Thursday, November 18, 2010

This Week's Forum South and West

Albert Road Reconstruction Stirs Ozone Park Residents

City Begins Land Acquisition Process

By Patricia Adams

Ozone Park property owners turned out in full force on Tuesday evening for what was originally billed as an emergency meeting of the Ozone Park Civic Association. The meeting was called after a “boiler plate” letter was sent to more than 500 residents who live on streets within the confines of HW411B, the street and sewer reconstruction of the Albert Road area.

Inclusion of the term eminent domain the letter sent a wave of panic through many residents who feared they may lose their property. Thankfully, despite the initial stress caused by the letter, there are no cases where a home or any other significant land parcels are in danger of being lost.

Department of Design and Construction fell under criticism because it failed to send details advising individual homeowners about how their property would be affected, if at all. “They [the city] could have spared the community this hysteria had they done their due diligence,” explained Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park).

But despite his criticism of the agency’s dissemination of information to the public, Ulrich says he is confident that the project will now move ahead. “I believe that construction will start as early as 2012. The acquisition process has begun and the project is fully funded. It will move forward.”

Ozone Civic President, Howard Kamph said at the end of the meeting he was happy with his decision at the last minute to allow the crowd to interact directly with the agency personnel. Kamph expressed concern over some additional provisions of the project which he said would include bike lanes and the return of Cohancy Street to a two-way. “If this project ever gets done, it will be a miracle,” Kamph said. “I’ve been hearing about it since I got here in 1981 and I have the DOT letters to prove it.”

Complete lists detailing the project were made available to all residents in attendance on Tuesday evening. Representatives from DDC reviewed individual properties with residents and advised them of any changes intended at their location. All homeowners were especially relieved to be informed that no residences were in jeopardy and that only a handful of structures, namely garages or sheds, are involved. The major alterations will be comprised mainly of residents losing some footage at curbside and other instances such as small retaining walls installed by homeowners. In all instances where the city would be acquiring property not already owned by them, financial compensation will be offered.

The original estimate to begin construction is early in 2013 and is expected to continue for approximately one year.

Changing of the Guard at 106 Precinct: Capt. Thomas Pascale Takes Reins at Ozone Park Command

Joseph Courtesis, outgoing commanding officer of the 106th Precinct, welcomes Captain Thomas Pascale, who is taking command at the Ozone Park stationhouse.

By Patricia Adams

Following an emotional farewell delivered by Deputy Inspector Joe Courtesis at the 106 Precinct Community Council meeting last Wednesday, Captain Thomas Pascale, a 16-year veteran of the NYPD, assumed the role as the precincts new Commanding Officer. Courtesis was transferred to his new position as CO of the 105 precinct in Queens Village.

Capt. Pascale’s career as a police officer began in 1994 at the 110th Precinct in Elmhurst. Pascale was eventually promoted to sergeant and was stationed at the 106th Precinct from 2000 to 2004, meaning he is no stranger to the community. In 2005 he was transferred to the 115th in East Elmhurst where he remained until being elevated to Captain in 2007. Following the promotion, he went to work with the Narcotics Division where he served until now.

Asked about his new position the Captain was quick to say he feels as though he has come home. “One of the great things is that many of the same officers I worked with while I was here back in 2000 are now in key positions at the precinct.” And in addition to the comfort and familiarity of coming back to the Ozone Park based command, Pascale says he has stepped into a “very well oiled machine.” Speaking about his predecessor, the Captain praised the job done by exiting commander Inspector Courtesis.

Discussing his plans for running the 106, Pascale says that any changes made will be slow and subtle. “We are going to continue to focus on community policing and quality of life issues,” noting that his new command is not plagued with violent crime.

One of the greatest challenges facing his command as well as others throughout the city is the lack of officers. “Like all of the city’s precincts we have to do a lot more with a lot less. Our officers are doing a tremendous amount of work.” According to Pascale, many people don’t realize the added responsibility police have had to assume with the escalation of terrorist threats and the many resources that have to be devoted to counter terrorism.

Despite the routine problems common to all NYPD precincts, Pascale says he is confident that the 106th Precinct will continue on its successful path by continually encouraging the maintenance and formation of community partnerships.

“The most important thing I want the residents in this community to know is that they don’t have to wait for a Council meeting to bring their problems here. We want to know about problems as soon as they happen so that we can continue to address them effectively.”

