Thursday, July 8, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Trial Underway for Two Accused in Buckeye Pipeline Plot

A security camera at the Lindenwood Diner caputres the image of terror plot's so-called "mastermind", Russell Defrietas. He was apprehended moments after leaving the diner with an F.B.I. informant

By Eric Yun

The trial for alleged terror suspects Russell Defreitas and Abdul Kadir, who are charged with plotting to blow up the Buckeye Pipeline leading to John F. Kennedy International Airport began last Wednesday, June 30. If convicted, the men face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The target of the attack, the Buckeye Pipeline, is an underground pipe system that runs through Queens and supplies jet fuel and other petroleum products to JFK and LaGuardia airports.

Defreitas and Kadir were arrested along with Abdel Nur and Kareem Ibrahim in June 2007. Kareem Ibrahim was granted a separate trial for medical reasons in June. His trial is not yet scheduled. Abdel Nur pleaded guilty on June 29.

“Between November of 2006 and June of 2007, I became aware that individuals whom I had known for an extended period of time were developing a plan that had as its goal the use of explosive device or material to destroy or extensively damage fuel tanks,” Nur told the court while pleading guilty, according to a report in Bloomberg.

Nur faces up to 15 years in prison when sentenced in November. Nur’s lawyer was adamant that Nur would not be used as a witness against Defreitas and Kadir.

Defreitas is accused of targeting the pipeline and the airport’s fuel tanks to create a catastrophic event that he said “even the Twin Towers can’t touch,” according to court documents.

Prosecutors claim Defreitas recruited a confidential government source to join him in the plot to destroy JFK Airport in August 2006. From there, the government tracked the two men as they conducted surveillance and recruited other men including Nur, Ibraheem, and Kadir.

Defreitas and his co-conspirators attempted to recruit members and funds from the Trinidadian militant group Jamaat Al Mus- limeen, authorities allege.

Defreitas and Kadir are charged with conspiracy to attack a public transportation system, conspiracy to destroy a building with fire and explosives, conspiracy to destroy aircraft and aircraft materials, conspiracy to destroy international airport facilities, conspiracy to attack a mass transportation facility, and conducting surveillance of a mass transportation facility with intent to attack that facility.

The Buckeye Pipeline is a 200,000-mile network of pipes that provide jet fuel and other petroleum products to the airports. Originating in Linden, NJ, the pipe travels through Staten Island, Brooklyn and into Queens, where it passes through heavily populated residential areas four feet below the ground. The pipe providing fuel for JFK runs beneath 157th Avenue through Howard Beach before heading south to the airport.

In August 2002, The Forum questioned whether the Buckeye Pipeline could be a potential terrorist target. Officials said at the time that many safety measures were in place, as above-ground signs warning of pipeline locations do not give its precise locations and any significant decreases in pressure would prompt shutdowns in the pipe either electronically or by human operators.

Joe Delcambre, spokesperson for the national Department of Transportation’s Research and Special Programs Department, explained in The Forum’s 2002 report why he believed the pipes would not create one catastrophic bomb. “The pipes are under pressure,” Delcambre said. “Any loss of pressure caused by a break in the pipe would immediately be picked up by sensors.”

The Buckeye Pipeline is a necessary component to keep NYC’s airports operational. Without it, approximately 380 tractor-trailers holding 10,000 gallons of fuel would be needed to meet the needs of JFK each day and 84 would be needed for LaGuardia.

While there is debate over how much damage an attack on the Buckeye Pipeline would cause, the potential for attacks to the pipes exist. The arrests in June 2007 and an incident in Sunnyside in November 2007 when a MTA construction crew accidentally punctured a tank created further concern about the safety of the Buckeye Pipes.

