By Kami-Leigh Agard
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Water is the driving force of all nature,” and Tuesday night at CB 14’s April meeting, water certainly was the driving force, flooding rancor to many community concerns. From the Department of Environmental Protection’s looming April 30 expiration date of sanctioned waivers for property owners’ overdue water bills, to the Army Corps of Engineers’ project seemingly sluggish update on mitigating rising waters in Jamaica Bay—the packed room at Knights of Columbus was on edge. And with 15 people signed up for public speaking, CB 14’s meeting was long, but not uneventful.
First, some encouraging news on the policing front from both the 100th and 101st Precincts. Captain Steve Hyland, the new executive officer of the 100th precinct, shared that starting May 8, there will be 40 officers on beach detail. However, he warned, “If you’re out on the beach, just be careful of unattended property. Auto grand larceny is up in Rockaway, and if you have money, cell phones, credit cards out in open view, that’s a draw. Also, if you have your car parked near the beach, doublecheck to make sure it is locked. Queens South has had a big problem with thieves using converters to break into these new cars. I actually recommend people get a guard that can help prevent someone from driving away with your car.”
Captain Timothy Schultz from the 101st Precinct said that police beach detail on the eastern end of the peninsula is increasing from 16 to 24 officers to which CB 14 attendees welcomed with applause. “We’ll definitely have the manpower to deal with any issues especially at O’Donohue Park and the boardwalk,” he said. Schultz also reported that crime, especially shootings, were down.
Public speaking was mostly commandeered by members of SHAFT and their supporters all adamantly expressing their opposition to Alma Realty building even more 20-story buildings on the land where the existing buildings are on Shore Front Parkway.
At the onset of the meeting, CB 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska reported that, regarding Alma’s proposal, nothing concrete is in the works, at least for now.
“I spoke to the head of Queens City Planning today just to kind of get an update. Basically, this is a very large-scale project. Projects of this size and scope require a number of steps. The first step when they go up for re-zoning is they do something called an EAS (environmental assessment), which is a precursor to a full environmental impact statement (EIS). The EIS looks at traffic, school seats, environmental issues, a number of different things. A project of this license scope will almost certainly trigger a full EIS. Those of you on CB 14, remember that with Arverne By The Sea and some of the other bigger projects, with EIS, even if it goes quickly, it takes four to six months, and as much as a year,” Gaska said.
City Councilwoman Joann Ariola’s Rockaway Community Liaison, Margaret Powers, said, “The councilwoman just wants, especially the people of Surfside, to know that she spoke with the DCP. She was assured that there was not a scope submitted for approval for the proposed project before it goes forward. At the end of the process, it will need the approval of the council member. And the council member would like to reassure the residents of Surfside that she has not changed her position of opposition regarding Alma’s plan.”
During public speaking, it was announced that Saturday, April 22 is Denim Day, a day of solidarity against sexual assault, victim blaming and domestic violence. From 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at Hammel’s Playground (Rockaway Beach Blvd. and 84th Street), there will be violence prevention speakers, performances, a self-defense seminar, Zumba, yoga, live music, puppetry and more. Then at 9 p.m., Denim Day continues with an after-party at The Rose Den. For more info, call: 347-757-9972 or email: email@example.com
Now regarding, water.
Karen Ellis of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) addressed CB 14 about the upcoming April 30 debt forgiveness deadline for New Yorkers with unpaid water bills. In January of this year, Mayor Eric Adams and DEP announced DEP’s one-time amnesty program, designed to alleviate financial burden on qualified customers with an excess in water and wastewater bills because of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the DEP, the program allows customers to have their accrued interest either reduced or forgiven after they pay their principal balance by April 30. Put more simply, it’s the forgiveness of late payment and interest charges.
This is different from the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program, which allows for the forgiveness of up to $5,000 for overdue water or sewer bills for qualified individuals.
Ellis said the Amnesty Program is open to a diverse range of property owners — from building owners to single-family household owners.
“Nearly one in four NYC water customers is behind on their bill, representing a combined $1.2 billion owed to DEP. This program will help customers get caught up, while also helping the city to recoup money in order to keep rates low, so that we can continue to invest in the water system’s resiliency. DEP depends almost exclusively on water bill revenue to fund services, operations, maintenance and capital improvements. The department must collect nearly $4 billion in order to deliver more than one billion gallons of water and treat 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater this year.
“And this program is available to all delinquent customers, including business owners, and it’s going to forgive the interest in exchange for principal repayment. However, customers must apply by April 30. There are several ways to pay. For all options and more info, go to our website: www.nyc.gov/dep amnesty and use our your ‘Account Lookup’ tool to see if you’re eligible and your options,” Ellis said.
Next, a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came to give an update on “The Rockaway Project,” focused on ideas for Edgemere and Hammels areas “to prevent high tides and storm surge flooding.” She said, “You know, and we know, that the flooding on the ocean side is different than what we see on the back bay side, especially what we saw this past December. So, we put together a plan to reduce what we call, ‘high frequency flooding.’ It consists of berms, bulk heads, flood walls between a height of two and five and a half feet above ground. Again, we’re still in the design stage and this is all preliminary. You’re not going to see anybody with a shovel on the ground. There’s no schedule.”
CB 14 members were definitely not pleased with some stating how many cars they lost, and property damages incurred post-Hurricane Sandy.
CB 14 member John Cori, significantly stated, “Can you get this message back to the powers that be: ‘Where the hell is the sense of urgency?’ This is insane. The levies in New Orleans were rebuilt with billions of dollars in six months. Why is the peninsula being left behind? There’s no urgency. And what I’ve always told the politicians, this takes the governor to declare a state of emergency every time water comes through the spouts and the sewer system. It’s an emergency. To the city and state legislators here, bring this back to your office, and get the governor here!”