie that was wrongfully euthanized by the New York City Animal Care and Control.

The beloved pet was euthanized just hours after being picked up by AC&C after escaping from the Astoria home of 94-year-old Jane Guardascione earlier this month. Guardascione was left devastated after learning her companion had been euthanized, even though city policy requires animals to be held for at least 72 hours.

Now, City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has launched a probe into whether AC&C has improperly euthanized or adopted out other animals before 72 hours. Under the law, only severely injured or sick animals can be put down sooner. However, many animal activists are certain that Angel wasn’t the first animal euthanized within 72 hours.

In response, Avella has submitted a formal request for all AC&C records regarding euthanizations, length of stay for animals brought to shelters, physical examination as well as records concerning owner notification. He also wrote directly to AC&C and the city Department of Health regarding the circumstances surrounding Angel’s death.

“It was extremely startling to learn of the unfortunate euthanization of Angel, which has caused a tremendous amount of grief for Ms. Guardascione, who saw the dog as a true companion,” said Avella. “In this instance, there appears to be a complete breakdown of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s policy to keep strays for at least 72 hours by NYC AC&C. As a result, I feel it is absolutely necessary to investigate the practices and procedures of NYC AC&C… to find out exactly what is going on at NYC AC&C to prevent this tragedy from happening again.”

Among the 100 or so individuals who attended Sunday was Kathy Schnurr of Bayside, who is certain this isn’t the first time AC&C improperly euthanized an animal. “We’ve been aware of [problems] for a while, and for no apparent reason they put this dog down, so Angel brought it to a head” she said. “It’s definitely happened before without a doubt.”

Schnurr said the activists are awaiting the results of Avella’s information request before deciding how to proceed. “We need to let them really know what is going on. Hopefully this will be the last we’ll hear about any dogs being euthanized like Angel. We’re still waiting to hear the details from his [information request]. Then we will definitely rally behind him.”

Unfortunately for Guardascione, any reforms that come will be too late. “Something needs to be done. I still feel terrible,” she told the Daily News during Sunday’s vigil.

In a statement following the euthanization of Angel, AC&C officials expressed their “deepest sympathies” to the family and said that Angel was put down to prevent additional pain. “Because of her deteriorating condition and advanced age of over 13 years, the vet made the decision to euthanize Angel in an effort to prevent any additional suffering,” it read. “It is our goal to avoid euthanasia unless we deem it absolutely necessary.”

Each year, AC&C handles an estimated 43,000 animals rescued from city streets, of which about 15,000 are euthanized. It urges animal owners to make sure their pets are licensed and microchipped.

State Will Choose Developer for Fineson Center

By Patricia Adams

In January the New York State Housing Finance Agency issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the Designation of a developer for the Construction of Affordable Senior Housing at the Bernard Fineson Center. Responses from interested parties were due to the State on February 27. According to Community Board 10 Chair, Betty Braton, no decision has been made as to a designated developer as of yet.

Several of the applicants contacted CB 10 prior to the submission of their responses to the State. Among them are Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in a joint venture with The Arker Companies, Catholic Charities Progress of Peoples Development and PSCH Inc.

Allen AME Housing Corp. & the D &F Development Groupand CMC Development subsequent to submitting their re-sponses to the State also contacted the Board.

While CB 10 has no vote on the matter however, according to Braton, the Board is appreciative of the fact that the Metropolitan Council/Arker group contacted the Board immediately after the release of the RFP to solicit input from theBoard before developing its response to the RFP. It was alsothe first group to provide detailed information about their pro-posal prior to its submission to the State. The Board also stated that Catholic Charities provided detailed informationprior to its submission and made some changes based on theBoard’s input.

There is no confirmation as to when the State will actually make a decision about awarding the bid. Sources say that thestart of the process could begin within a month, but there is noannounced deadline for the selection process as of now.

The process will follow the basics outlined in the Request forProposal (RFP). Generally, after the designated developer is selected that developer is required to perform any alterations and renovate the building according to plans and permits, as well as get all the financing in place.

According to the RFP, the current population of residents will be moved to new living facilities no later than June 30, 2009. The application process for new residents will begin once a marketing strategy is set into place. Residents of CB 10will have preference on 50% of the unassisted units. That does not necessarily mean that all residents of the other 50% will be from elsewhere. Depending on who is in the lottery pool, it’spossible for more residents of the local area to be among the winners. The new facility will also include a component for 20 residents served by the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD). The residents of these units will be seniors selected by the agency that serves them.

Estimates on the completion time for the project is probably well over a year considering the amount of work needed to be done on the building.

The Forum will continue to advise our readers about the progress of this project as developments unfold.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Group Makes Plea for JVP Dog Run

By Conor Greene

After months of asking Community Board 5 to support a dog run in Juniper Valley Park, a group of dog lovers formally pitched the idea to the advisory board’s Parks Committee meeting on Tuesday.

Despite the poor weather, a large group of area dog owners - including members of the Juniper Valley Dog Association - attended the meeting at the park’s Brennan Fieldhouse. While the Parks Committee was receptive to investigating the idea, major issues moving forward include where the dog run would be located within the park and how it would be funded.

Joe Pisano, president of the dog association, said his group is seeking a one-year test to see if a dog run would work in Juniper Valley Park. With the creation of the dog run, the current off-leash hours between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. would be eliminated. “We love this park – that’s why we want to be here. If you give us the opportunity, we will make it the best dog park in the city” he said, noting that volunteers are ready to help out. “We will clean it up and fundraise… We’re ready to do whatever we have to do.”

Pisano said his group’s preference is to have a permanent dog run built in the location between the baseball fields that is currently used during off-leash hours. “Everyone seems to feel like the spot we’re in is the best spot,” he said. “We would like to stay there if we could… We think it’s the right size, location and has great drainage.”

However, the Parks Committee and Juniper Park Civic Association are opposed to placing a permanent dog run in that area due to the damage caused to mature trees by dog urine. The Parks Committee instead suggested three alternate possibilities: behind the bleachers at the roller hockey rink, behind the fieldhouse near 71st Street and Juniper Boulevard South or between the end of the track and the nursery house near Lutheran Avenue and Juniper Boulevard North.

According to committee chairman Steve Fiedler, the JPCA “consistently and constantly” has received complaints about noise in the park. “Some locations, unfortunately, are just not set for [certain] things,” he said. “The ground has worn away since you’ve been there.” He added that he didn’t think the location was a good for off-leash hours because the noise has been disruptive to neighbors.

JPCA Vice President Lorraine Sciulli, who lives near the park, said that the dogs are disruptive to the neighborhood. “The park is completely surrounded by houses,” she said. “I don’t know why you think nobody is hearing your dogs barking.”

Pisano responded that the dog run would allow canine owners to use the park at all hours, meaning there would be fewer people at a time. Currently, dogs are only allowed off-leash between when the park opens at 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. “Isn’t it loud when a baseball game is going on?” he asked.

Manny Caruana questioned why a section of the park would be set aside for animals. “You got to remember – the park was not built for animals, it was built for humans,” he said. “I never thought about taking a part of the park for my dog.”

Pisano said there are more than 100 dog runs and parks throughout the city. “It’s not like it’s never been done,” he said.

Fiedler noted that a formal process must be followed for the proposal to become reality. That would include a public hearing after a specific design is complete. “No location will be picked without these procedures,” he said. “This is the first step,” with the discussion expected to continue at future Parks Committee meetings this summer. “If a location can be established, fine. If it can’t, fine too,” he said.

