Thursday, September 24, 2009

This Week's Forum South and West

Residents, Business Owners Protest Waste Management Expansion Plan

By Conor Greene

Civic leaders and elected officials gathered in front of Waste Management’s Review Avenue property on Monday to call on the city to reconsider its solid waste disposal plan, which will increase the amount of local truck traffic in West Maspeth.

The press conference, which included Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), members of the Juniper Park Civic Association and local business owners, was called in response to a plan by WM to expand its waste transfer station under the city’s Solid Waste Management Plan.

Residents and officials are objecting to the plan because it would require the company to truck residential waste from Review Avenue, where it is delivered by city sanitation trucks, to the Maspeth Rail Yard at Rust Street, a trip of about 1.5 miles each way. Instead, the community is calling on WM to either purchase a nearby property that has access to the existing rail line running through the area or the adjacent Newtown Creek, or to at least build a rail spur on the Review Avenue property, which is next to the track.

“This is just one more example of the city not reaching out to the community to find appropriate solutions,” said Avella. “We’re calling on the city to take a second look at this plan and… together come up with a plan that works. This doesn’t.”

The solid waste management plan was approved by the City Council in 2006. Then Councilmembers Eric Gioia, who represented that section of Long Island City and Maspeth at the time, and Dennis Gallagher, who represented parts of Maspeth, both voted in favor of the plan, according to city records.

The facility is currently permitted to receive up to 958 tons of trash per day. Under the new arrangement, the site will be able to handle up to 2,100 tons per day and will typically receive about 1,150 tons per day. As a result, there would be at least 65 round trip truck trips each day between Review Avenue and the Maspeth Rail Yard.

Crowley, who holds Gallagher’s old seat, said she is “outraged” by the current plan and suggested that WM instead look into using other nearby sites that have creek and rail access, such as the former Phelps Dodge property. She said “it’s not fair for our families” to have the amount of trucks in the area increased, especially since the local asthma rate is “through the roof.”

“Waste Management has to go back to the drawing board and come up with a plan that will work for our community,” added Crowley.

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, noted that the WM facility is located on contaminated land. “So they’re going to build on a toxic site and then pollute the air,” he said. “This whole plan stinks to high heaven.” He also criticized the city for allowing WM to run public hearings on the proposal. “A private company ran a public hearing notifying the public on what’s to come,” he noted.

Holden called on Mayor Bloomberg, who is seeking reelection to a third term in November, to intervene. “If he wants to be mayor for four more years… We haven’t heard any indication that he wants to work with the community,” the civic leader said.

Maspeth civic leader and business owner Tony Nunziato made it clear that this isn’t a case of residents demanding that the project not take place in their backyard. “We’re not saying keep it out – we’re saying put it in the right spot… This is not a case of NIMBY,” said Nunziato. “It’s an easy request.”

Richard Sherman, the second generation owner of Williams Valve Corporation – located on one side of the driveway used by WM to access the facility from Review Avenue – accused the city of ignoring the needs of small businesses. “When it comes to us, they don’t really care,” he charged. “They’re going to permit the expansion of a toxic waste dump… We feel as taxpayers that we have the same rights as anyone else.”

While the WM expansion will only create about 10 additional jobs, Avella pointed out that there ultimately will be a net loss of jobs in the area because neighboring employers are leaving the area as a result of the project. He lamented that the city continues to ignore the input of those living and working near the site. “These people have good suggestions – it’s time [the city] started listening to them.”

Last week, a WM spokeswoman said the company is taking into account the community’s input but wouldn’t say if construction of a rail spur or the purchase of a nearby site is being considered. “We continue to listen to the community comments regarding the Review Avenue project and are evaluating our future options in response to these concerns,” wrote Rachel Amar. “Waste Management can’t speculate on the basis of any rumors.”

A LIRR spokesman said the agency has "not yet received any specific proposal" on allowing WM to use the tracks and will evaluate the plan once it is officially presented.