With Unemployment Holding Steady, Thousands Flock to Job Fair

By Eric Yun

The hundreds of people at Aqueduct on Friday hoping to make a quick buck on horse races were juxtaposed by the thousands desperately searching for a steady buck through full-time employment. Unemployment in the city is at 9.3 percent, according to the state Department of Labor, and thousands of people are competing for increasingly scarce jobs. In response, Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) hosted his third career fair at Aqueduct last Friday in an attempt to match the unemployed with the few jobs available in the city.

Who are the unemployed? A look at those attending the career fair shows unemployment has affected everyone. Recent college graduates who spent thousands on tuition but have found that a bachelor’s degree is not a ticket to guaranteed employment. Moms and dads who lost their jobs and are desperate to provide for their families. There are those who picked the worst time possible to pursue a career change and those who are too young to retire but find- ing they’re too old to get steady work.

“I’ve been doing everything right for fifteen years,” said attendee Keith Charles of Queens Village. “Now I’m being told I need to get more training.”

Overall, attendees like Charles stressed the importance of persistence and the belief that the economy would eventually turn around. “Only thing you can do is keep looking,” he said.

All these job seekers were hoping to impress the more than one hundred vendors at the fair, and each company had positions to fill. Local companies like Ozone Park’s Liberty Tax Service and the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council joined major national brands like Geico, Lowe’s and Avon and governmental agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

Vendors were selected based on industries Addabbo’s office felt there was growth. While governmental jobs are in jeopardy, there is some growth in areas like home health care and security industries.

Besides looking for employment, job hunters had the opportunity to learn new skills at four well-received workshops. Attendees received tips on personal branding and image, how to balance work life with personal life, job search strategies and how to network.

At the personal branding and imaging workshop, Shandeeyaky Shabazz from non-profit group Dress for Success spoke about the im- portance of projecting a positive image. “If you’re dressed in a track suit, I’m going to as- sume you’re running track. But if you’re dressed in a suit, business attire, I think you’re a successful person ready to work,” she said.

Shabazz also outlined the importance of an “elevator pitch”—a 60 to 90 second introduction that highlights your qualifications and skills.

There were some complaints about the structure of the job fair. One woman, who preferred to stay anonymous, said hardly any company was taking resumes. “They just said to go apply online. I came here to try to avoid that,” she said.

John Adams Football Team Protests Forfeited Games

By Eric Yun

In the eyes of the John Adams High School Spartans football players, their record is 8-2. According to the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL), their record is 5- 5.

The Spartans were forced to forfeit their first four games because of an ineligible player. Junior Antoine Arnold transferred from Bayside High School and played football there during the 2009 season. The PSAL rules state that Arnold must sit out 12 months before being allowed to play.

The mistake, which school officials have called a “clerical error,” has cost the players an opportunity to play in the playoffs. The Spartans defeated division-leading Beach Channel High School two weeks ago. The players are devastated that this error won’t give them the chance to compete for the championship.

“It’s unfortunate,” John Adams’s Athletic Director Thomas Glass told the Daily News. “It was a couple of mistakes by adults, and the kids are the ones paying the penalty.”

Supporters of the team organized a protest outside of the high school Wednesday afternoon. Chants of “We deserve to play,” were shouted and signs showing the team’s “true” record were displayed.

“We deserve to be in the playoffs,” said team captain Devven Baker. “We put our heart, sweat and tears into the season, and the players came together as a family. We deserve to play.”

PSAL rules regarding ineligible players and penalties are publicly available. The rules state, “If an ineligible student is listed on the roster as active, and/or participates in any interscholastic contest, the team with the ineligible player shall forfeit the contest.” However, supporters of the team feel instead of holding the men responsible for the mistakes accountable, and the kids are forced to shoulder the entire punishment.

Paul Casale, a youth football coach who worked with many of the players in the past, believes the PSAL is sending the wrong message to kids. “The PSAL rules state the principal and athletic director are responsible for ensuring eligibility,” he said. “But instead of penalizing them, the kids are the only ones penalized.”

Casale also felt that the timing of the forfeits was suspect. By the time the team found out about ruling, it was too late to mount a legal challenge to reverse the decision and allow the team to play.

“They worked so hard and are such great kids,” said Patricia Howard, whose son plays for the Spartans. “They earned their spot.”