Much of the discussion centered on damaged caused to the trees and grass in the current off-leash area, and a Parks Department employee said that the impact on that section of the park is caused by a combination of factors, including drainage from the ballfields. “The dogs definitely contributed to the loss of grass,” he said.

Paul Toomey, president of the dog group K-9 Korral in Forest Park stressed that it’s important to provide shade for the dogs. “Whatever the plan is, they should have trees there,” he said. Toomey also questioned whether it’s appropriate for Fiedler to run the meeting since he is also a JPCA member. “You obviously have a biased opinion about the dog run,” he said.

Fiedler responded, “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have an open mind. I don’t think that’s a conflict at all.”

Dog owner Rich McGraw tried to keep the focus on how to best move forward on this request. He said there is likely one location out of the three or four suggested “that we could all live with… I don’t think any of us want to see the trees die… If we know some of the potential pitfalls, we can start looking at resolutions.”

Robert Holden, president of the JPCA, said his group would support a dog run in Juniper Valley Park provided it is done properly. Otherwise, “it will quickly become an unhealthy dust bowl,” he said, adding that “the JPCA won’t support just a fence.” He suggested that the group ask Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) for capital funding to help defray the costs. “We just want to see it done properly,” he said. We will work with you.”

In a statement, Crowley said she supports the idea of having a dog run in Juniper Valley Park. “I believe a dog run would be a healthy addition to the community. I look forward to working with community members on a proposal that best suits the interests of our neighborhood.”

Hit and Run Driver Kills Deliveryman

Charged With Leaving the Scene and Driving While Intoxicated

By Patricia Adams

The 27-year-old driver involved in Saturday night’s hit and run on Jamaica Avenue was released on $30,000 bail after being arraigned on Sunday in Queens Criminal Court. Sources say Gus Pappeliou’s father posted his bail. Pappaeliou was charged with criminally negligent homicide, operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated and vehicular manslaughter in the second degree.

Pappaeliou is accused of striking 42-year-old You Yuan Zhou, as he drove his scooter to make a delivery for the China House Restaurant on Jamaica Ave around 11:45 PM Saturday night. Witnesses watched in horror as Pappeliou’s Volkswagen Jetta sped into Zhou’s scooter, sending him off the bike and up into the air. Seconds later he hit the ground dead, his helmet and a sneaker yards behind his body.

A half-block from the body lay the crushed scooter, which was dislodged after Pappaeliou threw his car into reverse in an attempt to get the scooter off his car. Witnesses were not surprised that the driver left the scene of the accident. One man, who identified himself as John, is a regular customer at Sam’s Deli on the corner of 80th street.

“These kids think this is a speedway. Just a few weeks ago that other woman was killed on the avenue the same way. They kill people with their cars and just keep going. Animals.” On April 8, 71-year-old Virginia Montalvo was killed on Jamaica Avenue by a hit and run driver as she made her way across the street collecting bottles and cans for recycling.

Zhou was pronounced dead at the scene - a crushed Volkswagen hood ornament left behind showing the impact of the hit that killed him instantly. A father of two, Zhou came to America a little more than 10 years ago, seeking a better life for his wife and children.

“He was a really nice guy,” said a resident who knew deliveryman as quiet, smiling guy. “We used to call him Bruce. It’s such a shame. He was a good guy, a hard worker who really cared about his family. Especially his kids.”

Now friends and family say his wife and children are faced with a tremendous financial struggle as well as the tragic death of the man who supported them by working six long days every week. “My father was kind,” 18-year-old Kai Qiang Zhou told reporters. “I didn’t believe it when I first heard this.” The freshman at New York City College of Technology wonders now how he will continue with the education his father dreamed of for him. “He always said, “You have to stay in school. You’ll get a good job and be able to spend more time with your family.”

Hours after the incident, police went to the home of Gus Pappaeliou, blocks away on 78th street and 85th Avenue. There they found the red Jetta, behind a fence at the house. The grill of the car was shattered, its front windshield blown out.

Pappaeliou surrendered without protest but refused comment without an attorney. Seen on the news, the young man seemed calm, as though he were unaffected. Before getting in to a waiting squad car, he looked back toward his house. “Bye mom. I’ll see you later. I love you.” Pappaeliou was smiling. A date of May 4 has been scheduled for Pappeliou’s return to court.

A Push for Reform After Beloved Collie is Euthanized

By Conor Greene

After a 94-year-old grandmother’s beloved collie was euthanized at a city animal center just hours after arriving at the facility, a group of animal lovers and a Queens City Councilman are working to prevent this from happening again.

Officials at the city’s Animal Care and Control say that 13-year-old Angel was euthanized shortly after arriving at the Manhattan facility on April 9 because she collapsed and was unable to walk. The dog, which had wandered away from Jane Guardascione’s Astoria home, didn’t have identification and didn’t match the description of any missing dogs.

However, according to the contract AC&C has with the state Health Department, dogs brought into its facilities must be held for at least 72 hours before being euthanized or released for adoption. The only exceptions are if an animal is critically injured.

In a statement, AC&C officials expressed their “deepest sympathies” to the family and said that Angel was suffering and was put down to prevent additional pain. “Because of her deteriorating condition and advanced age of over 13 years, the vet made the decision to euthanize Angel in an effort to prevent any additional suffering,” it read. “It is our goal to avoid euthanasia unless we deem it absolutely necessary.”

However, family members said that although the dog had been slowed by arthritis, it was still able to walk and probably became scared after being taken to the loud, unfamiliar shelter. Guardascione was “heartbroken” and began suffering chest pains when she found out what happened to her “beloved companion,” according to local animal activist Phyllis Taiano, who had tried to find Angel before she was put down.

In response to the incident, City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has submitted a request for AC&C records, specifically as they relate to animals that were euthanized at the shelters. He is now calling for an investigation into AC&C’s “practices and procedures… to prevent this tragedy from happening again.”

“It was extremely startling to learn of the unfortunate euthanization of Angel, which has caused a tremendous amount of grief for Ms. Guardascione, who saw the dog as a true companion,” said Avella. “In this instance, there appears to be a complete breakdown of the Department of Health and Hygiene’s policy to keep strays for at least 72 hours by NYC AC&C.”

Avella is seeking to obtain all records regarding euthanizations, length of stay for animals brought into city shelters, physical examinations, as well as records concerning owner notification, according to his office. He will hold a rally on the steps of City Hall at noon on Sunday along with other animal rights groups to bring awareness to the situation.

Taiano, a Middle Village resident who helps rescue lost dogs, was also distraught over the situation. She found out that Angel was at the AC&C just after 5 p.m. that evening, less than an hour after she had been euthanized. “Now that Avella has submitted a request for [records] we want to keep this [issue] alive and in the forefront,” said Taiano. “Angel’s case is not going away. Our protest is in honor of Angel and to raise more awareness that the AC&C continues to practice unethically. That shelter is in desperate need of reform.”

In light of recent alleged improprieties at AC&C shelters, an online petition is being circulated asking the City Council and Mayor to convene an Animal Care Task Force “to oversee the replacement of the existing Board of Directors… which has created this crisis.” The petition notes that while law requires the city to have five fullservice animal shelters, there currently are only three.

