‘What are you hiding?’: Lawmaker questions city’s future plans for Fort Totten in Bayside

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Ryan Joseph Daley of Bayside NY

Updated Jan. 18, 10:05 a.m.

Bayside-based lawmaker is calling for transparency as the city continues to have conversations to expand its presence in Fort Totten.

In a letter addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio on Jan. 11, state Senator Tony Avella raised concerns with the city’s “serious lack of information” in reference to certain project propositions by the Fire Department and Department of Corrections (DOC). The FDNY has proposed building a wind turbine at the Bay Terrace location, while DOC considers using it as the site of its new training academy.

After an alleged runaround from city agencies, Avella has filed a Freedom of Information (FOIL) request for documents pertaining to both proposals.

“What are you hiding?” Avella writes. “I would appreciate a full briefing on your plans by all those involved.”

Fort Totten — formally an active U.S. Army installation in the Bay Terrace section of the neighborhood — is currently used by the U.S. Army Reserve, NYPD and FDNY. Certain portions are designated public park areas.

For FY 2018, DOC allocated $1.1 billion to fund a “New Jail Facilities” project, prompted by Mayor de Blasio’s push to close Rikers Island and create neighborhood-based and decentralized jail sites. Avella questioned whether DOC’s interest in Fort Totten pertained to this move.

“I hope this is not a hidden plan to place a jail on the Fort,” Avella writes. “Such an attempt would be fought vigorously by the whole community.”

After QNS reached out to the mayor’s officer for comment, de Blasio spokesperson Natalie Grybauskas directed the inquiry to DOC.

“The DOC is not the managing agency of the feasibility study,” DOC Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Peter Thorne said. “We look forward to seeing the results of the study once it’s completed.”

“I can say that the Fort Totten feasibility study does not include plans for a new jail,” he continued. “Its focus is on identifying additional space for training staff.”

Community Board 7 raised similar concerns about the city’s proposals for the space at a general meeting in October 2017, where FDNY officials stopped by to share plans to construct a wind turbine in the southeast portion of the fort.

While board members were initially open to the proposal, the mood changed when board member Chuck Apelian announced he received word DOC is actively considering Fort Totten as the potential site for a training academy.

Remarks made by former DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte in May 2017 confirm the agency’s interest in the site. After allocating $100 million for a new training academy, Corrections is working with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC) on a feasibility study for the use of Fort Totten. The new academy would provide a space to properly train recruit officers.

Apelian called the news “very alarming.” Board members agreed not to vote on the Fire Department’s plan until details about the proposed Corrections site were clarified.