2010-05-28 / Top Stories

CB 14 Confronts NPS Reps' 'Excessive' Fees

By Miriam Rosenberg

Rita Mullally, Gateway’s district ranger for the Jamaica Bay Unit, answers Community Board 14’s questions about the park’s fees. Behind her is Liam Strain, park ranger – management assistant of the National Park Service. Rita Mullally, Gateway’s district ranger for the Jamaica Bay Unit, answers Community Board 14’s questions about the park’s fees. Behind her is Liam Strain, park ranger – management assistant of the National Park Service. The recent Community Board 14 meeting at which Gateway National Recreation Area (GNRA) was to update the public on their General Management Plan (GMP), which will frame the future of the local national park, turned into a session in which community board members questioned park representatives about usage fees.

These fees have caused local organizations to feel that they are being priced out of GNRA, which has four units in Rockaway and Broad Channel.

At the May 11 meeting, board member Dan Mundy alerted the National Park Service officials to the frustration of the community about charging fees for events that were once free to the community, making it necessary for some organizations to cut back on or cancel events they traditionally run each year.

In Mundy’s words, “How are our voices going to be heard in regards to … the stuff communities are used to having that you have done in the past and now are taking away from us. I think that is more important to us in this surrounding area than a regular plan.”

The discontent centers on Gateway’s recent policy of charging fees to local organizations that hold events on its property. Rita Mullally, the district ranger for the Jamaica Bay Unit, said that “collecting fees is something we’re supposed to be doing. We’re required by law to do it.”

She explained that, until 2006, Gateway supported events through their own funding. An events guideline, including a fee structure or Special Events Cost Recovery Schedule, was created when the park determined it could no longer afford such support.

“The fees are based on the number of people attending the event,” said Mullally. “We figure out how many staff members we need to be there, how many park rangers we need to be there for parking or [other] components.”

The 2009 fee schedule lays out the separate costs for maintenance and monitoring staff at Riis Park as well as Floyd Bennett Field (which also includes parking staff). For Riis Park, maintenance would range from $150 an hour for up to 2,000 participants to $600 an hour for between 9,000 and 10,000 people. Monitoring staff goes from $50 an hour for up to 2,000 people to $200 an hour for between 9,000 and 10,000 visitors. Floyd Bennett Field has a separate fee schedule.

According to the above document, there are other costs that could be incurred.

While supporting events is at the discretion of the superintendent, Mullally did acknowledge that the fee structure is not engraved in stone. For organizations with which she has worked previously, that have a track record of being able to handle a lot of the work involved, she may determine that less park staff is needed.

“If I don’t know the organization running the event and they have no track record with me, I’m going to charge the top fee,” said Mullally.

In response to one board member who said, “Your fee structure makes it impossible to host the events on your property,” she referred to a recent discussion with her regional supervisor about the guidelines. “She [the supervisor] basically said that organizations have to row with the times,” said Mullally.

The guidelines were written in November 2006 and Mullally said organizations that had previous events in the park were sent a copy.

“We deal with 10 to 12 organizations on a regular basis. They were told at that time that we were going to be creating these guidelines and that events that were supported by the park were no longer going to be able to be supported by the park and that the fee structure was going to be implemented,” Mullally explained.

The Rockaway Music and Arts

Council earlier this year canceled its summer concerts and arts festival for 2010 because of the fees being charged by Gateway. Steve Yaeger, RMAC’s president, spoke with The Wave outside the meeting hall. He addressed the claim by Mullally that RMAC was refunded $250 after their concerts last year.

“What Rita said about the $850 for the concerts that we got $250 back – I don’t understand what they’re talking about,” said Yaeger. “We never got anything back from that. The cost was $850 for each of five concerts. We never got money back, not for the concerts.

“My personal feeling is that the natural history of the park isn’t being developed. Neither is the history in and of itself – the human history. If you look on their website with the Golden Gate Recreation Area, which is a sister to the Gateway Recreation Area here, you get the distinct impression that more is going on at the Golden Gate Recreation Area than there is over here. More is being developed there than there is over here.”

Sharon Gabriel, the RMAC festival chair said, “I really think that they’re kicking the local community out of the park …. They are making it difficult for local people to use the park for concerts, for a big festival that brings 20,000 people a year by their estimates into the park.”

Gabriel said that the festival brought “more people to that park than they do all year round, so you think they’d be interested in trying to work with an organization that brings people in. Instead they charged us thousands upon thousands of dollars last year.”

Board member Vince Castellano suggested that CB 14 invite all organizations affected by Gateway’s new policies to a future meeting.

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