Residents, Officials Testify Against LNG Island Plan

Group Wants to Build Facility 13 Miles Offshore

By Conor Greene

More than 100 residents and elected officials crowded into the auditorium at PS 114 in Belle Harbor on Sunday to air concerns about a company’s proposal to build an island off the Rockaway coast to store and process imported liquid natural gas.

The Atlantic Sea Island Group has submitted an application to the federal government seeking the permits needed to construct the island about 13 miles offshore from Long Beach. Rep. Anthony Weiner, who lobbied the Coast Guard to hold the hearing after two others took place on Long Island and in New Jersey, called the proposal “unprecedented” but said he is keeping an open mind on the idea.

However, other local elected officials took a strong stance against the proposal, including Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer and Councilman Eric Ulrich. Groups including the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers and the Surfrider Foundation also spoke against the plan.

The public hearing was part of the Coast Guard’s effort to create an Environmental Impact Statement that will be used to determine whether approval should be granted. While issuing permits for these types of projects falls under the jurisdiction of the federal Maritime Administration, Gov. David Paterson has the option of vetoing the application.

According to the application, the Safe Harbor Energy Island would be at least 60 acres at the water surface and more than 110 acres at the ocean floor. It would require about 700,000 truckloads of fill and would be about 14 times larger than Giants Stadium. Tankers would deliver the liquid natural gas from foreign nations, before the substance is converted back into natural gas and distributed through pipelines.

Weiner declined to take a position on the proposal, noting that “right now we have far more questions than answers.” He said there have been several other similar applications filed in the past, including for a facility in the Long Island Sound that was rejected by Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell, “but nothing like this.”

“In 2009, knowing what we do about the environment, does having LNG brought here… help us towards energy independence, or does it asseverate the path we’re already on?” wondered Rep. Weiner. “It’s not like what we’ve seen before. I want to hear what the experts have to say.” Still, he recognized that the Rockaway peninsula is the most heavily populated barrier island in the world and home to many people concerned about the environment. “Our relationship with the water is not just a casual one,” he said.

However, other elected officials and environmental groups are already certain that this project will not benefit local residents and isn’t worth the risks or negative impact on the environment. Pheffer argued that only the corporation would benefit from the island and vowed to ask Gov. Paterson to veto the application

“I join the Surfrider Foundation, the Eco Watchers and countless other community groups in expressing my opposition,” said Pheffer to loud applause. “The environmentally-sensitive waterways of our community cannot be jeopardized by this project… The safety and wellbeing of my community cannot and will not be jeopardized” by a project that would be “significantly intrusive and incredibly harmful to the local and global environment.”

Ulrich, who was recently elected to the City Council, said he opposes the plan for several reasons. First, he questioned the need to import liquid natural gas from foreign nations when “American natural gas is in abundance… made right here by American workers.” He is also concerned about impacts on the environment and wondered where the governor stands on the issue. “Is he going to flip like Jon Corzine in New Jersey and sign off on this proposal?” asked Ulrich.

Others including Democratic District Leader Lew Simon, Community Board 14 Chairwoman Dolores Orr and Nassau County Legislator Dave Denenberg testified against the proposal.

Dan Mundy, Jr. of the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers said he is concerned about the impact it would have on “the very important habitat [which is] home to many species” and the potential terror target it would create. “It will put the local population at risk as a first-of-its-kind project,” he said. “There is no way at the end of the day you can turn around and guarantee to us there won’t be a problem.

In a statement, the Surfrider Foundation noted that LNG must be cooled to -265 degrees Fahrenheit to be converted back to natural gas. As a result of that process, its carbon footprint is roughly equivalent to coal. In addition, it is only available from foreign sources, and if spilled, is extremely flammable and can be ignited by something as innocuous as a boat engine or cell phone.

“The people of Long Beach and their City Council gave a loud, unanimous “no” to LNG after the hearing in January,” said Chris Wade, chair of the local Surfrider Foundation chapter. “But now that we’ve had a hearing in the light of day, here in New York City, we hope that Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council will come out against LNG as well,” he said.

Shoppers, Business Owners Outraged Over Parking Meter Rate Hike

By Conor Greene

Drivers who park at metered spots along local shopping strips will have to shell out a little more change to avoid a ticket, now that the city has reduced the amount of time a quarter gets you from a half hour to twenty minutes.

The city Department of Transportation recently finished reprogramming the borough’s 17,842 meters to reflect the new parking rates. Mayor Michael Bloomberg first announced in January that the rates at the city’s least-expensive meter would be increased for the first time since 1992 to raise an additional $16.8 million and help bridge the city’s $4 billion budget gap.

However, because the decision came as part of the mayor’s overall budget proposal, it didn’t receive widespread attention at the time. As a result, many shoppers and businesses say they were caught off-guard when the rates were recently increased literally overnight.

“Queens shoppers are being nickel-and-dimed at the expense of small businesses,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) at a press conference along Jamaica Avenue last Thursday. “We want to help local neighborhood stores, not drive shoppers away.”

Weiner was joined at the press conference by Senator Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), Maria Thompson of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corp. and several local small business owners. The meter rate increase is being phased in for 47,000 single-space meters and 730 muni-meters citywide. Adding insult to injury, the city has also increased fines that accompany parking tickets each of the past four years, said Weiner.

According to the congressman, the city expects to collect $66 million more this year from parking tickets. In 2008, ten million parking tickets were issued citywide, and the number of parking tickets issued between 2002 and 2008 has risen by 42%. Along Jamaica Avenue between 91st and 92nd streets, more than 1,000 parking tickets were issued from 2007 to 2008.

“It’s hard not to see the impact of the economy on the neighborhood shopping strip,” said Weiner, whose office recently completed a study showing more than 200 vacant storefronts along eight shopping districts, including 80 along Jamaica Avenue alone. While recognizing the need to have spaces turnover on a regular basis, Weiner questioned the motive behind the increase. “The issue is whether or not the city is interested in helping the businesses or just filling the coffers… This is a time we should ask the city to take its foot off the gas.”

Addabbo questioned the manner in which the city implemented the change, and stressed that the ten minutes “truly is going to hurt” local businesses. “We need to find another way… without constantly hurting the middle class and small businesses,” he said. On a personal note, Addabbo said he is “hurt” by the closure of Jason’s Toy Store, which now stands shuttered across the avenue from where the press conference was held. “My father took me to Jason’s when I was a small kid. It represents part of my childhood,” he said.

Thompson noted that small businesses “put up with so much everyday” and took the city to task for not publicizing the rate increase better. “No one told us. There was no warning, no hearing, no input,” she said. “I think that’s very unfair to the community.”

Several small business owners along Jamaica Avenue said the increase has already hurt them. Steve Esposito, owner of Orthopedic Shoe Clinic, said he fears the increased rates will make customers from Long Island less likely to come to his store. “If they get a ticket, they aren’t going to come back,” he said. “Since he [the mayor] can’t tax us anymore, he’s fining us to death.”

Matthew Xenakis, who owns Park Place Greenery and Florist, said drivers will be tempted to head for the malls, where parking is less expensive and spaces more plentiful. He said a delivery man recently got a ticket after dropping flowers off at his shop. “I felt bad so I gave him the money. No one told us anything about it or give us a warning,” he said.