Arborcide at Lefferts Playground

9-11 Memorial Trees Destroyed by Vandals

A plaque mounted just inside the gates of the Lefferts Playground in South Ozone Park was placed there to commemorate the grove of trees planted at the back of the park as a living memorial to the victims of 9-11.

In September 2003, the trees were dedicated and were intended to stand as a constant reminder of those who were murdered in the terrorist attacks. But this past weekend, just after the eight year anniversary of 9-11, vandals savagely destroyed the trees--bending, breaking and tearing the limbs off.

Donna Gilmartin, president of the Locust Grove Civic, says the surrounding community is heartbroken. “When you come to this beautiful park and see what has happened to these trees it leaves you with a feeling you can’t describe. This is not just about the senseless act—it is so much more about what these trees signify.” Gilmartin says she is exploring all avenues to replace the tress.

Last week, The Forum West reported on 12 trees that were also victims of arborcide in nearby Juniper Park in Middle Village. On September 13, sometime before 4 a.m., ten cherry trees and two oaks were cut down with a power saw. All of the trees were part of a new planting. This was the fourth time in one year that vandals struck trees in the popular park with more than 20 trees being victimized.

“Arborcide is a serious criminal offense and an assault on our communities, and the loss of 19 trees in Queens – 12 at Juniper Valley Park and seven at Lefferts Playground — is a blow to our quality of life and environmental health. Trees are a valuable asset, providing shade and oxygen, cleaning the air, and creating homes for wildlife,” said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski told The Forum that both incidents in Queens over the past two weeks are not typical of others involving arborcide or damage to trees. “We don’t see this on a scale like this. It’s very disheartening and very frustrating.” The commissioner said that the Parks Department had reached out for the local precinct and that she expected the police would assign personnel to the case.

Forum Publisher Patricia Adams has scheduled an appointment to meet with Commissioner Lewandowski to formalize plans to replace the trees. “The damage done to these trees is criminal but the destruction of the symbolism is unspeakable. Right now the most important thing is to replace them as soon as possible,” said Adams.

During their conversation Adams said she and the commissioner both expressed their hopes that someone in the community would step forward and offer information about the incident. “I hope that if someone knows who is responsible for this action that they would report it to the authorities,” stated the commissioner.

An appointment has been set for the upcoming weeks when Lewandowski, Adams and several community leaders presently forming a committee will meet to oversee the replacement of the trees. Further details will be released when available.

Council Candidates Discuss Education Views

Barbs Later Exchanged Over Crowley’s Early Exit

By Conor Greene

The two candidates for the 30th District City Council seat – Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Crowley and Republican challenger Thomas Ognibene – discussed their views on education at a forum hosted by Community Education Council 24.

Residents in attendance on Tuesday night at PS 49 in Middle Village heard mostly about Ognibene’s views, as Crowley left early and missed the question-and-answer portion of the session. Instead, her chief of staff, Lydon Sleeper filled in for her to respond to questions on topics such as parental input and overcrowding.

Both candidates were first given a chance to introduce themselves and present their general stance on education. Crowley began by asserting that “there is no greater issue now facing the city” and touted her experience as a former educator and endorsements by the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors, which represents local principals.

“I have an investment like many parents here tonight” as the mother of two school-age children. She vowed to “make sure our children have the best tools” available and said education has been a “main focus” for her since taking office nine months ago. Of the $5 million she funded for local capital projects, a “large chunk” went towards schools. “I’m going to continue what I started,” she added.

Ognibene reminded the audience that he represented the district from 1991 to 2001, when he was forced from office due to term limits. “Not much seems to have changed” since he left office, as the community still “has to confront the same challenges” including overcrowding, which he said is “again a significant issue and really has to be addressed.”

The Middle Village Republican focused much of his comments on parental input, which was one of the major aspects of the recent debate over mayoral control. “The parents were supposed to have a lot more input into the educational process,” he said. “Parents don’t have that kind of input.”

