Thursday, January 31, 2013

Flushing Meadows Soccer Stadium Must Be Stopped - Queens Chronicle

Officials from Major League Soccer visited the offices of the Queens Chronicle last week to try and change the paper's editorial position on the league's massive proposal to build a 35,000 seat stadium and concert venue in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.
Major League Soccer is doing its best to rush a misguided plan to build a stadium in Queens through all the hurdles it faces before Mayor Bloomberg leaves office. It cannot be allowed to succeed, according to a strongly worded editorial in the Queens Chronicle. 

League officials have been given every opportunity to be forthcoming about the important details of their proposal and to counter their critics, and they refuse to do so. A similar project they got approved in Harrison, NJ, just over the Hudson River, has failed to live up to its promises and ended up shorting that town’s taxpayers at least $3.6 million.

And, above all, their plan for a stadium in Flushing Meadows Corona Park would severely damage what remains the crown jewel of Queens, without enough benefit to residents.
The deal MLS seeks with the city would be a steal, literally, in all but the legal sense. It wants a $1 a year lease for up to 13 acres of public parkland — the classic deal politicians and private for-profit businesses cook up behind closed doors to take the citizens’ property without compensation.
That deal, which must be stopped, is at the heart of why MLS is in such a rush. If it doesn’t get public land essentially for free, the league will have to buy the 10 to 13 acres it needs for a 25,000 seat arena on the open market.
All that the public would get in exchange is 13 acres of new parkland somewhere else —but not all in one chunk — and the rehab of some existing soccer fields at Flushing Meadows, which should be a city job anyway. MLS also says it would invest tens of millions of dollars in the park, but it’s vague as to how and where, as it is on so many details, even when its president met with us last week.
One of the most frustrating vagaries is the league’s site selection process. MLS is dead set on building a stadium in Flushing Meadows, mostly because the land would be free but also because there are so many Latin Americans in nearby neighborhoods and soccer is such a force in that culture, and because of all the transportation options that get people to the park. But we don’t see why a stadium couldn’t be considered for any number of other locations, such as Aqueduct Race Track or the old Flushing Airport, and MLS has not been forthcoming in what other sites it rejected or why.
We are not against soccer in Queens; in fact we would welcome it. We are against giving away our parkland. Imagine, as crazy as it sounds, that this project had been proposed for Central Park. Of course it would be rejected out of hand. But if the mayor wants a stadium, maybe he should consider putting it there, in his own neighborhood’s crown jewel park.
Another major concern with the proposal is the question of team ownership, one of many issues discussed in this week’s Queens Chronicle story “MLS to Queens? Stop by Harrison, NJ first.” The league has yet to select an owner for the team it would locate here, but that means accountability would be hard to pursue should any problems arise as the stadium is built. And the one possible owner that’s been reported on in the press is an Arab oil sheik, a prospect we find troubling. If a Queens soccer team were to go belly up, as two MLS teams have in recent years, what would he care about an empty stadium nearly half a world away?
Standard political practice means there is one person who could stop this project today if she wants to: City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, whose district includes the northern section of the park. She should see this proposal for the land grab that it is. If she says no to it, the rest of the Council will follow suit, and the plan will be denied — if MLS doesn’t just give up on its own first. 
We urge you to call Ferreras at (718) 651-1917 or (212) 788-6862, or email her at, and tell her to keep our park in our hands. MLS can come back with a better site any time.

Read More:

Flushing Meadows Soccer Stadium Must Be Stopped
Queens Chronicle - January 31, 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gowanus Canal Clean-up Estimated btw. $467 - $504 Mil. - City's Share Growing- IBO

The Gowanus Canal.  In March 2010 the federal Environmental Protection Agency declared the 1.8 mile Gowanus Canal a Superfund site, a designation the Bloomberg administration vigorously opposed.  

The EPA set about developing a plan to contain the hazardous materials in the canal’s sediment and to prevent recontamination. Part of the Superfund process also includes determining who’s responsible for creating the environmental mess and making those responsible pay the cost of alleviating the conditions.   Photo: Flikr/Doug Turetsky

As of this month the EPA has sent notices of potential liability to thirty-one companies, and several governmental entities including New York City, the US Navy, the US Postal Service, the US General Services Administration, the US Maritime Administration and the former owner of a company.  The companies included Consolidated Edison, Mobil Oil Corp, Citigroup, Verizon, ConocoPhillips Co, Chemtura Corp, Cibro Petroleum Products.