State Reopens Aqueduct Bidding Process

By Patricia Adams

Gov. David Paterson, along with Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, announced last week the re-opening of the solicitation process for the Video Lottery Terminal facility at Aqueduct racetrack. In the wake of the collapsed deal with Delaware North, officials are seeking developers in a new bidding process. Applications are due on Friday, May 8 by 5 p.m.

After defaulting on their $370 million deal, Delaware North President, William Bissett cited deteriorating credit and financial markets in the recession economy for the failed bid and maintains that his company will be back. “While we disagree with their conclusion that a re-bid is necessary,” said Bissett “we nonetheless remain interested in developing Aqueduct and look forward to continue work with the administration to achieve that goal.”

State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. said: “I am more optimistic today about the future of Aqueduct and our surrounding communities now that the VLT solicitation process has begun. I intend to inform my residents and ensure their involvement in the process that pertains to protecting Aqueduct.”

Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer said: “After countless delays and false starts, I am happy that VLT’s at Aqueduct are finally back on track. We will learn on May 8th, the companies that have a true and realistic plan for Aqueduct. I remain committed to ensuring that our community’s vision for the “new Aqueduct” becomes a reality.”

As with the original proposal, the selected operator will be chosen by a unanimous agreement between the Governor, Majority Leader of the State Senate and the Assembly Speaker. “Growing our economy through job creation and economic development projects such as the implementation of VLTs at Aqueduct will move our state toward the type of new economy New York needs to get back on track,” Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith said. “Though it is disappointing that the process has been slowed due to the struggling economy, I am confident that we can find a new partner to build Aqueduct into a gaming location that bolsters the local and state economy.”

Developers expected to bid in the second round will most likely match those from the first time around, and will probably include Delaware North, Capital Play and SL Green. According to a press release issued by the governor’s office the winning bidder would pay the full amount of their proposed up-front franchise fee no later than ten business days following the execution of the new Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU).

The State would issue personal income tax bonds through the Empire State Development Corporation in the amount of $250 million in order to finance eligible VLT project costs. The net amount borrowed would be advanced to the selected bidder to be used for project capital costs incurred in the construction of a VLT facility at Aqueduct. The VLT facility would be constructed by the VLT Vendor, which will be responsible for its design and construction subject to the terms of the MOU and applicable laws and regulations. Neither ESDC nor the State will be responsible for construction or cost overruns.

The State would enter into an agreement with the winning bidder for a fixed period of 30 years, with a possible 10-year extension based on the attainment of reasonable benchmarks that ensure satisfactory performance.

Vendors may propose modifications to this MOU as part of their bids. Their proposed changes will be considered by the Governor, Majority Leader, and Speaker in making their selection.

Along with Delaware North, Capital Play and SL Greene, are expected to enter bids in the new process. SL Green, thought to be the frontrunner in the last bid, this week filed a lawsuit against Delaware North. Lawyers for SL Green say that the Buffalo based firm teamed up with them in the first round to get inside information and essentially used trade secrets for their own purposes.

According to published reports, this lawsuit alleges Delaware North “agreed to non-competition, confidentiality, and exclusivity restrictions” when it joined with SL Green in 2006. Although Delaware North ultimately did not remain with the SL Green effort, the suit alleges that prior to Delaware North’s departure "SL Green gave DNC access to confidential and proprietary business information... " It goes on to allege that since at least October 2007, Delaware North improperly competed with SL Green for the video lottery terminal rights at Aqueduct.

As has been the case throughout the lengthy process to establish a racino at Aqueduct, rumors continue. Delaware North partnered with R. Donahue Peebles and his development company in their quest to win the bid last year. Among the current batch of rumors is one that indicates Peebles is exploring forming a new team to bid on the project now. If true, that has the potential to further muddy the waters as another similar lawsuit could loom depending on what the terms of Peebles’ partnering with Delaware North involved.

The Governor’s announcement of the reopening of bidding for the VLT rights at Aqueduct and the lawsuit are the latest developments in what has been a long process to redevelop the racetrack. “We thought the VLT development would finally get underway when Delaware North was selected back in October. It took years to get to that selection in a process that began in the early part of this decade.

Community Board 10 Chairperson Betty Braton said, “Although we preferred the proposals put forth by others, with Delaware’s selection in the fall we thought that finally all the delays were over, and we were willing to accept them despite our misgivings due to the State’s pressing financial situation. We’re concerned that apparently Delaware will be allowed to participate in this new bidding process. This time around, the Community Board’s opinion is simply: ‘not Delaware North’ – and we have expressed that to Senator Addabbo and Assemblywoman Pheffer.”

Life Sentences Handed Down in Forest Hills Dentist Murder

By Conor Greene

The Forest Hills woman accused of having her husband murdered in broad daylight was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The gunman, who was paid $20,000 to carry out the murder, received the same sentence.

Mazoltuv Borukhova and her uncle by marriage, Mikhail Mallayev, were sentenced Tuesday by Justice Robert Hanophy after being convicted in March of first-degree murder and conspiracy in the shooting death of Dr. Daniel Malakov.

According to prosecutors, Borukhova, 35, paid Mallayev about $20,000 to shoot Malakov in broad daylight near Annadale Playground in October 2007. Malakov, 34, had just won custody of the couple’s five-year-old daughter, Michelle, and was dropping her off to visit her mother when he was killed.

As she had throughout the trial, Borukhova proclaimed her innocence before the judge handed down the sentence. “I have nothing to do with this murder. I didn’t kill anyone. I have nothing to do with it,” she said.

Mallayev, 51, also claimed he had nothing to do with the murder before he was sentenced. “I didn’t kill nobody in my life,” he said. “I live by the Ten Commandments… I feel comfortable with myself. I’m good in front of myself and in front of God.”

Before he sentenced Borukhova, the judge warned her of the consequences of seeking revenge. “Your husband lies in a natural grave. You are about to enter your 8-by-8 above ground cell, where you will spend the rest of your natural life,” he told her. “Your daughter is now without a father and for all practical purposes is without a mother. What a legacy to leave your daughter.”

Mallayev was linked to the crime after detectives matched a fingerprint from a homemade silencer found at the murder scene to his prints, which were on file from a previous fare-beating arrest. Prosecutors used cell phone records to prove he was in the city at the time of the murder, and say the pair exchanged 90 phone conversations in the weeks leading up to the murder.

Although she was standing just feet away from Malakov when he was shot, Borukhova told the police and jurors that she never saw the gunman or heard any shots. An eyewitness who was walking her dog at the time of the murder identified Mallayev as the gunman.

Following the sentencing, Malakov’s family said they are pleased with the outcome but expressed concern for Michelle. The girl, who witnessed the murder, has been cared for by the slain man’s uncle Gavriel Malakov, who hopes to adopt her. “As Michelle grows up she will ask a lot of questions and I will somehow have to answer those questions,” he told reporters. “I’m afraid as I’m going through feelings of excitement and joy, I may feel extremely devastated tomorrow… I feel scared for tomorrow.”

He also wondered if life could return to some semblance of normalcy for Michelle. “Will Michelle every stop having those nightmares? Will she every have those sweet dreams that a typical six-year-old has when they go to sleep at night?”

The slain man’s father, Khaika Malakov, said that the sentencing was “reasonable and right’ but added that “nobody wins in this case… Everyone lost. Everyone lost because I lost my son, Michelle lost her father....”

Both defendants were sentenced to life without parole for first-degree murder, along with an additional consecutive sentence of 8 to 25 years for second-degree conspiracy. Mallayev was received a 15 year sentence, to run concurrently, for illegal weapons possession. Attorneys for both said they plan to appeal the verdicts.