He also recalled serving as principal for a day at PS 87 in 2001, shortly before leaving office. The school doesn’t have enough bathrooms or a proper gym and parents have been pleading with the city Department of Education for an expansion since the school expanded to a PS/IS facility nearly a decade ago. “It struck me as unusual,” said Ognibene, adding that he was “stunned” to learn the addition project never occurred.

“If I were councilman, that’s the first thing I would address because that’s really unfair to the children of PS 87,” he vowed. “I thought it was something we had accomplished” during the tenure of his predecessor, disgraced former Councilman Dennis Gallagher. By that point, Crowley (D-Middle Village) had left to go to other local meetings. Ognibene decided to stay to answer audience and board members’ questions, with Sleeper filling in for Crowley.

During the question-and-answer portion, the biggest difference that emerged between the candidates is their efforts to identify potential sites for new schools, which Ognibene said was a priority during his two terms in office. “The most important thing facing us then and facing us now is findingspace to build new schools,” adding that he had staffers dedicated to searching the district for appropriate sites. “We didn’t rely on the SCA [School Construction Authority]. We were more aggressive.”

When Sleeper mentioned that a site near Grover Cleveland High School is being looked at as a potential school site, Council President Nick Comaianni interjected that it was actually him that had identified that site. He asked Sleeper, “What have you found?” to which the chief of staff responded, “None so far, but we’re open to suggestions.”

When asked about PS 87, Sleeper said Crowley “started fighting for PS 87 immediately” after taking office. “We understand how ignored that school has been,” adding that the councilmember wrote letters and had SCA officials tour the facilities with her. “We’re fighting very hard to make sure that expansion happens,” said Sleeper.

Throughout the evening, Ognibene stressed that he would have an advantage in terms of getting a response from city agencies due to his relationship with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is supporting his campaign. Ozone Park resident David Quintana asked Ognibene why he is aligning himself with the mayor, who “has failed us over the past eight years.”

Ognibene responded that he feels Bloomberg is “head and shoulders” above his opponent, William Thompson. However, he stressed that he and the mayor have disagreed on many things, and he isn’t afraid to let the mayor know when that’s the case. “Once he’s elected there are going to be things I’ll be able to work with him on,” he said.

Finally, board member Brian Rafferty asked whether they feel Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has the best interests of District 24 in mind. Sleeper said he doesn’t know Crowley’s exact stance on this issue and declined to answer. Ognibene said he doesn’t think Klein is an “evil man” but said overall, “the answer is no.” While he doesn’t think that Klein should be fired, he added, “I believe I can get that message across” if elected.

On Wednesday, Ognibene criticized Crowley for leaving early and accused her of scheduling other meetings to avoid having to answer questions from board members and residents. “This is typical. She made the appointment to go to these other meetings after she had confirmed this educational panel, and that’s offensive to me,” said Ognibene. “To use a decent, non political organization such as the Sons of Italy as an excuse, that was very, very offensive.”

In response, Crowley’s press secretary, Meredith Burak, said the CEC meeting was one of five stops the councilmember made that evening that had been scheduled for months. Instead, Burak argued that it was inappropriate for the CEC to even hold a candidates forum. “The bottom line is the forum never should have been held,” she said, adding that this is the only race the CEC is focusing on, even though that district includes parts of six separate council districts.

Burak accused Comaianni of having a “vendetta” against Crowley. “This was based solely on political purposes and had nothing to do with education. Politics should not be brought into the mix, and by bringing politics into this arena, Nick Comaianni is jeopardizing his position because he is abusing his power.”

Crowley expressed her concerns in a letter to the DOE. In response, a department official wrote, “Prompted by our inquiry, our legal office reviewed the matter and advises that holding such a candidates forum as part of CEC’s regularly scheduled calendar meeting is not an appropriate exercise of the CEC’s statutory powers and duties.”

Comaianni wasn’t available for comment on Wednesday morning. However, during the CEC meeting he alluded to the fact that the DOE didn’t want the forum to take place and said the board decided to go ahead with it anyway so that parents would have a chance to hear directly from the candidates on education issues.

