2001-08-11 / Columnists

On The Beach… With Beverly Baxter

Oooh, that stench! Can't you smell it! If you think that the stench from the Beach 108 Street Sewage Treatment Plant is awful enough, particularly in the summertime, then wait 'til you hear, and smell, what's going to be coming down Newport Avenue! It seems that there's a "dirty deal" well underway and the construction is happening right under our nose!

While attending a meeting recently at John Baxter's office, I was introduced to Floyd Smith who, along with his organization, The Concerned Citizens For Riis Park, has been the watchdog over the park for the last 27 years. He told me that there was a pipeline being dug under Jamaica Bay. While rollerblading around the park, I have often noticed continuous construction on the Mall area; and perhaps like many, I merely assumed that they were fixing up the mall or adding more recreational amenities; however, neither is the case. I contacted Billy Garret, Superintendent of Jamaica Bay who referred me to Dave Avrin, Assistant Superintendent of Operations. What he so willingly told me was astonishing. Indeed, the people of Rockaway are now going to be the beneficiaries of sludge...from Brooklyn!
  Avrin stated that there is, in fact, a pipeline being built under Jamaica Bay to transport sludge to the mall at RIis Park and then to transport it to the Sewage Treatment Plant on Beach 108 Street. Perhaps this is the reason for the most recent construction on Newport Avenue. Avrin stated that it would be cost effective, rather than upgrade, the smaller plant at Floyd Bennett Field and more efficient to run a pipe under the bay and then pump it up through Riis Park!
I assure you I am not a scientist, however, it seems to be quite an engineering feat at best! Or the worst possible experiment with the homeowners being assessed the cost for the construction on Newport Avenue.
When I asked Avrin the cost of the entire project, he could only say that
it was in the obvious millions and part of a larger water and sewage utility project. He was also unable to give me the name of the contractor. The contractor has incurred problems with the drilling, the project is at a temporary stalemate, and negotiations are going on between the National Parks Service and the contractor to determine what their options are in order to continue the project. What are our options as residents of Rockaway??
Evidently none, because the Federal Government can do whatever it wishes and the homeowner will be assessed for it.
  Perhaps the recent press release about the Borrow Pits being filled is a
deterrent, and while they are filling the Borrow Pits, they are actually bringing the sludge right down through the heart of the west end. According to John Baxter, it is "the silt at the bottom of the Borrow Pits that provide nourishment for the grassland in the bay; and this kind of dumping will strangle the eco-system in Jamaica Bay."
  The Committee to Preserve Rockaway (C.P.R.) met recently at Dr. Geraldine Chapey's office to discuss the potential decision by Gateway to lease to the city the northeast portion of the Riis Park parking lot to impound 2,400 cars. It was a lively discussion attended by Sharon Gabriel, Sylvan Klein, Brian Heffernan, Bob Sullivan, Eugene Pasternak, Owen Baxter, and myself.

The roundtable discussion included the environmental impact of cars that sit dormant for an indefinite period of time to its unsightliness. Sharon Gabriel, of The Rockaway Music and Arts Council, made a poignant point of stating that RMAC, as well as The Rockaway Theatre Company, have long had difficult negotiations with Gateway because there are federal laws prohibiting the use of the federal Gateway Park land to be used for profit. Funds derived from our wonderful RMAC and RTC events are rendered in the form of "donations"; so how can Gateway, themselves, negotiate a permit with the N.Y.C. Corporation Council for use as an impound lot?