Public Review of Downzoning Begins

The formal public review of the long-awaited rezoning of 300 blocks in Middle Village, Maspeth and Glendale began on Tuesday, meaning it could be approved by the fall.

The formal Uniform Land Use Review Process for the proposal began Monday, which gives Community Board 5 60 days to review it. It then goes to Borough President Helen Marshall, the City Planning Commission and finally to the City Council to be approved.

The proposed area to be rezoned is bounded by the Long Island Expressway, Woodhaven Boulevard, Forest Park, Mount Carmel Cemetery, Cypress Hills Cemetery, Fresh Pond Road and 59th Street and is adjacent to three rezonings completed in 2006. Much of the zoning within the area has remained unchanged since 1961 and allows a range of uses and housing types that can be inconsistent with the prevailing lower density character, according to the Department of City Planning.

“Since 2002, the Bloomberg Administration has rezoned 4,000 blocks in Queens to create a sustainable blueprint for the future, protecting neighborhood character and channeling development away from auto-dependent neighborhoods,” said City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden. She said that this downzoning effort is one of the largest rezonings to date in Queens and will protect “three of Queens’ most attractive neighborhoods.”

The rezoning is intended to serve several purposes, including protecting the neighborhoods’ one-and-two family homes by implementing zoning districts that “ensure that new developments match the existing scale and density of surrounding houses.” It will also eliminate infill provisions, which allows for development at a higher density than would otherwise be allowed.

In addition, it provides “modest housing opportunities along Woodhaven Boulevard and Myrtle Avenue” provided that it is consistent with the three-and-four-story mixed-use buildings along those strips. Finally, it will update commercial overlays to reflect the current land uses and “support retail continuity” along shopping areas on Cooper, Myrtle, Flushing, Grand and Metropolitan avenues and Woodhaven Boulevard. Commercial overlays would be eliminated or reduced to prevent commercial intrusion on residential blocks.

“After three years, the Department of City Planning has finally moved forward with the rezoning…” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley in a statement. Since day one in office, I have made rezoning a priority because it is necessary for limiting overdevelopment and to protect the character of our community. I will continue [to push the DCP] and work with the Community Board and Borough President to ensure the rezoning plan is implemented as soon as possible.”

The effort began more than three years ago, when volunteers from the Juniper Park Civic Association and other residents went door-to-door collecting information about the type of development that currently exists. However, the effort then languished, leaving residents frustrated as they watched small modest homes being torn down and replaced by multi-family units.

“It should have started at least two years ago. Since then, almost every block in our neighborhood has been victimized by overdevelopment,” said Robert Holden, president of the JPCA.

Community Board 5 will hold its public hearing on the proposal at a meeting on Monday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Christ the King High School.

Officials Discuss Impact of Federal Stimulus Plan

By Conor Greene

To make sense of the federal stimulus plan, two Queens lawmakers held a town hall meeting last week to explain how the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009 will impact the average resident.

Rep. Anthony Weiner and Senator Joseph Addabbo met with several dozen residents last Wednesday afternoon in PS 254 in Woodhaven. They explained that the $787 billion will result in about $24 billion in aid to New York State, with about $5 billion coming to the city. Of the money coming to the state, about $6.2 billion will be used to help bridge the $17.7 billion budget deficit. The money must be spent over the next two years.

State officials are “still working to allocate the dollars effectively” and in a “transparent” manner, said Addabbo (D-Howard Beach). He called the aid “one shot for the most part” but both lawmakers said they hope this stimulus plan will have longer lasting impacts compared to the previous stimulus plan under the Bush Administration.

The money can be used for several purposes, including helping bridge state budget gaps, to prevent cuts to healthcare and education, for energy and infrastructure projects, for public safety and for housing and foreclosure prevention – something Addabbo called a “rising issue in our surrounding communities.” The money will primarily be distributed through 25 state agencies and the Governor’s Office, with the federal government overseeing some areas.

Weiner explained that there are several goals for the bill which “all need to be done in concert” to reverse the economy’s “downward direction.” The first is to provide money to states to avoid “giant slashing of their budgets.” However, he stressed that the “federal government didn’t do New York State any big favors – this is your money that’s been shortchanged.”

The bill is also intended to create jobs through construction projects including roads, bridges and schools, said Weiner, adding that the dual benefit is “having people at work” and having something to show in return for the cost. “They’re going to get a better state,” he said, in contrast to the tax cuts for the wealthy and the Iraq war, for which we have nothing to show.

Along those lines, the bill is also intended to provide tax cuts for the middle class. “We want to make sure people here have a few dollars in their pocket so they can go out to the neighborhood shopping strip,” said Weiner, adding that the top 2% will get no relief under the plan. “Every single middle class resident of Queens has something coming to them in that bill.”

Instead of receiving the entire relief within a single check, however, the relief is coming in the form of a reduction in federal withholdings in each paycheck over the next nine quarters, starting now. Those not working will receive the relief in their tax return at the end of the year. Last time, said Weiner, the stimulus plan helped China, not America. “It didn’t have the true stimulating month-by-month effect we hope this will have.”

Several residents asked if the money could help prevent some of the drastic service cuts the MTA is considering under its budget. Specifically, residents at the meeting were concerned about the impact of cuts to the B52 bus, which runs along Jamaica Avenue, and the Z Train.

Weiner explained that “the short answer is no” since the stimulus can only be used for capital projects, such as repainting the tracks the run above the avenue. He said the problem is a restriction against using federal dollars to help support MTA operations, which lawmakers “need to reverse.” Under the plan, the MTA is receiving about $1 billion for capital projects.

Addabbo said the looming MTA cuts will “have to be addressed in Albany… Certainly we’re not going to sit on the sidelines” as deep cuts are made. “I don’t believe the MTA is very good at accounting,” he added. “You’re handing them a lot of money… and then they’re back a year from now talking about [additional] fare increases and service cuts.”

The lawmakers also addressed the recent closings of St. John’s and Mary Immaculate hospitals and said the stimulus bill doesn’t provide money towards hospitals. “I think the government has done a terrible job,” said Weiner. “There is a shortage of healthcare in New York… we’re going to realize it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to keep it open. I think it was a huge mistake.”

Addabbo said the state Health Department made it clear that “they wanted out” after providing millions of dollars in funding the struggling hospitals over the past few years. “To me that was the easy way out, to stop funding and let it close. It’s something the state government is going to have to try to find a way.”

Foundation President Honored by ACS

The President of the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation, Mario Faulisi, has been named as an honoree by the American Cancer Society (ACS) for the First Annual Howard Beach Relay for Life to be held on June 13th – 14th at Charles Park.

Event chairs Phyllis Inserillo and Melissa Fochetta along with Special Events manager for the ACS, John Link, were on hand Tuesday night at the membership meeting of the Foundation to announce their decision.

“The Event Planning committee of the 1st Annual Howard Beach Relay for Life is proud to announce that the Relay will be named in honor of Mario Faulisi for his courageous battle with cancer, his victory over the disease and his constant dedication to the community,” said Inserillo. “It is people with his integrity that make Howard Beach the community it is.”

Faulisi was diagnosed last year with a rare and aggressive lymphoma and has recently completed a successful course of chemotherapy and radiation. “I am blessed with the opportunity to help get the word out,” said Faulisi. “You can battle this disease and you can win, but everyone who encounters cancer needs as much help as they can get.”