Truck Traffic, Road Repair and Drug Counseling, Major Topics at CB 5

By Eric Yun

Truck traffic, unpaved roads and the proposal to open a drug-counseling center in Ridgewood were major topics discussed at last Wednesday’s Community Board 5 meeting.

During the public session of the meeting, Maspeth resident Peter Seymour complained about trucks on Melvina Place. Trucks travel through the street as a shortcut to get back to- wards Grand and Flushing avenues, and the roads simply can’t accommodate them.

Trucks find it difficult to make the turn from Melvina Place to 56th Drive, causing bottlenecks and crushed sidewalk curbs. Residents are hoping that Melvina Place can be converted to a one-way street southbound to help solve the traffic problems.

The issue on Melvina Place is part of the much larger issue of how and where trucks should be allowed to operate in Maspeth. For almost ten years, community activists have been fighting for the Maspeth Bypass Plan to keep trucks away from the community’s residential areas. The neighborhood’s main strip, Grand Avenue, faces a daily barrage of truck traffic on a daily basis.

Vincent Arcuri, chairman of CB 5, reported that many streets were being repaved, particularly in Middle Village, but the process was taking longer than expected. The streets have been milled but remain unpaved. Arcuri theorized that Verizon could be laying fiber optic cables holding up the process.

Board member Lorraine Sciulli commented that cars were speeding down the unpaved
streets creating hazards by kicking up rocks and debris, and drivers who know about the status of the street who slow down are at risk of being rear-ended. She suggested the city Department of Transportation at least erect rough road warnings for drivers until the work is finished.

At last month’s CB 5 meeting, JNS Counseling Services gave a presentation for their proposal to open an outpatient counseling service on 752 Onderdonk Avenue in Ridgewood. There were concerns if the community would see an increase in crime. In response, the board’s Health Committee contacted Brooklyn’s Community Board 15 and was told that there was no increase in crime and JNS runs a good program.

The board, which acts as an advisory board, approved the proposal.

The community board also discussed making Glendale’s I.S. 119 a K-8 facility. Community Education Council 24 and the Department of Education Portfolio Planning department will meet with the residents at I.S. 119 on November 22 about the plan.

Members of Transportation Alternatives asked the board to support their quest to hold the MTA and state legislators accountable for mass transit funding. They also asked the board to endorse the groups Rider’s Bill of Rights. The board didn’t take any action yet on the requests.

Finally, re-elected Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) thanked residents for their support and promised to continue the hard work in Albany.

Blood Drive to Benefit 13-year-old Carly Nieves

By Eric Yun

Thirteen-year-old Carly Nieves from Maspeth is one of the 2,000 people in New York City who are waiting for a blood transfusion. Suffering from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Carly needs periodic blood transfusions to recover from chemotherapy treatments. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of blood and donors in the city.

Carly is attending I.S. 73 in Maspeth and will graduate in 2011.

“When you’re told there’s no blood for her [Carly], it’s devastating,” said Carly’s mom, Lisa Horner. “It’s not like you can just come back tomorrow.”

The New York Blood Center and Friends of Karen are holding a blood drive for Carly and everyone else in need of blood at Christ the King High School on Saturday, December 18 from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M. New York Blood Center is the largest community-based non-profit blood center in the city. Friends of Karen is a non-profit organization that helps support critically ill children and their parents.

Inez Quentant of the New York Blood Center told the public at last Wednesday’s Community Board 5 meeting that the goal is to collect 200 pints of blood. “If you have one hour of your day to spare, roll up your sleeves and donate one pint of blood,” Quentant said. That pint of blood is enough to help save three lives.

Horner and Quentant intend to make the blood drive a fun event for the community. There will be face painting for kids and a raffle.

Donating one pint of blood or registering to be a bone marrow donor at the blood drive will not only help Carly, but the thousands suffering from blood-related cancers like Leukemia.

For more information or to make an appointment to donate blood, contact Lisa Horner at Christ the King High School is located on 68-02 Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village at the intersection of 69th Street.

Maspeth Residents Won't Stand for any Study to Increase Truck Traffic

Laura Shabe gives presentation about the Port Authority's EIS
By Eric Yun

Truck traffic is a constant and serious concern in Maspeth where living adjacent to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and the Long Island Expressway creates a torrent of trucks travelling through the neighborhood. For the last decade, community activists have fought to relieve truck and traffic congestion in Maspeth, and they have serious reservations about the recently revived Cross Harbor Freight Program being considered by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

In 2004 the community fought and won a battle against a plan that called for a harbor tunnel connecting New Jersey and Brooklyn, which would have required a 143-acre intermodal station in Maspeth. The tunnel wasn’t necessary, the opponents of the plan said, and the intermodal station would inundate Maspeth with pollution from trains and in- creased truck traffic. Mayor Michael Bloomberg denounced the plan and it was eventually killed.

