Volies' New Firehouse Stopped Dead By DOT
In March of 2005, Congressman Anthony Weiner stunned the 100th anniversary dinner of the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department with news that he and Senator Hillary Clinton had come up with $1 million dollars to build a new firehouse on Cross Bay Boulevard to replace the 100-year-old Noel Road facility.
Weiner warned the crowd that the allocation of the money in an omnibus transportation bill would only be the first step in a long road.
Now, however, three years later, that road appears to be blocked by the city's Department of Transportation (DOT) and officials of the volunteer organization fear that the money - and the firehouse - will be lost forever.
"We thought that we'd be in the final stretch by now," said Dan McIntyre, the fire department's chief. "We were on the ten yard line and we could see the goal line."
The volies were down to a few final touches. The federal money had been allocated and they had raised most of the $400,000 they had to put into the project as matching funds.
All that was left, they believed, was for the Department of Transportation to file a Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) application with the feds and then they could hold their mandated open house meeting, which they planned to use as a fundraiser.
Then, construction could begin and their dream could be fulfilled.
That was their dream until officials at the DOT refused to return their calls and they were informed by City Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. that the DOT would probably not file the required TIP, killing the project for good."We were told all along by the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), [the agency that had been chosen as the project's city sponsor] that there would be no problem, that the two agencies had worked together many times and that the TIP was a foregone conclusion," said Edward O'Hare, the organization's president.
"This was not going to be a big deal."
"Now," O'Hare adds, "the DOT won't even speak with us and doesn't want anything to do with the project."
O'Hare said that Addabbo promised to set up a meeting between DOT and the volies last summer, but that the councilman "blew them off all summer with excuses and stalling tactics."
And, while the DOT refuses to provide any information about its refusal to file the necessary papers, O'Hare says that he heard a number of rumors.
"First, we heard that they didn't want to be involved with the project because they were afraid of cost overruns and they didn't want to be responsible for any money. But we had all the money," O'Hare said. "Then, we heard that the fire department decided that it didn't want us to have a new firehouse. Now, we're hearing that there is a vendetta between Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Anthony Weiner over the election and Bloomberg doesn't want Weiner to get any credit for the new facility. We may never know what the real story is."
O'Hare said that the idea for the new firehouse came from a 1993 study they conducted for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The study showed that the community needed a new, all-purpose emergency management center that could be quickly put on-line in case of a hurricane or other emergency situation.
"They wanted a triage center, a place that its workers could use as a control center," O'Hare said. "They didn't care if we also used it as a firehouse."
Five years ago, Senator Hillary Clinton came to Broad Channel for a ceremony commemorating the Korean War. Officials from the volies spoke with her about the dilapidated firehouse and took her on a tour of the facility. She was reportedly shocked and promised to help the volies. She supported the transportation bill in the Senate.
What happens next? McIntyre and O'Hare have reached out to city officials, who include Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheeky, for help. They recently wrote a letter to Bloomberg asking him to assist them in removing the DOT roadblock.
They pointed out to the mayor that costs rise all the time and the quicker the project gets completed, the better.
That letter was sent to the mayor on September 9, and so far there has been no response.
So, the volies wait and wonder why the city won't allow them to use federal funds to improve the quality of life for all Broad Channel residents.
Repeated calls and emails to the DOT for comment remain unreturned at press time.