Dr. Geraldine Chapey, along with the C.P.R. Committee, will be distributing petitions that you will find in local stores over the next several days. Please sign these petitions! It is only through activism that we can have any kind of say over what happens to Rockaway.
  I was speaking with John Baxter about the proposed lot and his determination and documented research never ceases to amaze me. A few years ago he had done extensive research on the legality of the tolls on the Cross Bay and Marine Park Bridges. In his folder he found a Memorandum regarding the jurisdiction and ownership of the Traffic Circle at Riis Park and it included a map of jurisdiction of the parking lot. According to this map and Chapter 162 of the Law of 1934, "Robert Moses as Park Commissioner assigned to the Marine Parkway Authority certain lands north of the northerly line of Rockaway Beach Boulevard within the confines of Jacob Riis Park."
According to Baxter's papers, the Marine Parkway Authority became the New York Parkway Authority, which then became the Tri-Borough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, and is now the M.T.A. According to this map obtained by John Baxter, Rockaway Beach Boulevard was once called Washington Avenue and a portion of the land that is north of Washington Avenue/Rockaway Beach Boulevard is actually under the jurisdiction of the M.T.A. as it was deeded to The Marine Parkway Authority by, at that time, Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. Therefore, our dispute may in fact be with the M.T.A. and not with Gateway.
  The Rockaway City Committee has been meeting very frequently and there is quite a buzz of interest around our town (I mean, around our "city"!). There are plans for an election with a referendum to take place in the spring of 2002.

The committee is on a fact-finding tour to determine precisely what the city owes Rockaway over the past 85 years. John Baxter states, "if we could compare the way we were with the way we are now and compare ourselves with other communities, we will see that we have been steadily depreciated over the past 85 years."

He continues to state that "we started out as a thriving, worthy, and profitable community and the city has created the blight and devalued our land; and in deliberately doing so, the city now doesn't have to provide more of the services that other areas receive because we have become, or rather, they have created us to be, a bad investment with a low tax base."

In other words, Baxter states, "They don't invest properly in our area because there isn't enough bang for their buck! But the city created our current state. Our Community Planning Board has been railroading projects through our community for years. They were initially created to advise the Borough President of the needs and wants of a community; but
instead, they act not on behalf of the community they're suppose to serve, but rather on behalf of the will of the Borough President's Office and they continue to railroad these projects through. There are now more low-income housing, for people earning less than $10,000 a year, being built at Wavecrest by the Goldfarb Organization. If we were Rockaway City, we could stop this. We would have a say in our own future."

John Baxter has received lots of press lately with articles about his candidacy for the city council featured in The New York Times, The Daily News, The Queens Tribune and The Chronicle. "You know a lot of people are saying that I'm talking about the Charter for Rockaway City in order to somehow advance or gain attention on my campaign. This is nonsense! What I discovered is a "will" a Charter voted on and put forth by the Rockaway people of 1915. The Charter is in place. It is deemed valid. Only new, and suspect, legislation could over-turn it. All I am saying to people and presenting is that we have a choice, in our hands, for our future. Do we want to secede and become our own governing city? And if we don't, at least let any decision be the present will of the Rockaway people today. All I'm saying is that we have a Charter already in place. Do we want it? Do we not want it? Let's vote on it and let the will of the people be heard. Besides, anyone who says I'm exploiting the issue for political gain is misinformed because if I were to be elected to the city council and Rockaway became its own governing city, I'd be out of a job!"
  The Saint Thomas Moore Parish, through its Issues and Discussion Club, will host Candidates Night on Tuesday August 28 at 7:30 pm. Ralph Colantuoni has informed me that all candidates in the 32nd City Council race have been invited to attend. The candidates are Chris Jorge, Lew Simon, Joe Addabbo, John Seminario, Joann Ariola, and John Baxter. It promises to be an interesting and well-attended night. Mark your calendars!
  My condolences to Vincent Castellano on the passing of his wife Rosemarie and to Ed Rice, Saint Patrick's Day Parade Committee Financial Secretary, on the passing of his father.    

Bon Voyage and best wishes to my friend Dr. Geraldine Chapey and her wonderful husband Eugene Pasternak as they embark on a Holland America cruise to Alaska!
   Belated Happy Birthday wishes to little adorable Shannon McKeown of Belle Harbor who turned 4 years old on August 1st.

   Congratulations to the 100 Precinct Community Council, the Chamber of Commerce, and The Beach Club for the wonderful Night Out Against Crime. I hope you shared the evening and the beautiful Fireworks with special people. I did!
    See you...On The Beach!   

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