It’s been five years since the establishment of the Newtown Creek Environmental Benefits Program (EBP) and the community, for the large part, is yet to reap any dividends from it.
On Wednesday, at a progress meeting for the program held at the Long Island City offices of the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the body overseeing the program, it quickly become evident that the money allocated to the fund had largely been unused.
The City Parks Foundation, which is responsible for the administration of the larger chunk of the $10 million available in the benefits program, said that 88 percent of its funds are as yet unspent.
Of the $8.2 million that City Parks is administering, $3 million has been awarded to the North Brooklyn Boat Club (NBBC) to construct the boathouse, which at Wednesday’s meeting was once again a central point of contention.
Originally, plans called for construction of the boathouse on the bulkhead of the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC) building at 1155 Manhattan Avenue, but lease negotiations fell through, leaving the boathouse temporarily site-less.
Brian Coleman, the CEO of GMDC said his organization was unceremoniously dumped from the process involving the boathouse’s construction.
“How is this project in any way benefitting the community in its new location?” he asked at the meeting. “Why have we yet to receive any formal notice regarding our participation in the project?”
As the process dragged on, the Boat Club temporarily relocated to 51 Ash Street, a property owned by Broadway Stages, which is offering the space rent-free to the Boat Club.
Coleman said he was never informed of the change and that his organization was never formally asked to step away from the project. In addition, he argued that the Ash Street location would not offer as much open space to the project as the location on Manhattan Avenue.
Coleman and other concerned residents argue that the Ash Street property will soon be home to a private club and hotel owned by Broadway Stages and the Boat Club’s presence on the same property will mean that Broadway Stages will pocket part of the funds.
There is no evidence to suggest that something like this might happen, and the DEC ensured that it was strictly monitoring the process.
“No formal proposals have yet been made on the location of the boathouse,” said Michelle Moore, the DEC representative who was overseeing the meeting. She added that each step of the proposal and the allocation of the funds would be thoroughly scrutinized by the agency.
In fact, some residents at the meeting countered the GMDC’s assertion that the boathouse’s current location would benefit private developers, by arguing that the GMDC, itself a private organization, stood to benefit from the funds in the renovation of its dilapidated facilities.
The Newtown Creek EBP program was created five years ago as a result of an agreement between the City and State over a missed deadline by the City in its upgrade of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant., The City was ordered to pay $10 million, which was divided among three administrators – $1 million to the Hudson River Foundation, $7 million to City Parks, and the rest to New York State Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA).
The groups were asked to liaise with community members in the affected areas – the waterfront areas surrounding the creek in Greenpoint, Maspeth, Blissville and Long Island City – to come up with programs or initiatives that would benefit the community as a whole – and projects that were selected were decided by a public vote.
In 2011, NYSERDA left the process citing lack of community input, and in 2013, it’s $2 million pot was divided by the State between the other two organizations – City Parks received an additional $1.2 million and Hudson River received $800,000. The news funds also meant that the original five-year deadline for the implementation of the community benefit projects, which was scheduled to end this year, has now been extended to 2017.
Since the allocation of the funds, the Hudson River Foundation decided to work on smaller projects allocating $5000-$25,000 grants. At Wednesday meeting, the group said it had already allocated about $600,000 of the funds towards various projects including programs for nature walks, urban landscaping, and the creation of watersheds. Applications for a new round of grants are now open with the deadline set for June 2 this year.
City Parks dealt with the larger projects. The group narrowed down the funds’ allocation to nine projects – four primary projects that would receive precedence over implementation of five secondary projects. The Boathouse was one of the primary projects.
At the meeting, NBBC representatives argued that negotiations were still ongoing in regards to a final location for the boathouse, and all the parties concerned now have two years to figure out the process and to contend with concerned residents’ complaints.