New York legislators responded with the Pipeline Security Bill introduced by Assemblyman Michael Ginaris (D-Queens) and Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). Signed into law on September 10, 2007 by former Governor Eliot Spitzer, the bill gives the New York State Office of Homeland Security power to enhance security at the pipelines travelling through New York.
As the trial begins for Defreitas and Kadir, it is important to remain cognizant of the possible dangers the Buckeye Pipeline poses to along the pipeline’s route. Residents living near the Buckeye Pipelines should 911 to report any suspicious activity they observe.

Aqueduct Bidders Get Axed; One Remaining

By Eric Yun

The tumultuous quest to build and operate video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Racetrack took another turn this week when state Lottery Commission rejected SL Green and Penn National’s bids. This leaves Genting New York as the only remaining bidder for the “racino” project.

Neither SL Green nor Penn National is a stranger to Aqueduct’s bidding process. Both groups submitted bids last June when the Aqueduct Entertainment Group was selected to operate the casino. Aqueduct Entertainment Group’s bid was eventually dismissed after a political battle and charges of favoritism.

In a press release explaining its to reject the two bidders, the Lottery says SL Green and Penn National Gaming failed to comply with mandatory requirements in their proposals, which were submitted on May 11.

Both groups were uneasy about the possibility of the Shinnecock Indian Nation building a new casino within 50 miles of Aqueduct. SL Green asked for compensation if a new casino is given more favorable taxes. Penn National wanted a guarantee that no casino would open with 50 miles or com- pensation if one were to open.

The $300 million minimum payment for the project was another point of contention. Both groups requested the money be held in escrow until all conditions have been met. Penn National also requested a refund if there were unfavorable changes state laws.

Other changes requested by SL Green include the ability to award operation or management contracts to third parties. Penn National’s other changes include the ability to abandon the Aqueduct project if they operate at a loss for four consecutive quarters

“Most of SL Green’s and Penn National’s proposed changes were raised during the course of the Lottery’s three rounds of questions and answers,” Lottery Commission said in its statement. “It was made clear to all bidders that non-conforming bids would be disqualified.”

SL Green and Penn National will be refunded the $1 million payment made after submitting their bids back in May.

Originally, six bidders were interested in operating the casino at Aqueduct racetrack: SL Green, Penn National Gaming, Genting New York, Clairvest Group, Delaware North and Empire City Yonkers Raceway. Delaware North and Empire City dropped out before submitting a bid, and Clairvest joined SL Green in an attempt to strengthen their bid.

The state is still reviewing Genting New York’s proposal. Genting operates Asia’s largest casino, in Malaysia. If their bid is not approved, New York Lottery will be unsuccessful for the fourth time to find a group to operate the casino at Aqueduct racetrack. New York Lottery hopes to make a final recommendation by August 3.

Community Board 10 will hold a public hearing on July 15th at 6 p.m at Aqueduct Racetrack. Representatives from Genting will make a presentation of their proposal to operate the VLTs at that time.

Proposed Legislation Targets Mobile Food Vendors

By Tamara Best

New proposed legislation aimed at mobile food vendors is receiving mixed reviews from business owners and customers.
According to the legislation, mobile food vendors could have their license revoked if they receive a certain number of parking tickets or other related violations within a year.

The legislation proposed by Council Members Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Jessica Lappin (D-Manhattan) would allow the city Department of Health to suspend a permit if two tickets are received within a 12-month period for infractions such as idling, or revoke the permit of a truck operator who receives three parking tickets in a 12-month period. The law would only apply to food trucks, not carts.

Koslowitz said she and Lappin are not trying to impact the livelihood of the vendors but improve the quality of life for those who live in areas heavily populated by food trucks.

“Not too long ago I saw a vendor on Queens Boulevard feeding the meter... which they’re not supposed to do,” said Koslowitz. “I got a lot of complaints from people who live in the neighborhoods. Many of them keep their motors running to keep their food refrigerated and it’s a hazard to the health of people who live there.”

Koslowitz said the food trucks are particularly a problem in Jackson Heights, Forest Hills and Kew Gardens.