In December 2010 a EPA judicial bankruptcy deal approved a $3.9 million settlement 

with Argus Chemical Co., Witco Chemical Co., Crompton Corp.)  


For decades, the Gowanus Canal has been synonymous with a polluted, and sometimes stinking, body of water. Soon after the Gowanus opened in the 1860s, it was generally treated as an open sewer. Industrial waste from coal yards, refineries, and tanneries as well as raw sewage poured into the canal. This fetid stew contained hazardous substances such as PCBs and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides, and heavy metals such as mercury, copper, and lead.

Fast forward to March 2010 when the federal Environmental Protection Agency declared the 1.8 mile Gowanus Canal a Superfund site and set about developing a plan to contain the hazardous materials in the canal’s sediment and to prevent recontamination. Part of the Superfund process also includes determining who’s responsible for creating the environmental mess and making those responsible pay the cost of alleviating the conditions.
The EPA is still determining who is responsible and the degree of their culpability. Some of the companies being investigated may not be surprising, such as National Grid and Consolidated Edison. But based on the agency’s review so far and the remedies proposed in a plan released late last month, one of the entities on the hook for footing the cleanup bill may be the city itself.
The federal environmental agency estimates that its preferred plan (there are also some alternatives) would cost in the range of $467 million to $504 million. New York City’s share of that cost could be substantial, according to The Independent Budget Office (IBO).
For years, the city has allowed sewage and stormwater to spew into the canal. Looking just at the period from 1952 until the Red Hook Wastewater Pollution Control Plant opened in 1987, the city dumped about 20 million gallons of sewage a day into the Gowanus. The Red Hook plant and the nearby Owl’s Head wastewater plant still send sewage and stormwater into the canal when there’s an appreciable amount of rain and the two plants exceed their capacity for treating the wastewater. In a September 2011presentation, the city’s Department of Environmental Protection estimated that about 300 million gallons of stormwater and sewage drained into the canal in a typical year, about two-thirds of it untreated sewage.
To reduce the continued contamination of the canal from what are called combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, the EPA wants the city to build holding tanks that will store the wastewater until the two treatment plants have sufficient capacity to handle much of the excess. The EPA estimates the cost of the tanks to be about $78 million.
A general reading of the EPA’s proposed cleanup plan and some other documents gives the impression that the city’s share could include more than the cost of the tanks as the federal agency sorts out who is responsible for various aspects of the canal’s pollution. Much of the heavy industrial uses along the canal ended long ago. National Grid owns the three sites where plants produced manufactured gas from coal, oil, and water to be used for street lights and home heating. These plants appear to be a significant source of the canal’s past pollution and may lead the utility to also bear a heavy share of the remediation costs. But the EPA’s extensive discussion of the role of CSOs in the canal’s past and future may be indicative of the extent to which federal officials believe the city should be underwriting the cleanup.
Any spending due to the Superfund plan comes on top of substantial sums the city has already been investing to improve the water quality of the Gowanus and reduce CSOs. Based on a review of capital budget spending by IBO environmental analyst Justin Bland, over the past 12 years the city has invested nearly $160 million to repair and upgrade a flushing tunnel that helps oxygenate the canal’s relatively stagnate water and an additional $18 million on other Gowanus cleanup-related environmental projects. The city plans to commit an additional $51 million for these projects over the next four years.
The Bloomberg Administration strenuously opposed the federal Superfund designation and developed its own plan for restoring the Gowanus. The Mayor argued that the Superfund designation could cause years of legal battles and delay redevelopment of the surrounding area. But City Hall’s plan relied in part on Congressional appropriations for the canal, funds that the EPA’s regional administrator considered far from certain. Insufficient funding could mean a lag in the cleanup.
The EPA is holding public meetings in Brooklyn on its plan on January 23 at PS 58 and January 24 at the Joseph Miccio Community Center. Written comments until March 28.
Read More:

Federal Plan for Cleanup of the Gowanus Canal May Mean Growing Costs for the City

IBO - January 23, 2013 - By Doug Turetsky

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Parks Dept. Allowing Failed Restaurant To Run Private Catering Business

