By Stephen Stirling
City Sanitation Department workers spent most of last week cleaning up parts of Willets Point, but that did not keep property owners and workers from clearing more than eight tons of trash in their own organized cleanup of the hardscrabble business community.
More than three dozen Willets Point workers, armed with brooms and shovels, completed a symbolic cleanup of the 62âˆ’acre area, which they said the city has neglected to do for decades.
For several hours, members of Willets Point United Against Eminent Domain and the Willets Point Defense Committee swept up pile after pile of mudâˆ’caked trash, depositing it into garbage trucks provided by wasteâˆ’transfer station Crown Container Co. The workers briefly worked alongside Sanitation officials, who quickly left the area after being surrounded by the rowdy workers.
“We’re taking your job from you today,” Shea Trucking owner Andy Charidemo said as the two Sanitation workers packed up their truck.
In what business owners said was a rare appearance, the department has been visiting Willets Point in recent days. Street sweepers and garbage trucks canvassed the area for much of last week — which the agency said was nothing more than standard duty for the road crews working in Willets Point. Crown Container Co. owner Jerry Antonacci insisted the increased city presence was far more insidious, however.
“Ever since we passed out fliers saying we were going to do a cleanup, they’ve been out sweeping the streets,” Antonacci said. “They got wind of our cleanup day and figured they’d beat us to the punch. If they can come around and do what they’re doing now, that’s great. But they should be doing that every week.”
Business owners and workers in the area said they seldom see city sanitation workers in the area, adding that they generally only come through once a year before the neighboring New York Mets hold opening day.
Antonacci, also president of Willets Point United, said despite the Sanitation Department presence, his trucks dumped two large loads of trash following the cleanup — one of 5.19 tons and another of 3.24 tons.
The two groups are leading a continued effort to battle a planned multibillionâˆ’dollar development slated for the area, approved by the City Council in November.
Property owner Ralph St. John, 75, said he’s tired of having to fight just to operate his business with some degree of normalcy.
“If we could pave the streets, we would, but they’d arrest us,” St. John said. “They’re murderous people. I want to expand, I’ve wanted to expand for years, but how am I supposed to do that if tomorrow they could come and use eminent domain on me? Either kill me or let me do something. I’m handcuffed at my own business.”
Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by eâˆ’mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 138.