“These are public streets and nobody has the right to use them exclusively,” said Lappin. “People were willing to look the other way, until it was being abused. It’s against the law but clearly the penalty [parking tickets] is not severe enough to make people obey the law.”

One location that is home to a large number of food vendors is the area surrounding the Queens Center Mall at the intersection of Queens and Woodhaven boulevards. On Monday, several operators of trucks said the proposed legislation unfairly targets them.

“I don’t think it’s fair. Everyone gets tickets at some point,” said a worker at Raspados on 57th Avenue, which sells shaved ice treats.

Another vendor selling hot dogs, bagels and pastries on 56th Avenue agreed. “It could affect people’s livelihood,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair at all.”

Smitty’s Hot Dogs at Crossbay Boulevard and Pitkin Avenue in Ozone Park said the proposed legislation and other changes over the years have made business increasingly difficult for mobile food vendors.

“It’s a lot of different laws, it never stops,” said a worker at Smitty’s on Tuesday. “You can change things and then the next year you have to do something else and a lot of times they don’t notify the vendors properly. They’re pushing a lot of small businesses out.”

But New Yorkers are split in their opinion of the proposed legislation.

“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous – where else are they supposed to go?” said Leslie Winter. “It’s not like the carts where they can be on the sidewalk. Being on the street is the only way they can make money. If taxi drivers get three tickets in a year should their license be revoked too?”

Other residents disagreed.

“I think it is fair,” said Sal Caruso. “A lot of food carts place themselves in front of other eating establishments, creating competition for store owners who have overhead and other expenses that they don’t have.”

One area resident said the new legislation would help drivers in the area.

“I think that they should have their license revoked,” said Sandy, who declined to give her last name. “It’s not fair to other drivers who need the parking spaces. It’s not like they are paying rent for it.”

In a letter to Koslowitz, Patrick A. Wehle, director of City Legislative Affairs for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, objected to the legislation.

“While well intentioned, the emphasis on the violation of Administrative Code Section 24-163 (which prohibits truck idling) is misplaced.” Wehle said the trucks often operate off legal generators and expressed concern that the penalties are “too punitive for such routine, and arguably, unrelated offenses.”

Wehle called the measure of license revocation “unnecessarily excessive,” noting that no other industry which operates on city streets can have their license revoked for the accumulation of parking tickets.

Groups including the The Street Vendor Project have been compiling petitions to fight against the proposed legislation.

“We think it’s a bad idea,” said Sean Basinski of The Street Vendors Project. “We agree that there are some violations that a permit should be revoked for, but a parking ticket is not one of them.”

Local Impact of City Budget (South)

By Eric Yun

City Council passed a $63.1 billion budget last Tuesday, preventing massive cuts to critical services like senior centers, daycare programs and fire companies throughout the city.

While some programs have been cut, the council was able to save many by adding approximately $397 million to Mayor Bloomberg’s budget proposal. Several senior centers and daycare centers slated to close were saved by the budget, along with 20 fire companies.

Approximately $165 million of the city’s budget will go to council member’s discretionary funding. These funds help support non-profits in the council member’s district and borough.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) was able to secure $578,321 in discretionary funding and $4.2 million in capital projects for his district. Last year, Ulrich received $360,321 in discretionary funds.

Among the many projects secured by Ulrich is $9,000 each for SAT prep classes at John Adams High School, Franklin K. Lane High School, Chan- nel View School for Research, Robert H. Goddard High School of Communication Arts and Technology, and Beach Channel High School.

Various community projects will also receive funding. The Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation is receiving $35,000 to help clean graffiti throughout District 32. The Department of Parks and Recreation is also receiving $10,000 to support movie and family nights. The Lindenwood Community Volunteer Ambulance Corps will receive $5,000.

Capital projects on the councilman’s agenda will help fund community programs and schools in the district. Cross Bay Boulevard will have a guardrail installed on the southbound approach to Broad Channel. Sidewalks will be repaired and trees will be planted. London Plane Tree Park will be renovated and new fitness equipment will be installed.

