By Mark Hallum
Family and city officials paid tearful homage to the late Joel Miele with the renaming of the 163rd Street Bridge in Howard Beach, just steps from where Miele lived with his wife and children.
City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) introduced the bill in May to have the bridge, built in 1962, dedicated to the former DEP commissioner and chairman of Community Board 10. He was joined by state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), Assemblywoman Stacy Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Beach) and CB10 Chairwoman Betty Braton.
Miele was 79 when he died in May 2013 and served with DEP for six years.
“It’s literally in his backyard,” said an emotional Joel Miele Jr. said, referring to the bridge which recently got a fresh coat of paint. “We think it’s really appropriate — we grew up on the block.”
Braton not only praised Miele for his accomplishments, time in the U.S. Navy and New York State Naval Militia, but she also explained her close ties to the man she lived across the street from for decades.
“Joel was an integral part of this community. Nothing much that has been accomplished here in the last five decades or so did not in one way or another have his hand in it,” Braton said. “I catch a lot of compliments for the way Community Board 10 is run. Those compliments are not mine. They belong to Joel. Because what I do follows the procedures he put in place. He left me one hell of a big pair of shoes to fill and I have always been appreciative for the guidance he provided to the board even after he left.”
Ulrich said Miele had lived a life of community service and used government to better his community and city.
“He loved this community, but his life’s work had an impact on the entire city of New York and the various capacities in which he worked,” Ulrich said, touching on the infrastructure projects Miele was a part of. “The way he was actually able to have government help people and not hurt people – we always think of government in a bad way. Joel was somebody who actually tried to cut through the red tape and get government out of the way of progress… Joel was a bridge builder, he was somebody who tried to bring people together.”
DEP Acting Commissioner Vincent Sapienza recognized Miele’s contribution to providing the city with quality drinking water without negatively effecting communities he was not directly responsible for.
“He did so much for DEP in those six years,” Sapienza said. “We have some of the best drinking water here in New York City and it comes from upstate reservoirs. When Joel was commissioner, there was a lot of debate over how we should appropriately protect those reservoirs vs. the needs of upstate communities who wanted to develop and utilize those lands because that was their economic lifeplan. Joel spent countless hours [upstate] meeting with the communities and elected officials and brokering a watershed protection plan that we work with today.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall