Gjonaj announces outer-borough, waterfront communities protection initiatives

This Edgewater Park firehouse unfinished bathroom still awaits state funding.
Photos Jason Cohen

It has been nine years since Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the tri-state. Yet, many Bronx neighborhoods still don’t feel prepared for the next superstorm.

As a result, New York City Councilman Mark Gjonaj, a Democrat who represents District 13, announced on July 7 a package of legislation that would require the city to create a first of its kind agency to protect waterfront communities and to study burying all power lines.

Gjonaj said that power lines are underground in Manhattan and pointed to the city spending millions raising a park along the East River to combat future superstorms.

“Manhattan enjoys the privilege of having their power lines buried below ground while the outer boroughs and our coastal communities continue to wait to see if power outages are going to impact them,” Gjonaj said. “We’re actually elevating a park to protect it from storm surges, yet homes in communities like Edgewater Park, Silver Beach and City Island remain exposed to the elements.”

The first bill requires the creation of a dedicated city agency — Department of Coastal Protection — with the mandate of developing proactive waterfront defense policies and educating the public about available protection measures. Currently, the city has no such agency with that type of jurisdiction.

The second bill would evaluate the feasibility of burying all aboveground power lines. City officials mandated the burying of powerlines after the Great Blizzard of 1888. While the city followed through on burying the lines in the Big Apple, the outer boroughs were ignored.

This bill will be the start of the city finally fulfilling its commitment to this particularly important public safety issue.

Gjonaj, who expects both bills to be heard in committee in the near future, is tired of the Bronx getting the short end of the stick.

Edgewater Park began renovations to its volunteer firehouse back in 2019, but have yet to complete the project as the state has failed to follow through with funding due to bids going over budget.

“We’ve gone through too much,” the councilman said. “I can’t think of an infrastructure project that’s more powerful and important than protecting our power lines to all New Yorkers. We shouldn’t be waiting for another superstorm to devastate our lives.”

One community that faced significant power outages and damage from Hurricane Sandy was Edgewater Park.

While the NYC program Build it Back helped rebuild six homes in that neighborhood, the larger issue for the community is with the state, in particular the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR).

Since 2014, GOSR has invested more than $64 million in the Bronx including $2.2 million allocated to renovate the firehouse/community center in Edgewater Park. Also serving as a safe haven during a superstorm, the co-op board wanted to upgrade the firehouse using financial assistance from the state.

Deborah Roff, president of the Edgewater Park Owners Cooperative Inc., told the Bronx Times that the board agreed to renovate the bathroom and make it ADA compliant. So, in 2019, the co-op hired a company to demo the bathroom with the expectation that the state was going to finish the rest of the work.

The state opened bids for the project in January 2020, but by June 2020 a contract couldn’t be awarded because the lowest bids were more than 50% over budget. Today, the project remains unfinished.

“We have been promised things that have not come,” Roff said. “We’re hoping the city sees the Bronx is in need of help.”

Roff said the local firehouse is a huge part of the community. As the roads in Edgewater Park are too narrow for the FDNY to drive on, the smaller trucks at the volunteer firehouse can be a lifeline for residents. She stressed that people were excited for the planned renovations, but after two years, it seems they have been forgotten about.

“I am not aware of a project in the Bronx that was completed under the New York Office of Recovery,” she said. “I think it’s just a dog and pony show.

“It’s frustrating to be one of the boroughs that doesn’t get attention. I’m not sure what the problem is. I’m concerned that we will never see our rescue center fixed.”

A GOSR spokesman Charni Sochet told to the Bronx Times that the state is trying to resolve the project. She said that while the bids exceeded the available project budget and community allotment, the agency continues to work with the Edgewater Park Co-Op on identifying expenses eligible for reimbursement and options to construct improvements to their facility.

Reach Jason Cohen at jcohen@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bxtimes and Facebook @bxtimes. 

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