Community Board 10 is supporting an effort calling for the transfer Hart Island, home to the city’s Potter’s Field, to the Parks Department.
The board endorsed two NYC Council bills sponsored primarily by Queens Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley that would see Hart Island, located just off the coast of City Island in Long Island Sound, transferred to the jurisdiction of the Department of Parks and Recreation from the Department of Correction.
One of the bills calls for funding for a ferry service between City Island and Hart Island that would open the island to the public.
The board’s vote on Thursday, January 15 was unanimous with one abstention, though several board members expressed their reservations about voting in favor of the transfer because of issues with the Parks Department, including funding concerns. But others believe Park’s up to the task.
The vote was a culmination of an intense effort by the City Island Civic Association, whose corresponding secretary John Doyle has been lobbying the Bronx’s City Council delegation to support the measure, and the Hart Island Project, an advocacy group that wants more appropriate island access for visitors.
“We were sensitive to the City Island community’s request for support, and we were also sensitive to the request for support from the Hart Island Project, and to all of the arguments,” said CB 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns after the vote.
Bob Bieder, a board member, said that he was sympathetic to the concerns of people who offered their stories of how difficult it was to visit their deceased loved ones buried on the island.
There are approximately one-million graves on the 100-acre plot of land.
According to Doyle, the City Island Civic Association supported the concept of transferring Hart Island by a vote of 44 to 2 at a 2014 meeting, and he said he was pleased to have the community board’s advisory opinion to further advocate for the legislation.
All members of the Bronx’s City Council delegation now support the legislation, said Doyle, as does Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.
“It is good now to finally have the community board on the same page as the community and the elected officials,” he said. “Any elected official in the Bronx on the city level supports the bill.”
Doyle added: “Now we can present a united front when we have to deal with the city agencies at the council.”
Doyle believes that transferring the island from DOC to Parks will protect City Island from possibly uses of the Hart Island that the community might not support. He cited a number of proposals made over the years, including building an incinerator and a perceived future need by the DOC for youth correctional facilities.
Councilman James Vacca said he is supporting the legislation because he is supporting the people of City Island.
“Well, the people of City Island want this, their civic association wants it, and I backed the legislation very early on,” said Vacca. “I think that this protects the island in perpetuity, ”
The second bill before the NYC Council, Int. No. 144, turns the island over to the jurisdiction of the Parks Department, except for Potter’s Field.
For the burial grounds, the bill calls for “the burial of deceased paupers” to continue under rules and regulations that are established by the Department of Social Services, DOC, and Parks.