Schools throughout the district will receive funds for various projects. John Adams High School was allocated $300,000 to buy 15 security cameras and to create a student computer lab. PS 108 will receive $150,000 for a student computer lab as well. PS 232 will receive $500,000 for a science lab upgrade. PS/MS 47, MS 202, PS 63 and PS 146 will receive $35,000 each to purchase in- teractive white boards and a computer station for teachers.

“At the end of the day, my constituents send millions of dollars in taxpayer revenue to City Hall,” Ulrich told The Forum, “It’s a wonderful feeling to bring some money back into their neighborhoods and keep critical programs and services available to them. It’s just very rewarding.”

Discretionary funds and capital projects are critical in the budget process and support local causes in council member’s districts. Citizens at- tempting to understand how their tax dollars support their district should scrutinize how council members are making specific allocations.

Reading Program Seeks to Foster Discussion, Curb Violence

By Tamara Best

Books offer a perfect way to help people escape.

Now, one local writer hopes to use them to foster discussions among children about issues in the community.

Angelica Harris, a Glendale resident, is beginning “The Excalibur Reading Program” in conjunction with several local organizations.

“If I can use reading and positive heroes to create a voice, it creates a way to open up their hearts and minds, find their own voice and bring them into the arts in the same way,” Harris said.

Though aimed at all children, the program is specifically targeted towards those with impoverished means and those with special needs.

Harris, who is a writing coach and author of three books, said she first got the idea after talking to a friend. It later came to fruition after a conversation with Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D- Middle Village).

“She said, ‘you have such a beautiful, innovative idea for the community,’ and after that we formally met and decided to start it,” Harris said. “They loved my idea of taking the characters from books as a way to get children to read and discuss other issues.”

Funding for the program is being provided by Crowley’s office, TD Bank, Astoria Federal Savings Bank and Amnesty International.

The program will be held at A Place to Dance on 69th Street in Maspeth on Thursdays from 4 to 5:30 for children ages 3 to 5 and Fridays from 3 to 5 p.m. for 6 to 10 year olds through the summer and fall.

In an effort to start dialogue about community issues, Harris said she makes the reading interactive. Children choose which character they would like to be, holding a picture of them while the book is read while taking on the persona of their respective character.

“Children are learning through the voice of the characters to enjoy the book,” she said. “They’re not just sitting down and listening, they are part of the story through the character.”

After the reading, Harris prompts the children with questions about statements made
by and between the different characters and have a discussion on everything from friendship to violence.

Harris, a survivor of domestic violence, said having conversations with children at young ages is crucial to breaking the silence often associated with violent and abusive situations.

“Even children of domestic violence need to learn to recognize warning signs and other harmful behaviors.”

Harris said she hopes to eventually start a similar group for older teens.

For details, contact Harris at

Senior Center Saved Just in Time

By Tamara Best

Five days.

That's the amount of time seniors at the Glenridge Senior Center, which was in danger of closing due to lack of funding, had left to enjoy what many call their second home.

"If this place goes under, we all go under," said Marge Koehler, 76, said last Thursday. Koehler has attended the center for the last 10 years, serving as a volunteer. "It's a shame because we rely on these centers.”

But, just when the situation looked bleak, the center was saved after Councilwoman Diana Reyna secured funding in this year’s budget to keep the center open.

“Senior centers are essential to thousands of New Yorkers, even if they are treated as nonessential in the city budget,” said Reyna(D-Bushwick). “For community residents in Queens, Glenridge Senior Center is a welcoming community magnet for folks who rely on services, which improve their quality of life by providing a safe environment.”

Reyna thanked Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and Elizabeth Crowley (D- Middle Village) for the financial and moral support in saving the center.

On Wednesday, approximately 40 seniors braved the sweltering heat and greeted Reyna with hugs and teary eyes when she arrived outside the center for a press conference.

