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News Events that Helped Shape Courier Country During 1998

As this December holiday season draws to a dramatic close, we pause to review Queens Courier country’s glorious history of the past twelve months. We’ll examine some of the highlights and a few of the low lights that made their marks on Queens during the past year. The stories examine events that described the people or governmental agencies who made valued community contributions . . . and some that didn’t.
• A tip of the hat to Mayor Rudy Giuliani for his appointment of Queens ecological activist, Bob LoPinto to the City Environmental Control Board. The board establishes environmental policies in compliance with City, state and federal laws. For the past decade, Bob has served on C.B. 7’s Environmental Committee, where he has successfully fought to preserve the shore lines from LaGuardia Field to Ft. Totten and the ecological integrity of his community board.
• A huge magnifying glass and a pack of bloodhounds for the City Buildings Dept. to help them track down a missing $450,000 fieldstone ranch home on Kent St., in Jamaica Estates. Residents reported seeing the building standing on their block on Jan. 11, but when they rode by the following day, it was missing. The Buildings Dept. offered no explanation for the "house napping," but did compel the owner to erect a six-foot fence around the gaping hole.
• The Transit Authority’s Main St. reconstruction project faced rising problems when they announced that the English firm that was providing the escalators for the east and center sections of the reconstructed station, could not meet its production schedule. Roosevelt Ave. merchants and a bipartisan clique of elected officials howled that the fiscal losses suffered by the local merchants were "unconscionable." Long-suffering subway commuters, meanwhile, picked their way through the sidewalk debris.
• A muffled Hallelujah chorus to the City Police Dept. for the 16 percent decline of reported allegations of excessive force against the 18 Queens police precincts during 1997 (from 615 to 514). Key to the good showing was the Police Department’s CPR Program (Courtesy, Professionalism, and Respect). Despite this heartening downward trend, seven precincts still showed complaint increases, with the 104 Pct., featuring an 83 percent increase (from 12 to 22 complaints), leading the pack.
• A loud cheer for Councilmen Archie Spigner (D-St. Albans) and Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) for helping to launch the City’s $7.2 million water supply, which will also reduce water bills at the same time. We’ll drink to that!
• Gas masks became standard equipment for P.S. 127 students, as poisonous emissions of carbon monoxide from an antiquated 70-year-old coal furnace overcame 80 students and adults. Helping to lead the battle to remove Queens’ 66 fume-spewing furnaces were local legislators Assemblymen William Scarborough (D-St. Albans) and Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing). By year’s end, money had been found to remediate this poisonous hot air problem, as part of a five-year Board of Education program (we hope).
• Twin salutes to the MTA and TA for their rapid and efficient implementation of the various MetroCard programs, which not only saved harried Queens commuters hundreds of dollars per year, but brought increased profits to these respective agencies as well. Their outreach program to seniors, for example, is terrific, because it brings additional bucks into the City coffers, while helping to utilize trains during non-rush hours.
• It was deja vu all over again, as the Port Authority launched its annual "train to the plane" program to the Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. Cheers came only from the contractors and the politicians who will never use the service. Only when the Governor, Mayor and PA head are compelled to use the current stunted service instead of their limos, will a workable, direct line between Manhattan and the airports be built.
• It is now a full year that the College Point Sports Association field has been in the state of limbo, embroiled in the muck and mire of a court battle with the City. The sports association’s 22-acre facility has been cited for accepting illegal fill. This past year, hundreds of innocent College Point youngsters were sent scrambling throughout Queens in order to play in their league games. Violations aside, isn’t there one City official who can resolve this problem speedily, efficiently, and justly? This year’s delay is a community disgrace.
• High headlight beams, near misses and intermittent muttered curses and prayers were the key ingredients for the 130,000 motorists who daily travel on the Cross Island Pkwy. Last April for nearly two weeks the street lights on the heavily-traveled roadway suffered a blackout/brownout because of inadequate power, following heavy rains. The AAA called the lighting problem even more hazardous, because the 11-mile long Cross Island is constructed below modern standards.