Foundation member and media personality, Valerie Smaldone, was on hand to congratulate Faulisi on his honor and also to encourage participation in the event. “I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer about 8 years ago. I came from a time when that meant death, but due to the tremendous research efforts and the development of medication and therapy, we are seeing more survivors.”

In his honor the Foundation has made a $5,000 donation to the Howard Beach Relay and will act as one of the event's corporate sponsors. “It’s a really great thing when we can not only honor a survivor, but help so many other people,” said Angelo Gurino, the Foundation treasurer.

The Foundation encourages all Howard Beach residents to bring their friends and family to the event in June in support of this cause. For more information please contact the Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation at 718-738-7035 or e-mail

Thursday, April 16, 2009

This Week's Forum West and South

City Won't Compensate '07 Flood Victims


By Conor Greene

Many homeowners whose properties were damaged during the 2007 floods are livid that the city is claming it’s not responsible for their losses.

Comptroller William Thompson announced last week that the city has denied flooding claims filed by property owners and businesses in the wake of three torrential downpours in April, July and August 2007. The announcement came after an investigation by the city Department of Environmental Protection “found no basis for holding the city liable.”

“Unfortunately, DEP’s report and that agency’s findings leave my office with no alternative but to deny these claims,” said Thompson in a statement. “Under the existing law, we are unable to provide the relief that was requested in these claims. I deeply regret that we are not able to provide claimants with better news regarding this unfortunate incident.”

In its report, the DEP “indicted that the extremely heavy rainfall on those days overwhelmed the existing sewer systems in the affected areas.” Department crews “responded to the flooding in a timely manner and took appropriate measures to relieve the flooding conditions.”

As a result, victims such as Bruce Saffran of Forest Hills have been left with little recourse other than to file a lawsuit against the city. The torrential rainfalls in August 2007 sent four feet of water sweeping through Saffran’s ground-floor apartment on Yellowstone Boulevard, destroying virtually all of the family’s possessions.

“The city is letting us down tremendously,” said Saffran, who was forced to flee the apartment with his wife and young son after the water rushed into his apartment. To make matters worse, the bathroom sink and toilet overflowed at the same time, sending raw sewage into the home. “The floods poured through the lobby and came racing through the apartment, knocking furniture every which way. I was scrambling to get out, get my wife out, call 911 while carrying my son out literally upstream through water,” he said.

“This backup came from the sewers, so everything was covered with a layer of fecal matter. It was just a nightmare. You walk in and there’s nothing left,” said Saffran, who estimates the damages ran close to $100,000 – not to mention items that can’t be replaced, including wedding and baby photos. “We lost everything we owned, literally.”

Saffran said he “wasn’t shocked at all” by the city’s determination it isn’t at fault after receiving a letter from the DEP almost two years ago that denied any responsibility. However, he says the city installed a larger storm drain on his block within months of the flooding – which shows that officials realized the infrastructure wasn’t up to the task. “That tells me they knew there was a problem,” he said.

Since several individuals and business owners filed claims with the city seeking enormous amounts of money, Saffran suspects the city decided to simply deny all claims and deal with each individual lawsuit one by one. “I’m not trying to gouge anybody, all I want is to be made whole, and I made that clear from the get-go,” he said. “It’s not like I jumped on the back of a bus that had just rear-ended somebody.”

The city’s decision not to compensate flood victims was also met with criticism from local politicians including Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, whose district includes the hard-hit neighborhoods of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale, and Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who called the city’s decision “callous.”

Crowley (D-Middle Village) said the neighborhoods “are still feeling the repercussions” of the storms and faulted the DEP for failing to ensure the horror faced by homeowners isn’t repeated in the coming months.

“Given that the [DEP] has yet to adequately address the infrastructure issues, these community members remain vulnerable to future disaster,” said Crowley. “With the raining season here, I share their fear of the potential impact of future storms. My constituents need to know that their tax money is going towards their security such as pipelines and sewage systems that will not collapse in the face of another storm.” She said the city infrastructure, which was designed in the 1920s, “does not come close to meeting the security needs of the community.”

Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said years of negligence by the city was to blame. “The city has known for years of inadequate sewer infrastructure and regular, widespread flooding, and the city must take responsibility for failing its most basic municipal obligations – to keep raw sewage from flooding into people’s home when it rains,” he said. “It is outrageous that the city will not only not fix this problem, but actually refuses to provide restitution for those who have had their homes damaged.”

Lancman, whose own home was flooded by untreated sewage, questioned why Mayor Bloomberg is “focusing all of his time on building baseball stadiums… but doing absolutely nothing for residents of Queens whose homes and streets are flooded when it rains.” He noted that the mayor didn’t use any of the federal stimulus money to upgrade the borough’s drainage system.

Patricia Donovan, whose on 74th Street near Penelope Avenue in Middle Village was damaged in both July and August, was also upset but not surprised to learn that the city had rejected her $16,000 claim. She has no doubt the blame rests with the city and said she has dealt with flooding problems since 1996.

“I’m tired. I’ll move next time. I can’t stay here anymore,” she said. “It’s not worth it. It’s going to happen again and I’m really tired of it. I don’t see anything being done… I shake when a storm is coming. It’s a horrible way to live.”

Angela Runza, whose home on 78th Street in Middle Village sustained about $40,000 worth of damage, faces a different problem in the aftermath of the 2007 flood – her insurance carrier has dropped her, forcing her to switch to a much more expensive carrier. “I had raw sewage in my basement twice,” she said. “It was the most disgusting thing, horrible. It was the worst experience of my life. All my neighbors, everyone in my area had floods.”

After her house was flooded for the second time within a month, Runza says she checked with her broker before filing a second insurance claim and was told she wouldn’t be dropped by her carrier, Travelers Insurance. Nonetheless, she eventually received notice he was being dropped because she filed two claims within two years. “I wouldn’t have put the claim in for another $5,000” if she knew she would be dropped.

Runza said that she wasn’t aware that flood victims could turn to the city for help, so she wasn’t one of the nearly 1,150 Queens residents who filed claims with the city after the two major storms in the summer of 2007. However, despite Thompson’s announcement, she has no doubt that the city is responsible for the damages.

“I’m shocked, because at one of the town hall meetings they said they were responsible, and now they’re saying no,” she said. “How can it not be a city issue? To have raw sewage floating in people’s homes is disgusting. I really feel the city should do their part.”

Victims of the July storm had until April 15 to file lawsuits against the city, while victims of the August flood have until May 5.

Maspeth School Site is Contaminated

DOE, Crowley Downplay Findings

The Maspeth property eyed by the city for a new 1,100-seat high school is contaminated and will have to be remediated before construction begins, according to an environmental impact study conducted for the School Construction Authority.

The study, completed in February, showed that the former Restaurant Depot property at 74th Street and 57th Avenue contains “environmental conditions associated with the historic presence of nearby automotive service stations, dry cleaners, a salvage yard, manufacturing facilities and a former gas manufacturing facility.”

A further examination of the property last March showed “elevated concentrations of petroleum-related volatile organic compounds and tetrachloroethene” in soil vapor, along with “elevated concentrations of semivolatile organic compounds and metals” in the soil. As a result, measures including “proper management of excavated soils and appropriate health and safety measures” will be implemented during construction.