Too Slow to Clean up After Her Dog: Pregnant Woman Issued Ticket

By Conor Greene

A Maspeth woman is vowing to fight a ticket issued to her for failing to immediately clean up after her dog, which had just finished pooping on a patch of grass in front of her house. The woman, who was nine-months pregnant at the time, was sitting on her front steps when an officer issued her the ticket earlier this month.

Alicia Fernbacker, a 19-year-old local college student, was sitting outside her father’s 57th Drive home on September 14 with her dog while waiting for a friend to pick her up before class at Queensborough Community College, where she is pursuing a liberal arts degree. Several minutes after her dog, Kimmy, did her business on a patch of grass, a Sanitation Department officer walked up and began writing a summons because she allegedly “made no attempt to remove dog feces in a legal manner.”

Fernbacker, who eventually gave birth on September 18 – twelve days past her due date – says the officer was sitting in his parked Sanitation Department car with his seat reclined while she was outside with her dog. After the mutt pooped, the officer got out of the car and asked for identification while he wrote up the $250 ticket. She told the officer that she was about to go inside the house to get a napkin, but “he said it doesn’t matter.”

“I said that I was going inside for a tissue and that it was my property, but he said it didn’t matter and that I should fight it in court,” Fernbacker told The Forum. “I think he was being unfair. I wasn’t going to leave dog poop in front of my own house.”

In an e-mail statement, Sanitation Department spokesman, Matthew Lipani, said that officers write summons “when they see a violation” and noted that the Canine Waste Law has been in effect for 30 years. “Anyone who believes they received a summons in error can plead their case to the Environmental Control Board,” he wrote.

Lipani did not response to a question asking how quickly an owner must clean up after a dog goes to the bathroom, or whether the officer should use discretion when dealing with pregnant or elderly residents.

Fernbacker, who is on a leave from school after undergoing a Caesarean section last week, says the $250 fine is a hardship, especially with school and the baby, who she named Scarlett. To add to her stress levels, the baby’s father Mike Leser is a Marine who just completed basic training and expects to soon be deployed to Afghanistan.

“I’ve never been to court before, so whatever you have to do to fight the ticket, I’ll do,” she said of her October 15 hearing. “I just think it’s completely ridiculous [since] I didn’t do anything wrong to get a ticket,” she added. “If he had waited in the car he would have seen me come out of the house again [with a tissue]. He just jumped out of the car” and began writing the ticket, she said.

Ognibene Launches City Council Campaign

Challenging Crowley for 30th District Seat

By Conor Greene

Middle Village attorney Thomas Ognibene kicked off his City Council campaign last week with a fundraiser featuring Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and wasted little time in recent days criticizing his opponent’s performance during her first nine months in office.

Ognibene, who represented the 30th District from 1991 until term limits forced him from office in 2001, is challenging Democrat incumbent Elizabeth Crowley this November for a four-year term representing parts of Maspeth, Middle Village, Ridgewood, Glendale, Richmond Hill and Woodhaven. Crowley won the right to serve the final year of former Councilman Dennis Gallagher’s term when she defeated Anthony Como last year.

In an interview Wednesday morning with The Forum, Ognibene said his fundraiser last Thursday in Middle Village “was very successful.” He was particularly pleased that “even though there is some friction within the Republican party, both factions showed up to support me.” He has also been quick to tout the benefits his connections to Mayor Bloomberg would bring to the district.

Ognibene, who unsuccessfully ran in last summer’s special election won by Como to replace Gallagher, said he was prompted to give it another shot because of the direction the district is headed in. “When I pick up the newspaper now it seems that the problems are growing and are not being addressed. We do not have aggressive leadership in this community, especially from our elected officials,” he said, adding that Crowley is “content to just give lip service and send out press releases.”

In contrast, Ognibene said his philosophy when dealing with constituents was to “look at what the problem was, what the law was and what all our options politically and legally were” before deciding on a course of action. “It was a very proactive service. The current councilmember, I have to be honest, talks about a lot of things she did, but I don’t see it reflected in the council finance records or capital budget. I’m worried that what she says and what she does are two different things.”