Now the Port Authority and the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal High Administration (USDOT) is reopening ideas to improve the movement of goods around New York Harbor—specifically how goods move east of the Hudson River to the west and vice versa.

Port Authority officials held a public meeting about the Cross Harbor Freight Program, hosted by Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) at Frank Kawalinski Post in Maspeth Tuesday night. With the bitter taste of the previous plan of a tunnel and intermodal station plus their present frustration with truck traffic, Maspeth residents came out to demand that under no circumstances should there be an increase in trucks.

“We don’t want any more trucks,” said Roe Daraio, president of COMET. That simple sentence was echoed by the residents who at- tended the meeting.
For the Port Authority officials, this is the type of input they expected and needed to hear. The freight program is currently undergoing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Tier 1 Environmental Impact Study (EIS). The NEPA study is part of a larger process all important decision-making must undergo, explained USDOT rep John Formosa.

The Tier 1 EIS aims to gather data and community input on the project to see how different alternatives could positively or negatively impact neighborhoods and if the alternatives make economic sense. The data from the Tier 1 study is later taken to a Tier 2 EIS where individual alternatives are more rigorously tested.

The possible alternatives for the program fall in three broad categories. The no action alternative examines what would happen if the Port Authority and USDOT did nothing. The management alternative attempts to see what would happen if changes were made in the operational structures of existing infrastructures. Finally, the build alternative looks to predict what would happen if expanded float and ferry system, rail tunnel and intermodal stations were implemented.

For the Port Authority the no action alternative is unacceptable. Maintaining the status quo would lead to almost a 33 percent increase in traffic and associated costs in New York City, according to Laura Shabe, Port Authority manager of the Cross Harbor Freight Program.

“Traffic is nearing catastrophic levels,” Shabe said. Traffic on the LIE is expected to worsen by 49 percent over the years if no action is taken.

Using the existing freight rail system, which is “underutilized and already built,” is one hard solution Shabe is studying to ease the traffic flow.

These alternatives, however, are unacceptable to Maspeth residents. The general consensus from letters sent to the Port Authority by civic groups and politicians as well as the residents at the COMET meeting was that while attempting to decrease truck traffic is an admirable goal, any plans that don’t seriously
investigate the impact it could have on communities would be unacceptable.

Mary Parisen and Laura Zimmer, co-chairs of Civics United for Railroad Environmental Solutions (CURES), wrote, “We urge the Port Authority of New York and New Jersy and the Federal Highway Administration to fulfill their responsibility to ensure that this project serves the needs of the people living in the region and protects and improves our environment for future generation.”

Manny Caruana said at the meeting that instead of solving the truck problem communities would just see a flood of smaller trucks transporting goods from increased rail use.

“The trains have to drop off goods somewhere,” agreed Daraio, and the trucks would have to at some point take the goods on the road. And for residents who have long felt like a whipping boy in truck traffic, they understandably fear Maspeth would be the worst affected.

Trains aren’t free of problems either as existing rail use in the community is already a serious quality of life issue. Maspeth and the surrounding communities are currently fighting loud idling trains and the noxious stench emanating from freights that carry municipal solid waste through their neighborhoods.

If freights were to carry goods through Maspeth, the commodity transported is a concern. The neighborhood would not stand for more garbage trains.

Residents including Christina Wilkinson questioned why the focus was on rail traffic. The focus should be on studying and utilizing the existing marine barges to transport goods by water instead of any increase in land traffic. Members of CURES agreed and urged the Port Authority to include an in depth marine analysis similar to their study of rail and truck traffic.

Shabe understands the communities concerns, but she stressed that dismissively denouncing the EIS would not help. “The status quo is what’s causing the problem,” she told The Forum. There was even a possibility that the study could shed further light on existing problems like the Fresh Pond Rail Yard that could be fixed during the implementation of program.

Formosa said this was just the first of many meetings with concerned Maspeth residents as the EIS continues. “We need to be fully open-minded and make data-based decisions that’s best for the community,” he said.

The final draft of the Tier 1 EIS is expected in the summer of 2011.