Running A Private Business On Public Park land. The Parks Department revenue division is now permitting Parks-owned Patrizia's of Bayside - formerly Valentino’s on the Green -  to close its lunch and dinner options to the general public to allow the concessionaire to exclusively focus on its catering services.  Until further notice Patrizia’s will only open for its scheduled catered events. Difficult to see the public benefit here. (Photo: Yinghao Luo)
After a change in identity and ownership less than six months ago, a Bayside restaurant has closed its lunch and dinner offerings, the city Parks Department said, according to Times Ledger. 
According to a Parks spokesman, Patrizia’s of Bayside will only offer its catering services after it originally opened for lunch and dinner in June. Any future plans at the location were not disclosed, however.
The Parks-owned restaurant replaced the upscale Valentino’s on the Green with a more moderately priced Italian cuisine approach over the summer and kicked off with rave reviews, the restaurant said.
After its opening week, more than 1,000 dinners were served at the 201-10 Cross Island Pkwy. location without the help of advertising, management said.
Giorgio Kolaj, who also ran Valentino’s on the Green, said the restaurant needed to shift its focus to catering due to a packed schedule of parties. Until further notice, he said Patrizia’s will only open for its scheduled catered events.
The building operates under a 17-year lease as of its name change in June, Parks said. The Bayside restaurant’s website has been under construction since Patrizia’s opened in June.
In June, brothers Giacomo and Gennaro Alaio took over the restaurant when it changed its name to Patrizia’s of Bayside. The new eatery officially opened June 12 and featured a completely revamped family-style Italian menu, which Gennaro Alaio said was designed to make the establishment more accessible to customers throughout the region.
“We wanted to reopen it as more of a moderate family Italian restaurant,” he said. “The new approach included bigger portions and a more casual dining atmosphere.”
The shift in focus and more moderate pricing was intended to keep the business running, Parks said, after Valentino’s’ more expensive menu had become difficult to maintain in a declining economy.
The Alaio brothers said the Patrizia’s name extended far beyond Queens before its move to Bayside with locations in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Stamford, Conn. The owners brought their brand of Italian cuisine to Bayside in June as part of a plan to build a presence in all five boroughs, the brothers said.

Read More:

Patrizia’s pivots business to only catering parties
Times Ledger - January 12, 2012 - By Phil Corso

City Spends Just $ 4.7 Mil. In Parks Department Hurricane Sandy Overtime



Park workers remove a downed tree in Astoria Park in Queens. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.

By Geoffrey Croft

The New York City Independent Budget Office released overtime spending from 42 city agencies as a result of Hurricane Sandy and the Parks Department certainly isn't getting it's fair share.

From October 29 through December 24,  the city spent $ 151.1 million dollars.

"The assumption is that Washington will pick up most if not all these costs," said IBO spokesman Doug Turetsky.

While much of damage occurred on Parks Department owned property -   including boardwalk and shorefront, tens of thousands of downed and damaged trees -  the city allocated just $ 4.7 million dollars in overtime for the agency which is responsible for 14 % of the city's land.  

The agency was responsible for removing destroyed park features including benches and fencing,  clearing out miles of sand, inspecting parks, as well as securing parks and playground during and after the storm.  

Forestry,  maintenance and Park Enforcement were among the titles that received overtime.

A park employee in Pelham Bay Park clears another downed tree.

While parks workers did a Herculean job with the extremely limited resources they were given including personnel and equipment the lack of resources helps explain the agency's slow response that many people experienced including having dozens of parks and playgrounds closed for weeks. 

The City's increasing reliance on volunteers and welfare recipients coupled with its refusal to hire skilled workers also impacted the response.

Park workers also reported being hurt responding to storm conditions including an APSW in Staten Island who was struck by a fallen branch.

December 15, 2012. Mountains of sand were pushed over the Boardwalk in Brighton Beach starting at Beach Walk & extending past Ocean Pkwy. The sand is smothering the plantings where the ground slopes from the boardwalk down to the street. The Parks Dept. is removing it by hand. 

Multiple contractors hired by the Central Park Conservancy to go work. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Live Revolutionary War-Era Cannon Discovered In Central Park

This artillery piece was given as a gift to NYC back during the Civil War, but when workers recently removed the concrete that had sealed the 230-year-old cannon, they found that it was loaded with a cannonball and gun powder. (Photo: CBS 2)
A  live cannonball loaded with live gun powder was discoverd this afternoon in Central Park today near E. 79th Street when workers removed concrete it was encased in.  The artillery piece was given as a gift to the City during the Civil War. (Photo: CBS 2) 