One example of this, according to Ognibene, is when Crowley took credit for pushing through the downzoning of parts of Maspeth, Middle Village and Glendale. “She took credit for the whole thing, which is disgraceful,” he said. “When I confronted her on it, she said she sped it up by making a phone call. You and I know that’s nonsense and that people worked for four years to get this done but she wants to believe that as a councilmember elect she made a phone call and things happened.

“It doesn’t seem like anyone is doing anything aggressively,” added Ognibene. “The philosophy of my opponent is that if something good happens you take credit for it and if something bad happens you blame someone else, and you can’t lead that way.”

Ognibene acknowledged that his campaign’s relationship with the mayor has its benefits but could also turn off voters who aren’t supporting Bloomberg’s bid for a third term. “My feeling is, in the past I’ve argued with the mayor on issues I thought were of importance,” he said. “I think Michael Bloomberg and his record is head and shoulders above anything offered by the Democratic party. People can make the same value judgments as I have, but I hope that people go beyond just the mayoral race and look at my record, and whether they feel this community is going in the right direction.”

In Ognibene’s opinion, “ninety-eight percent of things that affect people’s everyday lives are in the control of the City Council, so you better have somebody that has the experience and willingness to defend the community. Otherwise, we will face some serious setbacks over the next four years. I live here, so I don’t want to see that happen.”

Group to Pursue Charter School Application

Intends to Open Academy of Science in District 24

By Conor Greene

One of the men behind a proposal to start a charter school within District 24 says his group plans to move ahead with its plans in hopes of opening next September.

The group, City Academy of Science Charter School, came under fire when its representatives failed to attend the July Community Education Council 24 meeting for a scheduled public hearing on the plan. This week, applicant Furkan Kosar said nobody attended because they weren’t aware the hearing had been scheduled. He said his group is working with the state Department of Education to complete the application process.

A spokeswoman for the state DOE said Tuesday that the application is still under review and the Board of Regents is scheduled to take action on it in December. At that point, the application could be approved, rejected or sent back to the group for additional details. She said that attending the public hearing is not mandatory and not doing so won’t affect the status of the application.

Kosar stressed that his group “has nothing to hide” and was simply unaware of the scheduled hearing. “We are willing to go to a public hearing again, but they told me they don’t think it’s possible,” he said. “That part of the application is not mandatory, but of course in terms of the reputation and credibility of the application, it’s good to have the public’s support… We’re here to serve the Queens community.”

The plan remains to open a science and technology based school in September 2010 within District 24. Kosar said his group is working with several local realtors to secure a facility at an appropriate location, but declined to say where within the district he is considering. “As soon as the DOE gives me the green light, I have a couple of investors that really believe in our project who will put the money down and renovate the facility,” he said, adding that he has three properties under consideration. “I don’t want to scare people [but] as soon as I hear from the DOE I will make it official.”

An executive summery of the proposal says only that the group is looking into properties in Maspeth, Glendale and Long Island City.

According the proposal summary, the college preparatory-level school would initially serve students in grades 7 to 9 before expanding to 12th grade. The group expects first-year expenses of about $2.8 million, against projected revenues of about $2.6 million. The shortfall is expected to be made up by private donations or loans of $200,000 from an “unspecified source.” It isn’t clear how much of the group’s revenues would come from public funding.

“I want to send the message that I’m here to the community,” said Kosar. “I would like to give the opportunity for students who don’t have enough challenges and didn’t find the right environment to improve themselves in the local district. I’m not here to create miracles, but eventually I can promise the student’s scores will improve. Our goal is to motivate them to four year colleges and to do something good for their community.”

Now You See It; Now You Don't

Graffiti Disappearing from Ulrich’s District

By Patricia Adams

One month after introducing an aggressive initiative to eliminate graffiti in his district, Councilmember Eric Ulrich issued a report this week detailing the program’s progress. Since the program began in late August, graffiti removal crews have completed a comprehensive clean-up of three of the district’s most problematic areas:

--101st Avenue between 75th Street and 111th Street

--Rockaway Boulevard between 75th Street and 111th Street

--Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard between Atlantic Avenue and the Joseph P. Addabbo Bridge.

