Column: Wasted time is an unseen scar of the pandemic

AP Images/ Kevin Hagen

The ongoing pandemic has completely altered our daily lives, both in big ways and small. We’ve lost loved ones, many have lost their jobs and others have long-term health effects that will stay with them for years to come. Neighbors have struggled with economic uncertainty, food insecurity and the long-term psychological effects of depression and isolation. While it may not be as apparent or visible for all to see, COVID-19 has also wrecked significant damage and delay upon our community and its priorities.

In February 2020, a mere month before COVID-19 changed our lives, a number of City Islanders were present at a Rodman’s Neck Monitoring Committee Meeting. At this meeting, we were thrilled with a surprise announcement that the NYPD and Department of Design and Construction had agreed to fully enclose the shooting range, an improvement from their previous commitment of 66% enclosure.

It’s widely known that we will only be able to really mitigate the noise pollution emanating from the facility by enclosing the range. No sooner was this said than the pandemic struck. The economy tanked and people were sheltering in place. This project, along with many others, was put on hold.

That summer, cuts to the NYPD budget — $1 billion from the operating budget and another $500 million from its capital budget — led to the temporary scrapping of the long-awaited 116th Precinct in Queens. For a period of time, it seemed as if Rodman’s Neck — the top-funded item of the NYPD’s capital budget — could also be canceled and a victory so many have worked towards was about to be snatched out of our very hands.

Thankfully this was not meant to happen, but there was a price: the range will now only be approximately 85% enclosed. To be clear, this is better than where we started, but it is still a setback from what we were promised early last year. Furthermore, getting monitoring committee meetings arranged or even basic responses or clarifications from 1 Police Plaza has been as difficult as ever.

This is not isolated to one agency. In my 15 years of service to our community, perhaps no project has consumed more of my time than the fight for 24/7 Bx29 bus service. After years of sending hundreds of late complaints, collecting countless petition signatures and helping arrange three MTA town halls (two on our island) we were finally told in May 2019 that they had finally recognized something that was so clear to us: our community deserved 24/7 service and this service would be coming in summer 2020.

But as they say: “Man Plans and God Laughs.” COVID hit, telecommuting became the norm, and ridership tanked to a minuscule 10% of its pre-pandemic levels. In the interim, nearly two years have come and gone and our residents, visitors and off-hour workers have been left without a safe and affordable means to travel to and from the Island. Thankfully, the MTA recently announced it will restart its Bronx Bus Design plans, and re-affirmed its commitment to our community in writing. But I can’t help to wonder how many of our neighbors have been literally left out in the cold during late nights when the bus ceases operations. They and we deserve better.

Finally, a project we, at Rising, have launched and prioritized since our founding two years ago: cleaning up the Hutchinson River Parkway and sewage that spills into it. Working alongside state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, the Hutchinson River Restoration Project and the City Island Oyster Project, we have had numerous meetings with the leadership of the city of Mount Vernon, where the sewage originates, because they dump it into the river. It is clear that to solve this problem the city needs funding from either the federal or state government to repair its sewers. In April 2020, shortly after the pandemic fell upon us, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo — remember him — announced that the New York State Budget would include $3 billion towards a Mother Nature Bond Act, a November ballot initiative that would include hundreds of millions of dollars to address poisoned waterways exactly like the Hutchinson River Parkway. Unfortunately, COVID continued to take its toll on our economy and the revenue our state collects from it. By July 2020, Cuomo was forced to postpone the vote until the following year. Through his own misdeeds, it would eventually be postponed again, this time to November 2022. Even after it passes next year, we will have to fight for this funding. But that’s at least several more years of all of us swimming in polluted waters, and some getting sick because of it.

I know we’ve had some false starts, but it seems like we’re finally starting to emerge from this pandemic and the accompanying fear and anxiety that has grappled our community and nation. While we’re all of course fortunate to be alive, our community has lost years on all of these initiatives; time that could have been spent dramatically improving the commutes, health and quality of life for our neighbors; time that could have been directed towards tackling new problems like climate change or finding a new universal pre-kindergarten site for our youngest neighbors. Wasted time and opportunities have become the unseen scars of this pandemic.

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