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Mayor draws mixed support at Belle Harbor town hall

Mayor Bill de Blasio held an Arverne town hall with Councilman Eric Ulrich on Tuesday and discussed the death of a 12-year-old in a building fire over the weekend.
Photo by Mark Hallum
By Mark Hallum

Mayor Bill de Blasio led a town hall Tuesday in City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park)’s district, where he discussed the death of a 12-year-old in a fire over the weekend, transportation issues and an odorous sewage treatment facility.

Thomas Curly, 12, died of smoke inhalation Sunday when the apartment he lived in with his family in Belle Harbor went up in flames in the early morning hours. He was a student in seventh grade at MS 114 in Belle Harbor, where the town hall was held.

“Life was literally just starting out,” de Blasio said. “A horrible, horrible thing happened. This school and community is feeling it a lot.”

One person in the audience asked why communities on the Rockaway peninsula do not have a trauma center in light of the fact Curly and his family had to be taken to Nassau County, the nearest trauma center for residents of the Rockaways.

The fire was caused by a cigarette and the home had a faulty smoke detector.

De Blasio said he had never heard the concern over trauma centers before and could not comment at the time.

Audience members applauded the mayor’s support for ferries and the announcement the city has put in an order for larger vessels, which have proven popular for commuters from the Rockaways as well as beach-goers on the weekends.

“We built these things so no one could take them away,” de Blasio said of the ferry service. “God help the future mayor who tries to take it away from you, and we chose the same price for the subway because we wanted to make it work for everyday people.”

The larger ferries will be in use in the spring.

Transit was a touchy subject during the town hall with Assembly District leader Lew Simon launching complaints about the A train and claiming the city should contribute its fair share to subway overhauls. While the MTA, a state agency, operates and maintains the subways, Simon said the system belongs to the city, which should pay up for Cuomo’s modernization initiative.

De Blasio said he is doing his part to help bring relief to commuters facing the transit crisis with the ferry service and Select Bus Service.

The audience booed at the mention of SBS, reflecting the intense opposition that communities along Cross Bay Boulevard and Woodhaven showed toward the plan, which reduced a lane of traffic and forced people to wait in traffic for up to an hour during rush hour when it launched in November.

“It helps. I know you dislike it, but I guarantee you it helps,” de Blasio said, among the boos and murmurs of disagreement.

The Rockaway Wastewater Treatment plant on Beach Channel Drive and Beach 108th Street has been making a stink in the surrounding communities for years, according to an audience member, and DEP Commissioner Vincent Sapienza did not deny this was the case.

A six-year-old survey found specific tanks were emitting the odor, Sapienza said. But the only thing the commissioner said could be done is more regular maintenance.

De Blasio urged Sapienza to give the community a better answer to the issue, claiming the response was not “sharp” enough.
In his vague explanation that the system only needed to be “tweaked,” Sapienza was forced to contend with mounting cries of criticism.

Audience members said the smell had not improved in past five years.

“Despite the mushiness of his answer, [Sapienza] is actually very good,” de Blasio said, before assigning the commissioner with the task of inspecting the plant himself until the issue is resolved.

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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