A DOE spokesman downplayed the findings and said “the soil conditions referenced… are common to urban construction sites” found throughout the city. “The Department of Education observes rigorous and very conservative standards in determining whether a site is suitable for school construction,” said Will Havemann. “We proposed the Maspeth High School site only after establishing that it will be completely safe for the building's students and staff.”

The building, which will include two separate 500-seat high schools and 100 seats for special education students, “will be equipped with a precautionary barrier system to ensure that no contaminants can enter the school building," said Havemann. According to the environmental report, “no significant adverse impacts due to the presence of hazardous and petroleum-contaminated materials would be expected to occur either during or following construction at the site” once those measures are taken.

Havemann said the project’s estimated $70 to $80 million cost includes the measures required due to the contamination.

The contamination was not mentioned during public hearings held over the past two years. On April 2, the City Council voted 38-10 to approve the Department of Education’s plan, despite the fact that local Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) voted against it. Crowley said this week that she received the report in February, and that the issue of contamination wasn’t raised during public hearings because it is “a given” that a former manufacturing site would have to be cleaned up.

“I will make sure as a councilmember that the site is clean if they do build a school there,” said Crowley. “I’m surprised this has gotten the attention it’s gotten. I don’t think people realize how contaminated the soil is in the city.” In a statement, Crowley said the “existence of toxic soil on industrial sites is a given” and the SCA must “purify the soil before they think about building a school on this property.”

However, while she is comfortable that the site will eventually be cleaned in accordance with legal standards, Crowley said that the environmental report issued “is too vague.” She wants the SCA to clearly spell out “The steps on how they are going to deal with any of the impacts… All they did was identify some areas that’s contaminated,” she said, stressing that she stands behind her vote against the project.

Crowley voted against the project after the DOE refused to grant priority admissions to neighborhood children. Instead, the DOE granted priority to students throughout District 24, which stretches from Long Island City to Corona and south to Ridgewood. However, many local residents opposed any school at that site because there already are two schools within two blocks of the property.

Some residents and civic members are now questioning why the DOE is still pursuing the property, considering the city might be forced to use eminent domain if a deal can’t be reached with the current owner. “It’s ridiculous that the city is wasting our tax dollars to use eminent domain to take a contaminated site when there are alternative locations available which… are more centrally located,” said Christine Wilkinson, a Juniper Park Civic Association executive board member.

Maspeth businessman Tony Nunziato said the City Council simply “didn’t do its homework” before approving the plan. “It tells you that from Deputy Mayor Walcott down, they just want to get this done on their timeframe,” he said. “They don’t want to do the work to find the right location.” He noted that the EIS claimed that the area can handle the influx of an additional 90 cars the city says the project will attract to the area each day. “It’s government at its worst, and they’re not looking out for the constituents.”

Robert Holden, president of the JPCA and a Community Board 5 member, questioned why the report wasn’t distributed to board members, discussed at hearings or available on the SCA website, where environmental reports on other projects can be accessed.

“We didn’t know it existed. We kept asking [about the impacts the school would have] and all along they had the report,” said Holden. “It’s amazing that Councilmember Crowley would minimize the impact and I’m shocked this wasn’t brought up at the hearings… The report contains alarming information about toxic contamination on the site. The entire public process on the Maspeth high school has been rushed and important information was withheld and covered up.”

The JPCA and another local civic group, Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together “are now contemplating legal action to protect the rights of residents living in the neighborhood,” according to Holden.

The EIS also left Dr. James Cervino, an environmental science professor at Pace University, with some concerns. He called the report “highly ambiguous and lacking scientific credit in its present format” because it lacks specific numbers showing how high the levels of toxic compounds are. Cervino, who advises Senator Frank Padavan on issues regarding schools built on toxic sites, said the public must be able to see for themselves exactly how high the levels are using “hard data.”

“What they’ve shown is, these really bad cancer-causing compounds are there, but we’re going to stick a pipe in the ground, hook up a Home Depot fan and vent the materials in the ground into the air above the roof,” he said. “They might be right, it might be within the acceptable limits, but let me see the numbers. Let the public decide… I wouldn’t send my kids to that school. Why isn’t the public being shown the numbers? It raises a red flag.”

Former City Councilman Anthony Como (R-Middle Village), who lost his reelection bid to Crowley in November, issued a statement on Wednesday accusing Crowley of putting the community in danger by not raising the contamination issue during hearings.

“All children deserve a safe environment in which to learn and play. To withhold vital information about contaminants at a proposed school site is reckless and short-sighted,” said Como. “The results… should have been made public.”

Residents were also surprised that the SCA filed an application with the city Department of Buildings on April 3 – the day following City Council’s vote approving the plan – for installation of a fire alarm system at the proposed school. The application, which was disapproved, lists a SCA employee, Eftihia Tsitiridis as the property owner. Havemann was not able to provide information on the application by press time, and Crowley said that while the city is now legally allowed to buy property, she isn’t aware of any sale.

Hamilton Beach Woman Escapes Danger

By Patricia Adams

Editor's Note: The family referred to in this story have asked to have their names withheld because of concerns for their safety. Throughout the story we will refer to the family representative who was interviewed by the name of Ms. B.

On Monday afternoon at about 2 p.m., a 19-year-old resident of Hamilton Beach, walking over the bridge with her infant in a carriage, had just made the turn onto Russell Street when she heard a man’s voice say “Excuse me.” When the young woman turned around to see who was talking to her, she was met with a most unwelcome and dangerous situation.

According to the girl’s mother, Ms. B, a long time resident of Hamilton Beach, the man said “disgusting things of a very graphic sexual nature and began groping himself”. The man was described as being in his 30’s, about 5’5", heavy set with a shaved head, big nose and wearing denim pants and a t-shirt. Fearing for her safety and that of her child, Ms. B’s daughter started to run toward her home, less than one block away. She turned back to see if the man was behind her, but he seemed to have just vanished.

When she reached home, the frantic young mother told her sister what had happened. Getting into the car immediately, they searched the area to no avail.

Ms. B said she notified police immediately. “They were here in record time. They searched the area and found nothing.” She said that police informed her that if they had caught the man the only action they could have taken was to give him a summons for disorderly conduct.

The woman said that police told her they would not have been able to arrest the man unless he had exposed himself or actually touched her. “The thing that really eats at me is that I have told my daughter over and over, never to walk along the boardwalk. I always said to stay on the street because people are around.”

Now Ms. B says she is very concerned over the fact that this could happen again to someone else who might not be lucky enough to get away. “Let’s face it. If a man could come up to a woman with a baby carriage and say these things to her, there has to be something drastically wrong with him.”

She further urges anyone who sees a man fitting the description to call the police right away. “I believe this man lives right here in our neighborhood. Years ago everyone knew everyone here, but now, with all the new houses being built and sold, we have a lot of new people.”

“I want to make my neighbors aware of what happened here today,” said Ms. B. “Let them know that there could be this type of predator in our midst. I would hate to have anything like this happen again. Not to anyone.”

Ms. B said she strongly believes that the man could resurface in Hamilton at any time. “Look at the way this happened. You think this guy just came from out of nowhere? I am sure he wasn’t just hanging out in broad daylight, with no jacket, no car, nothing, waiting for a victim to pass by,” she said with resolve. “I believe he saw my daughter coming over the bridge and went out to get her. He’s sick and if he’s living somewhere around here, he’ll be found.”