“The difference is night and day. One month ago, you couldn’t walk a block without seeing a storefront or a private home that had been vandalized,” said Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “Now, we are turning the tide. Not only is this program beautifying the area, but it is also sending a clear message to graffiti vandals that we will no longer tolerate their criminal behavior, and that our neighborhoods deserve respect.”

The Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation (GWDC) who partnered with Ulrich in the initiative acts as the administrator for the $30,000 in discretionary funding from Ulrich.

GWDC Executive Director Maria Thomson said, “Thanks to Council Member Ulrich’s funding, we have been able to restore people’s pride in their community. While there is still so much work to be done, I know that we are going to win the war on graffiti vandalism. I’d say we’re off to a great start!”

In the coming months, crews will perform regular monthly maintenance to keep these areas graffiti-free. In addition to the scheduled clean-up sectors, 64 constituent complaints have also been addressed. The Council Member urges all of his constituents to take advantage of this FREE program. All complaints are routed to the clean-up crew who is then dispatched in a timely manner.

School Construction Projects Moving Forward in Forest Hills

SCA Announces PS 196 Expansion; Metro Ave Campus on Time

By Conor Greene

The city Department of Education and School Construction Authority is making progress in its effort to provide additional seats for students in Central Queens, with several projects in Forest Hills moving forward as planned.

The SCA recently announced that the capacity of PS 196 on 113th Street will receive more than 400 new seats through an expansion and renovation effort that began recently. At the same time, work on the Metropolitan Avenue complex – which will be home to two separate schools – is progressing on budget and should be completed by September 2010, as scheduled.

Construction has begun on a three-story addition to the existing PS 196 building that will provide 408 new seats when completed in September 2011. In all, the expansion will include 644 seats, as some temporary classrooms now housed in trailers will be replaced with the new permanent building.

The expansion will result in 17 new standard classrooms serving students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. The fully air conditioned building will also include a student cafeteria with a full kitchen, a special education classroom, a music room, art room, science lab with prep room, medical and administrative offices and other support spaces.

Once the expansion is completed, renovations of the existing two-story building will begin and should be finished by February 2012, according to the SCA. That will include a newly expanded library, a new elevator and various building system upgrades. At that point, the school will have capacity for 1,260 students.

In all, the PS 196 project is expected to cost $29.8 million, according to the SCA.

Meanwhile, work is progressing at the Metropolitan Avenue site, which is at the intersection of 65th Avenue and will be home to two new schools. One will serve 700 intermediate and high school students, while the other will be a 1,000 seat high school. Construction on the $158 million project began in 2007, although the project itself dates back nearly a full decade.

Each school will have its own administrative area, instructional spaces, library, cafeteria, gym, exercise room and meeting rooms. The schools will share an auditorium, base building services and outdoor recreational areas, and the high school will feature a competition gymnasium.

The campus will include space for about 200 District 75 special education students. In addition, about 500 seats have been set aside for students in nearby District 24, which is the city’s most overcrowded education district.

There currently are about 200 construction workers on site daily, with work about two-thirds completed, according to the SCA. While it remains on schedule for its September 2010 opening, there are still some outstanding issues regarding traffic in the area.

Effort Underway to Bring Supermarket to Maspeth

By Conor Greene

Maspeth residents’ wishes for a supermarket might be one step closer to reality now that a local union representative is working to match a local site with potential tenants. Residents have long complained that they are forced to pay sky high prices for items such as milk and bread due to lack of competition among area stores.

Steve Pezenik, special projects director for Local 338, which represents local supermarket workers, attended last week’s Maspeth West End Block Association meeting at the urging of Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village). Residents in that area of Maspeth have been hoping for a new supermarket since the closing of C-Town on Fresh Pond Road several years ago.

