It appears that Community Board 10 will debate the merits of two new City Council bills about jurisdiction of the city’s Potter’s Field on Hart Island.
The CB 10 Parks and Recreation Committee meeting hearing on Monday, January 12 included a lively discussion about two bills currently before the City Council’s Fire and Criminal Justice Committee that seek to transfer the primary jurisdiction of Hart Island from the Department of Correction to the Parks Department.
The matter has been referred to a full-board by the Parks and Recreation Committee in a unanimous vote on January 12. A committee vote was not taken because a quorum was not present.
A group of local activists from City Island Civic Association want to see the island transferred to Parks because they believe it would prevent Hart Island, off the coast of the shoreline community, from being used as a full-time prison, said CB 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns.
Currently, inmate labor buries bodies at the city’s Potter’s Field on the island, the location of approximately one million graves, for only 16 hours a week.
This City Island activists’ concerns are complemented by those of the advocacy group Hart Island Project, whose leaders believe that having the island made a park would make it easier for people to visit relatives and friends buried there.
At the meeting, CB 10 chairman Martin Prince expressed his reservations about transferring jurisdiction, in effect saying he would prefer to work with the existing framework to make the situation more workable for people who want to visit the island.
“My belief as chairman is that we work within city agencies, we try to get productivity out of those agencies, and advocate for the people who live within the board,” said Prince, adding that he believes this means advocating for the deceased on Hart Island.
“We know that in dealing with city agencies, in city transfers a lot can get way off track and the situation can become much worse,” he added. “I don’t believe that our dead deserve to be politicized, they need to be revered.”
Prince said that it is easy to say transfer jurisdiction of Hart Island to the Parks Department, but asked what happens once it is under the department’s purview.
One of the advocates for the transfer, CICA corresponding secretary John Doyle, said that all of the Bronx’s City Council delegation supports the bills advocating the transfer. The primary sponsor of the bills is Queens Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley.
“We have done all of the leg work,” he said. “We are just looking for an up or down vote on this.”
Melinda Hunt of the Hart Island Project believes that a 100-acre park, as opposed to a facility run by the Department of Correction, would be more inviting and welcoming to grieving families who visit graves on the island.
She pointed out that many parks were once potter’s fields, including Washington Square Park, Madison Square Park, Wards Island, and Randall’s Island.
A visit to the Hart Island by a delegation from the City Council is being planned for Friday, January 16, said Hunt.