As she made her way through the crowd, Reyna told the seniors, “We’re not going to shed a tear. We’re celebrating today.”

On any given day, management estimates that between 60 and 98 local seniors spend time at the center. With their funding cut by the Department for the Aging for the 2011 fiscal year, the center located on Summerfield Street in Ridgewood was in jeopardy of closing its doors after 37 years of serving the community.

Although the center was initially going to close on July 2, seniors held a bake sale and flea market in an effort to raise funds. Though the sales were enough to keep the center on life support for a few extra days, it wasn’t enough to keep it open through the year.

"The fact that seniors fundraised to keep us open shows their commitment," said Thaisha Anglero, assistant director of the center.

Albert Juszczak, the Senior Center’s Executive Director, said, “It means she had to deny others in order to help us stay open and that means a lot. Council Member Diana Reyna has once again proven her high dedication to the cause of the poor, the helpless and the forgotten.”

***Home away from home***

At a table by herself, Patricia Consolazio, 65,methodically arranged six bingo cards before an afternoon game. As she arranged them, she moved her fingers slowly, a not so subtle reminder that her rheumatoid arthritis was once again rearing its ugly head.

"I used to play with boards covering half the table," she said with a smile. More important than the memories and countless wins she has racked up over the years at Glenridge, she said the center helps her remain in good health.

"It's difficult to cook, so I depend on the hot meals," she said.

Seniors at the center receive breakfast and a hot lunch, prepared by a former chef. Once a month they also have a movie night at which dinner is provided. Many of the seniors said the lunches are vital to them eating well, because physical limitations hinder them from cooking the way they used to when they were younger.

Aside from hot meals, the center provides something perhaps more important and priceless— fellowship.

"I have nothing else to look forward to," said Dorothy Hochreiter, 93. Hochreiter said with most of her family living in other states and being a widow, the other seniors have become part of her extended family. "It's very nice and very helpful.”

Many seniors echoed similar sentiments about the center and said they are happy that their extended family will be together for at least another year.

“I was just rejoicing and happy for everyone,” said Neireda Lopez. “The next thing is getting the staff back that was let go.”

***Saving Glenridge***

All around the cafeteria during lunch last Thursday, before the last-minute funding was secured, seniors sat talking in hushed tones. The main question at the center of most conversations: Is the center closing?

Towards the end of lunch, an employee addressed the seniors in an attempt to answer that question. The employee said that the center would not close July 2 as many had heard but remain open until July 13, just one day after the center would celebrate its 38th anniversary.

However, the announcement that there would be no breakfast or dinner and movie, among other services this week led some seniors to draw conclusions on the center's fate.

"All of this what we're hearing is not good," said Koehler, banging her fist on the table and shaking her head. "It's not good."At the beginning of this week, seniors were greeted with news that the center would remain open.

Yesterday, Koehler was all smiles. When asked how she felt about the center being saved, she raised her eyes to the sky, bringing her hands together as if to pray and mouthed a silent “thank you.”

For the 2011 fiscal year, senior centers will receive $33.8 million less than last year with the Department for the Aging proposing that 50 senior centers across the city be closed by the year’s end.

“The budget is not about numbers, it can’t be balanced on the backs of seniors,” said
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-Ridgewood) who attended the conference.
“The next year will give us time to look for solutions. The city has to do right by its seniors.”

Reyna said that despite the center being saved, there is much work to be done.
“This is not the end of a victory, it’s only the beginning,” Reyna said. “It’s a battle, we have won this one but there are still more.”

And seniors at Glenridge said they are ready.

“I fought for this center and I will continue to fight for it until it closes,” said Consolazio.

Local Impact of City Budget (West)

By Eric Yun

The New York City Council passed a $63.1 billion budget last Tuesday, preventing massive cuts to critical services like senior centers, daycare programs and fire companies throughout the city.

While some programs have been cut, the council was able to save many by adding approximately $397 million to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed executive budget. Several senior centers and daycare centers slated to close were saved by the budget, along with about 20 fire companies.

