On The Block Ferry Subsidy Swept Away
On The Block
By Howard Schwach
Will they love Rockaway in December as they did in May? Apparently, the answer to that question is a resounding "No." As part of Mayor Giuliani’s parting shot at the city he led for eight years, his Office of Management and Budget has swept away many of the "council initiative" budget items placed on next year’s budget by city council members.
One of those items was the $300 thousand allocation that would have provided a subsidy for a commuter ferry from Rockaway to Manhattan.
And, although many of those items were restored to the budget at a late night bargaining session on Wednesday night, it was not clear as The Wave went to press whether the ferry subsidy money was one of those items.
In May, Noach Dear, the chair of the council’s transportation committee, working with other local, state, city and federal legislators, worked out a deal for the $300 thousand to be allocated to the Friends of Gateway Park to "administer a new ferry service project from the landing at the Jacob Riis National Park in Queens to Wall Street in Manhattan and to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn."
Whether the ferry service in question was meant as a commuter service or as a service to bring tourists to Gateway National Park has always been in question.
The owners of the Elsie K Princess, a ferry company that has been providing service between Rockaway and Sheepshead Bay, reportedly are ready to begin service between Riis Landing and both Pier 11 in Manhattan (Wall Street) and a pier on West 34 Street as soon as the city provided the necessary permits for the service.
"That $300 thousand was enough of a subsidy for us to get a commitment for a five dollar round trip between Rockaway and Pier 11," says John Finley, the Business Development Manager for Gateway National Park. "We have issued our federal docking permits to the company and they have applied to the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) for their docking permits. That is where we stand."
"The permit process, that should have taken a week or two had now taken two months," Finley added. Without the subsidy, the cost goes up to a twenty dollar round trip and that is just not feasible for most of the Rockaway commuters."
Paul Kurtz, a spokesperson for the DOT told The Wave that the money had indeed been cut from the agency’s budget.
"The money that was tentatively allocated to the Friends of Gateway has been administratively cut," Kurtz told a Wave reporter. "We didn’t actually have it allocated in any real way. It was very nebulous, a way of drawing other money to the program."
"Given the crisis situation we are in, the money had to be pulled," he added. "We could put it back in if we get anything more concrete. The mayor might want to put it back in under those circumstances."
Many local activists and political officials worked feverishly through Tuesday and Wednesday to restore the money.
"We’re trying everything we know to save the subsidy money," Representative Anthony Weiner, on his way by plane to Washington, D.C., told The Wave. "I spoke with (council budget director) Herb Berman and with Dear. The question is whether Stabile, Vallone and Dear will go to bat for it. They say they will, but they are almost out the door."
"The project is really on the cutting block, and that is all we know at this point," Weiner added. "In fact, at this point, every council initiative is on the mayor’s block."
"It will certainly be a shame if this happens, if the money disappears," says Jonathon Gaska, the district manager for Community Board 14. "The ferry service is part of the Arverne By The Sea revitalization plan. Ferry service to Manhattan would be a big selling point for people to buy homes in Rockaway."
"We have a commitment from many of our politicians," says Liz Sulik, president of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce. "Al Stabile has said that he will vote to keep it in. Malcolm Smith is for it and has asked Governor Pataki to intercede for Rockaway."
"In another year, we could have accepted this as politics as usual," Sulik says. "Not this year. This year it does make a big difference. In light of everything that Rockaway has been through, this is not the year for politics as usual."