Anyone seeing a man who fits this description is urged to call police immediately. The number for the 106 Precinct is 718-845-2211.

NYRA Selling Vacant Land

By Patricia Adams

Residents in the Centerville area who live adjacent to vacant properties owned by the New York Racing Association received letters from David R. Malts & Co. on March 25, informing them that NYRA “has decided to liquidate certain assets that are not part of its core business strategy.” The letter also informed residents that they had to remove any structures, fences, pools or items stored on the NYRA property.

The letter indicated that David Maltz & Co. would be conducting an auction of the land on May 13th. David R. Maltz & Co. Inc. is an auction company that specializes in sales that are debt related. Since those letters were sent out to residents it appears the auction date has changed. According to the auctioneer's website, it is to take place at the racetrack on June 10th.

The 64 tax lots are all located in the Centerville area and are presently vacant land. All are zoned R4 which allows only for residential development. According to the auctioneer, lots/assemblages Range from 2,000 - 75,000 Sq. Ft.

At the Community Board 10 meeting two weeks ago, NYRA Vice President Liz Bracken and NYRA's Community Relations Manager, Joanne Adams, were present, but provided little information as to on how local residents whose properties abut the lands to be sold could participate in the auction. The Board requested that such information be provided.

The land now in use by the Ozone-Howard Little League is not among the parcels to be sold. The Little League will continue to operate on the NYRA owned land it uses.

Lots reported to be included in the planned sale are lots 1,7, and 129 on Block 11535; lots 18,21,22,25,26,and 27 on Block 11551; lots 30,21,35,36,37,39,41,85, 91, 94, 95, and 100 on Block 11552; lots 7, 16, 30, 38, 40, and 42 on Block 11555; lots 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 19, 23, 25, 30, 32, 33, 35, 38, 45, and 60 on Block 11559; lot 11 on Block 11560; lots 1, 3. 5. 8, 12, 22,35, 36, 37, and 122 on Block 11561; lots 140, 152, 153, 157, 175, 179, 188, 200, and 202 on Block 11562.

Some community residents maintain they were not aware until now that NYRA intended to sell off the 64 surplus lots it doesn’t utilize. But the sale of the parcels has been brought up at the Ozone Park Civic Association meetings as well as at the Community Board and other area meetings many times over the last few years.

According to NYRA Chief Administrative Officer John Ryan, “The New York Racing Association has been wanting to sell these properties for years.” NYRA had sought approval to sell them in 2005 as part of its effort to stave off bankruptcy proceedings, but that sale did not advance.

Most proceeds generated from the planned sale are to go toward NYRA's debt, including an outstanding IRS bill estimated to be around $25 million and a state tax bill for back taxes in the amount of $1.4 million. A small portion will be set aside for capital improvements.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) said he is seeking information from NYRA as well as Gov. Patterson’s office concerning the upcoming auction. “What we have to realize here is that the residents of this community will have to deal with whatever is built here for a long time,” Addabbo said. “That mandates that we carefully review every detail now.”

Following a meeting with NYRA last week, Sen. Addabbo has requested a map to physically see the layout and contends that he will push hard for current homeowners to have the first shot at purchasing adjacent properties. “Certainly we want to see people who live here have an opportunity to buy land parcels that are connected to their homes and not have developers come in and take that away from them.” Maps of the area and the lots planned to be sold was provided to Addabbo, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, and Community Board 10 Chairperson Betty Braton by NYRA at later meeting with NYRA President Charles Hayward and other NYRA staff.

Sen. Addabbo also stated that there are problems with some parcels of land because they could “disappear” as a result of a slated city project, 411B, which will serve to widen streets in the area. “There are parcels included in the auction package, such as some on Bristol Street, that could be lessened by at least a third of their size due to their physical location when 411B begins.”

According to the senator, although 411B has been talked about for nearly 15 years it will definitely come to fruition, and when it does there are lots on certain mapped, as yet unconstructed, streets that run right through the center of the project. All of the lots NYRA plans to sell are located within the HW411B project area.

Addabbo isn’t the only elected official that is promising constituents a watchful eye. State Assembly member Audrey Pheffer says she plans on closely monitoring NYRA’s sale. Stressing the importance of keeping residents informed, Pheffer said, “This process must be run in an extremely open fashion. The residents must know exactly what to expect. She said that because the properties in question are all subject to zoning restrictions, all new construction would have to be similar to existing structures throughout the area.

NYRA has indicated that it will provide more information as soon as it becomes available.

Op-Ed: It's a Dog's Life!

By Phyllis Taiano

If all goes according to plan, Middle Village canines will soon have a safe place to run freely, play and socialize at Juniper Valley Park.

The park is the result of growing interest in the Middle Village area for the creation of an area to let dogs run freely. There is obviously a demand for the dog park, and the public has really stepped up in order to help achieve this goal. There has been a large turnout in meetings and the unprecedented support for the Juniper Valley Park Dog Association. Members of nearby dog parks have been in attendance to provide feedback and consultation.

The fenced-in park proposal has been reviewed by the membership and the overwhelming support for the area currently being occupied far and away surpassed that of the other two or three areas under consideration. Now that the planned dog park has won the support of dog owners and non owners alike, there's still another hurdle: paying for the park.

Volunteers have stepped up to offer their contractor abilities for building benches that will surround the trees, while others are signing up for clean up days, or planting flowers. Local pet-related businesses have also jumped in to help plan local pet events together. In conjunction, The Juniper Valley Park Dog Association is currently planning fundraisers to help offset the costs for building and maintaining our park.

The JVPDA is working diligently in structuring the park appropriately. Our dog park will be a help, not a hindrance, to those who'd rather not be around dogs. Proper fencing and barriers will segregate the dogs from areas of the park being used for other activities like baseball games and children's recreational activities and heavy pedestrian traffic. The fenced-in park will be separated into two areas: one for dogs under 20 pounds and another for dogs of any size.

Dog parks share one common purpose; to provide an area where dogs can run free from restraint---legally and safely. A dog park may also provide their only chance to interact with other dogs and people. And because a well-socialized dog is less likely to develop behavior problems such as aggression and excessive barking, an outdoor club for canines may help reduce associated neighborhood conflicts. While dogs are busy socializing with each other, owners are doing the same, creating a sense of community and camaraderie. As one more bonus, our dog park filled with users and their dogs is a great crime deterrent within the city park system.

On Monday, April 20th at 7pm at Juniper Park - Brennan Field, the JVPDA and the Juniper Valley Parks Committee will be meeting to discuss the location for our park. Perhaps we will come to know our new dog park as the “pets and people park!” It’s another way we’ll keep that sense of “community” alive and well in Middle Village.

If you are interested in volunteering and being a part of the JVPDA, volunteers should be dog lovers who are willing to pitch in to keep our park fun and a healthy environment for our dogs and uprights! We have occasional meetings and will be hosting events at the park. Become a volunteer. It’s a great way to give back to the park that we enjoy with our four-legged friends.

For general information, e-mail Joe Pisano, President of JVPDA, at For volunteer fundraising efforts: or Information in regards to general dog park volunteering:

Editor’s Note: Since there has been some opposition to creating a dog run in Juniper Valley Park and concerns over its proposed location, Community Board 5 will hold its Parks Committee meeting at Juniper Valley on Monday evening.

What do you think about the group’s efforts to create a dog park? Comment below or write to us at