A dangerous and historic discovery was made in Central Park on Friday afternoon.
Parks workers came upon a live cannon ball, loaded in a cannon that is getting refurbished, CBS 2’s Lou Young reported exclusively.
The loaded artillery piece was one of two Revolutionary War-era cannons being stored at the park’s Ramble shed near the 79th Street transverse.
They were donated to the park about the time of the Civil War and the piece in question had been sealed with concrete. It was when that concrete was removed that park conservancy workers noticed it was still loaded with a cannonball and gunpowder.
The finding was a shock to everyone involved, including touristsusing the park Friday afternoon.
“Something like that, it’s surprising to be overlooked,” one woman said.
“It seems like some people are pretty incompetent not to notice after all these years,” a man added.
In fairness, it never occurred to anyone that 230-year-old field piece would still pose a threat. The NYPD responded and removed the powder, but left the cannonball.
“We silenced British cannon fire in 1776 and we don’t want to hear it again in Central Park,” the NYPD said in a statement.

Read More:

EXCLUSIVE: Loaded Revolutionary War-Era Cannon Found In Central Park Cannonball Discovered In Place; NYPD Responds, Removes The Gun Powder
CBS  -  January 11, 2013 - By Lou Young

47% Of Parks Capital Projects Behind Schedule - Millions in Cost Overruns - Comptroller


The Parks Department is not carrying out and overseeing capital construction projects in a timely and cost effective manner according to an audit released today by City Comptroller John C. Liu.

The audit found the Parks Department’s failure to monitor its capital construction projects in Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011, resulted in 47 percent of projects not being completed within their originally scheduled timeframes.  Some projects were years behind schedule and 10% of them went significantly over budget.

Additionally, the Department did not follow procedures to seek to recoup from consultants the cost of change orders that were necessitated by design errors or design omissions.

As a result, the Department expended almost $13 million in project costs—$2.2 million in additional staffing costs for construction management and almost $11 million in additional construction costs, which included $4 million in change orders that were necessitated by design errors or design omissions. 

“New Yorkers and visitors alike love our parks.  Repairs and upgrades must be better managed not only to reduce wasteful spending, but also to minimize the duration of park closures,” Comptroller Liu said in a press release. “The Parks Department can do better.”

In FY2010-FY2011, the Parks Department completed 315 capital construction projects, at a cost of $496.3 million.   Comptroller Liu’s audit found that:

·         149 (47%) of those projects finished late.  The projects were 218 days late on average. These late projects were supposed to have been complete within 284 days on average, so the delays resulted in almost doubling the length of time planned for completion.
·         30 projects combined to rack up $10 million in cost overruns, over and above the additional $8.6 million in contingency allowances for overruns that they burned through.  The projects had been budgeted at a combined cost of $69.6 million.
·         Despite spending $4 million to correct consultants’ design errors and omissions on various projects, the Parks Department did not use its right to try and recoup the money.

Comptroller Liu’s Audit Bureau launched the audit in response to numerous complaints from New Yorkers, including calls to the Comptroller’s 212-NO-WASTE hotline, and after independently assessing that an examination of the agency’s capital projects was warranted.

The audit recommended several steps that the Parks Department should take to better ensure that projects are completed on time and within budget.  For example, the audit recommended that the Parks Department flag projects for priority completion so that delayed work can be expedited.

Misleading Statistics in the Mayor’s Management Report

The MMR provides overall statistics for various “critical” agency performance indicators. The Department, however, is not providing accurate information to the MMR about the number of projects completed on time. According to the Fiscal Year 2010 MMR, the Department completed 150 projects of which 114 (76 percent) were completed “on-time or early.” In contrast, our review of the Department’s Q&A records indicated that in Fiscal Year 2010, 83 (55 percent) of 150 projects were completed on time—which is 21 percentage points less than reported in the MMR. Similarly, according to the Fiscal Year 2011 MMR, the Department completed 165 projects of which 130 (79 percent) were completed “on-time or early.” In contrast, our review of the Department’s Q&A records indicated that in Fiscal Year 2011, 83 (50 percent) of 165 projects were completed “on-time or early”—which is 29 percentage points less than reported in the MMR.

Today’s audit is available for download here:

The complete list of projects that were delayed or overbudget is available in the audit’s appendix.

Parks Projects That Were Significantly Overbudget And Delayed

Project DescriptionBoroughDelay DaysOver Budget
$ 1,234,802
SCHOOLYARDS @ PS105K, PS 112, PS 205, PS 247
$ 1,753,617
SCHOOLYARDS @ PS 129Q, PS 79, JHS 25, PS 159
& IS 238
Staten Island