City Island leaders toured Hart Island in a continuing effort to gain support for its transfer from the Department of Corrections to the Parks Department.
Home to the city’s Potter’s Field, a delegation of 20 people, including key leaders in the City Island Civic Association, City Island Chamber of Commerce, representatives from Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s and Councilman James Vacca’s offices, toured the 100-acre island with the DOC on Wednesday, November 5.
Advocates of the public getting easier access to the large mass graves on the island, located just off the coast of City Island and Orchard Beach in Long Island Sound, are hoping that the visit provided adequate reasons for the transfer of the island’s jurisdiction to the Parks Department.
Among the transfer supporters was Melinda Hunt of the Hart Island Project.
She said that the City Islanders were supportive of a change, and believes that at least the northern side of Hart Island would be a perfect place for a park since it is not an active burial site and doesn’t have a lot of grave markers. The markers it does have could be removed, as grave sites can be found using a Global Positioning System (GPS).
“They were very supportive in terms of transferring jurisdiction in some way,” said Hunt of the City Islanders who were on the rare visit.
Pual Klein, vice-president of the City Island Chamber of Commerce, said the group visited areas accessible by roads, describing the trip as an “overview of the space.”
“It terms of space, there are beautiful views,” said Klein. “I think it would be a great addition to the Parks Department.”
Klein said he thinks that there should be a ferry to Hart Island from Orchard Beach, with a possible stop on City Island.
“I think it should be open to the public,” he said, adding “I think it would be a great thing.”
Most of the abandoned buildings on the south side of the island have been left to nature, said CICA corresponding secretary John Doyle, who was on the trip. He said the tour took about two hours. Mobile phones were taken from the attendees before they were put on the ferry and shuttled across part of the sound, he said.
“It would be nice to open it up a little bit to the public, and I didn’t see anything there that changed my mind about doing that,” he said. “I think it was helpful for our associations, the civic and the chamber, to get the same tour and the same briefing so we are basically on the same page.”
Citing a history that includes the final resting places of generations of New Yorkers, and a Civil War Memorial, Doyle called it a “unique piece of history,” and said that the group was given a longer and more extensive tour than most visitors receive when visiting the graves of their loved ones.
There is currently legislation before the Fire and Criminal Justice committee of the City Council calling for a change in jurisdiction, said Hunt, Yet, ironically, there was no representative from the Parks Department on the site visit, she added.
Vacca’s chief-of-staff, Michael Rivadeneyra, was on the trip representing the councilman. After the tour, he said issues like the examination of the capacity of the Parks Department’s budget to determine if the cost of a new park can be absorbed, and if they can turn the island into a place where people can come to pay their respects, should be explored.
He said that currently, all but three members of the Bronx’s City Council delegation have expressed at least some support for the bill.
The position of the Hart Island Project has been that Parks would be a more appropriate agency to manage the island to more easily facilitate visits by grieving people who have loved ones buried there.