• Little known, but influential to the well-being of Queens residents is the New York City Transportation Coordinating Council, which currently serves as a federal conduit for $500 million, on 19 City and State urban travel projects in Queens. The agency gets money for highway and bridge repairs, installation of traffic signals, pothole filling, as well as the repair and upgrading of our mass transit systems. Located in Long Island City, these unsung heroes keep our cars, trucks and trains moving along the 2,443 miles of streets in the 112 square miles of Queens.
• After 45 years of loyal — if spotty — service to motorists hunting for a parking spot on a busy street, Queens’ 20,285 parking meters are being phased out. They will be ultimately replaced by a "muni-meter" — an electronic "money-grabber" that prints a receipt containing the date, time bought, and when this time expires. No more jammed meters, no more alibis for overtime parkers.
• While we’re handing out holiday gifts, how about brooms, mops and a bucket of suds for the TA’s cleaners for the C, E, F, G, and J subway lines that carry Queens commuters. The G train travelers will be particularly proud to learn that their trains were found to be the dirtiest in the entire rail system by the Straphanger’s Campaign, a subway watchdog group. The other four rail lines gained distinction for being among the ten dirtiest in the City’s rail system.
• Some bright mistletoe for Gov. George Pataki, who scuttled the nefarious Long Island Expwy. HOV lane, between the Nassau County line and the Cross Island Pkwy. The lane might have given some traffic relief to homebound Long Island commuters but would have produced air pollution, invaded local backyards, impacted the Alley Pond Park wetlands, and brought traffic noise up to a new level. Let’s not forget the yeoman bipartisan efforts of Sen. Frank Padavan and Queens B.P. Claire Shulman, who fought the good fight.
• Red traffic lights along Queens’ 2,400 miles of streets are shining brighter and lasting longer following completion of an eight-month installation project that was launched by the New York Power Authority. The program has replaced 18,000 traffic light bulbs with light-emitting diode (LED) lamps at 2,500 corners. These new lights make it safer for our seniors and kids because they are easier to see during dark or inclement days, as well as during bright, sunny days.
• Murphy’s Law has struck again. After a 20-year wait, a 2.9-mile stretch of 14 Ave. has finally begun to be repaved by the City. Costing $13.4 million, the City workers will smooth and straighten the key roadway that links College Point, Malba, and Whitestone. Falling prey to "Murphy" (whatever can go wrong, will go wrong), local motorists, school children, and homeowners are sending out a litany of complaints concerning the daily detours, traffic hazards, and delays that have been generated by this project. All candidates for public office should be forced to use this road on their way to work.
• School children attending overcrowded PS 34, in Queens Village, received a Christmas gift in October, when red-faced school authorities opened four unused portable classrooms which had been shuttered for two months. Since September, over 800 students had been squeezed into the school’s classrooms that were designed to hold 570 pupils. As the youngsters crowded into their new classrooms, critics pointed out that even with the four new rooms, PS 34 is still overcrowded.
• During this time of goodwill toward all, it is still wise to remember that a swastika and KKK symbols were spray painted on a 8 by 4-foot panel less than 500 feet between St. Alphonsus Redemptorist Residence and the Garden Jewish Center, on 22 Rd., in Flushing. The 109 Pct. was investigating this as a possible hate crime. The good news is that volunteers from throughout the community all stepped forward to remove the offending graffiti.
• An avalanche of illegal sales of tobacco and liquor to Queens youngsters was uncovered by teams working for the City Council and the Dept. of Consumer Affairs. Without showing proof, young undercover agents were able to buy liquor in 57 percent of the Queens shops they visited, and cigarettes in one-third of the Borough shops. Council Speaker Peter Vallone and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jules Polonetsky are now considering legislation to triple fines for illegal tobacco sales to $1,000. Sale of liquor is regulated by the State of New York, which decried the City Council study.

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