“When Liz calls, you come because she has done a lot for us,” said Pezenik during the session last Thursday in Trinity-St. Andrews Church. He said a supermarket is important because it “anchors an area” and provides local jobs. “I would love to bring a market to you,” he told the several dozen residents in attendance.

News that he was showing a potential site at Metropolitan Avenue and Tonsar Street to C-Town representatives the following day was met with enthusiastic applause. However, Pezenik did not respond to several messages seeking comment on how that meeting went. A spokeswoman for Crowley said her office is still waiting to hear feedback from the union on the meeting.

Many residents in that area of Maspeth have been clamoring for a full-size supermarket since the closing of the Fresh Pond Road C-Town, which was replaced with a Staples. Pezenik said the owner didn’t want to give up his store, but was forced out when Staples offered the landlord more money. Residents say that all the local bodegas quickly increased their prices once that happened, meaning those without a car are forced to overpay for basic items.

If a company operator decides the Metropolitan Avenue site, or another nearby property, is suitable for a supermarket, the business could be open in less than a year, said Pezenik. He said the three things necessary to bring a market to the area seem to be in place: demand from consumers, efforts by the union to bring company representatives to check out possible sites and cooperation from the local councilmember to help with issues such as zoning changes or variance requests.

Crowley said that residents should contact her office with any other suggestions for a location if the Metropolitan Avenue site doesn’t work out. She said the city Department of Education is also eyeing that site for a possible school, but refuted rumors that housing might be constructed on the site instead. “It is really a great disservice to this community to not have a grocery store,” she said. “It’s something that most neighborhoods can take for granted… It’s a shame Staples came in.”

Patients and Officials Rally for Federal Medical Imaging Funding

Hundreds of cancer patients and doctors joined the Emergency Coalition to Save Cancer Imaging and several council members last week on the steps of City Hall to demand that the federal government does not cut funds for medical imaging.

Since 1999, the city has experienced a 171% increase in wait time for mammography screenings, according to a recent Congressional study. The currently proposed federal cuts would result in a further 40% percent reimbursement reduction for some imaging services, putting more providers and patients at risk, argued Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who is seeking to preserve funding for procedures such as PET and CT Scans and MRIs.

“We need to be expanding access to healthcare, not reducing it,” said Crowley. “Medical imaging is at the forefront for early cancer diagnosis and treatment, and every day a patient has to wait for a screening the more at risk they are. We should be focused on extending access to these services not undercutting these vital programs.”

According to a 2007 Congressional study, New York City has lost 67 imaging clinics, or 26% of the facilities offering mammography screenings, since 1999. As a result, women must now wait on average more than five weeks for an appointment and in some cases must wait as long as six months. Brooklyn and the Bronx have an average wait time of 8 weeks, the longest of the five boroughs, and Queens has an average wait time of 4 to 6 weeks.

“Medical professionals clearly advise that early detection is crucial in the fight against breast cancer and other deadly diseases,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “It’s incredible to think that the federal government is considering cutting life saving technologies which have helped so many women and patients across New York City. Preventative health care should be a top priority, not cutting vital services.”

The proposed cuts, in addition to existing major cuts for imaging providers from the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, could threaten access to important radiology services—especially for women and the elderly—and exacerbate the already extremely long wait times for critical services, such as mammography.

“These cuts would have devastating impacts to local New York services including forcing the closing of local providers and dramatically increasing wait times for doctor visits and diagnoses,” said Dr. Eric Schnipper, cofounder and spokesman of the Coalition. “The proposed cuts will only worsen what is already an extremely unhealthy situation. These rate changes could not only cost the government and patients more money, it could cost lives.”

As detailed in multiple recent Congressional reports, many of New York’s medical imaging providers, in particular mammography, have had to close their services due to previous federal cuts and high costs. The proposed cuts are expected to force the closure of many additional providers throughout New York and the country and further limit access to these essential cancer detection services.

Since July 2009, Council Member Crowley and the Emergency Coalition to Save Cancer Imaging have gathered over 25,000 petition signatures from downstate New Yorkers in support of protecting these vital cancer screening services.