Sunken boat threatens to block Howard Beach creek

By Eric Jankiewicz

It turns out that a notorious landlord who served jail time is responsible for two sunken boats in one of Howard Beach’s creeks.

The most recent hulking mass sank earlier this month after the ice melted. Residents worry that as the 50-foot boat continues to sink, it may end up blocking the whole creek, which is used by both private and commercial boaters. Nearby upstream sits another boat, this one 30-feet long. But the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers refused to move the longer boats because it is not yet blocking the waterway.

Both boats are tied to Kris Gounden’s property, a man who owns a six-unit building in East New York and in 2014 the city fined him $382,000 in civil penalties, according to a spokesman for the city’s Housing Courts because of the danger he put the tenants of his building in. He also served five days in jail for criminal contempt of court, according to court documents. Residents of that building complained that they endured heat and hot water outages and exposed wires that caused sparks to shoot from a light switch.

The city slapped Gounden’s East New York property with 314 violations and 299 of those violations exposed the tenants to hazardous conditions, according to a Housing Preservation and Development inspection report.

And now Gounden is causing problems for the residents of Howard Beach, where he and his family own more than 17,000 square feet of land, according to Department of Buildings records. “It’s just a really bad situation,” said Alan Andrus, the secretary of the Howard Beach Motor Club. The club sits on the shore of Hawtree Creek and for several weeks now Andrus and others have observed the partially sunken 50-foot boat moving further out into the water. “The frustrating part is that the city hasn’t come up with a solution,” he said.

Clean-up crews from the city Department of Environmental Protection removed the gas from the waterlogged boat to minimize environmental damage. But fluids had already leaked into the water and oil slicks in the creek were observed Friday near a group of ducks.

The creek feeds into Jamaica Bay and if the boat moves, as residents believe it will, into the main waterway, the city will remove it. But since the boat is tied to Gounden’s property and it is not in the middle of the creek, the city will do nothing.

“It doesn’t prevent a hazard to navigation, so there’s nothing we can do,” said Ken Wells, a spokesman for the Army Corp. of Engineers.

With the fishing season set to start next week, private boaters and the owners of two commercial fishing boats are worried that the situation will worsen before the city finally does something. Gounden has a reputation of preventing city agencies from doing their jobs. During Gounden’s trial in 2014 tenants of his East New York apartment charged that he prevented the city from fixing the building’s boiler by padlocking the basement door and blocking access to the boiler fuel tank. The resulting fine was one of the highest awarded in the city’s history, according to court officials.

Residents of Howard Beach and Hamilton Beach hope the boat situation will be resolved quickly.

Reach reporter Eric Jankiewicz by e-mail at ejankiewicz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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