Approximately $156 million of the city’s budget will go to the council member’s discretionary funding to help support non-profits within the district and borough.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) ranked last out of 51 council members in money garnered for discretionary funds for the 2011 fiscal year at $358,321.

"In these tough budget times, it was my priority this year to deliver as much, if not more, as last year to our community's major youth programs and senior centers - and through my discretionary dollars, we succeeded,” said Crowley in a statement.
“I am pleased to continue supporting the important programs that matter to our taxpayers.”

When approached at a recent press conference by a reporter, Crowley only said, “I think we passed a great budget” before getting in her car.She didn’t address the reasons for her poor showing regarding discretionary funding.

Crowley’s office said that although she has received $120,000 less than last year, the difference will be accounted for by funding from the Queens delegation. In a review of documents released by New York City however, the $508,321 Crowley
secured in the last fiscal year was $150,000 more than she secured this year.

Among the groups and projects to receive discretionary funding in Crowley’s district are Glenridge Volunteer Ambulance Corps,Maspeth Chamber of Commerce, Friends of Firefighters, Glendale Civilian Observation Patrol and the Glenridge Senior Citizen Multi-Service and Advisory Center.

Robert Holden, President of the Juniper Park Civic Association, says that Crowley’s poor return of funds for her district is of major concern for all residents. “We have very serious problems in the community that are not being addressed,” said Holden. “She's been unresponsive on the railroad noise, the trash issue, truck traffic, police coverage and building issues to name only a few. Now she's in hot water with Speaker Quinn and as a result our neighborhood has and will continue
to suffer.”

The “political hot water” Holden referred to comes as a result of Crowley prematurely releasing a press release taking the credit for singlehandedly preventing the fire company closings.Insiders say Crowley may be gearing up to make a run for the Speaker’s position in the future.

“Elizabeth Crowley received the least amount of funding out of 51 council members and that directly affects our quality of life. She should really start to work for the community instead of for herself,” an angry Holden concluded. “I think Elizabeth
needs to get her priorities straightened out.”

Council Member Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) secured $528,321 in discretionary funding and millions more in capital projects for her district, which includes Rego Park and parts of Elmhurst. Last year, former Council Member Melinda Katz received $478,321 in discretionary funds for the same district.

“I feel I did very well for my district,” said Koslowitz. “I helped fund senior centers and all the schools in the district will receive funds for things like smart boards, libraries and music programs.”

Key programs funded by Koslowitz include $8,000 to Catholic Charities to support senior centers. The Forest Hills Jewish Center will receive $5,000 to help support their senior center and the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce will receive $2,500 to fund jazz concerts for the community.

Capital projects in Koslowitz’s district will help schools and the public libraries. PS 174 will receive funds to build a new library, and Forest Hills High School and PS
144 will have their library refurbished.

PS 99 will receive funds to create a computer lab. Koslowitz also helped fund heating and air conditioning repairs at the North Forest Park public library and customer service technology at the Richmond Hill branch.

Discretionary funds and capital projects are critical to the budget process and support local causes in council member’s districts. Citizens attempting to understand how their tax dollars support their district should scrutinize how council
members are making specific allocations.

Reporter Tamara Best contributed to this story.

FDNY Battles Heat and Flames in Elmburst

More than two hundred firefighters and EMS personnel were called to battle a five alarm blaze that broke out in Rego Park at about 10:20 a.m. on Wednesday.

The fire tore through the top two floors and the roof at the seven-story apartment building located at 86-16 60th Avenue.

A spokesperson at the FDNY press office confirmed that the heat index presents a challenging situation for firefighters and that the department compensates by bringing in extra relief and rotating the crews frequently to lower risk for working crews.

Seventeen firefighters suffered injuries related to the blaze and to extreme heat conditions No civilian injuries were reported. The cause of the fire has not yet
been determined.