By Rich Bockmann
When visitors come to Little Bay Park, where will they go?
That was the question Phil Konigsberg asked seven years ago, and the one he reiterated Tuesday when community members called on the city Parks Department to explain why it has not started construction on a comfort station that was paid for nearly a decade ago.
Standing in the parking lot of the Bayside park, in front of three green portable toilets, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) explained during a news conference that seven years ago as a city councilman, he allocated $1.3 million for a comfort station “so people could enjoy this park and not have to leave after a short period of time to relieve themselves. Low and behold, here we are seven years later and no shovel is in the ground.”
U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) had allocated federal funds for park improvements as well: $1 million to reconstruct and expand the parking lot and $3.2 million to reconstruct the Cross Island Parkway Bridge overpass at 212th Street.
A spokesman for Parks said the department was waiting for state approval to proceed with the project, but did not explain why that process would take seven years.
“Because the project contains federal grant funds, the state is obligated to review all plans before Parks can bid or begin to build. We’ve been working closely and actively with [the] state [Department of Transportation] to address their comments and requests,” he said.
The state DOT did not respond to a request for comment.
Ackerman could not attend the news conference, but did release a statement saying the project was long overdue.
“These were important funds that I fought hard to secure for our community,” he wrote. “Hopefully, all agencies involved can cut through the bureaucratic red tape so that shovels can finally get into the ground as soon as possible.”
Warren Schreiber, a fellow member of Konigsberg’s from the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said he heard nothing but silence when he began investigating the project in April. He feared the funding had been used for other projects.
“Nobody knows where the money is. Parks took the money from two separate sources, city and federal, and bundled them together,” he said. “You should never mingle funds.”
The Parks spokesman said the funding is secure and has not been reallocated.
Citing what he believed to be Parks’ lack of communication and transparency, Avella said he planned to introduce legislation that would require every city agency to list capital projects on its website, along with the project’s sources of funding, anticipated start and completion dates and what stage the project is in.
The senator said that once he announced his news conference, the state DOT contacted him and set up a meeting with Parks to discuss the project.
“It’s nice it’s going to happen, but why does it take a press conference to get the city and state agencies to do the job they’re supposed to do in the first place?” he asked.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.