Brooklyn, NY – Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus was joined by dozens of Coney Island residents, community leaders and environmental activists yesterday at Kaiser Park to demand answers from city, state and federal agencies regarding the cause of the recent oil slicks found in Coney Island Creek adjacent to construction of the new ferry landing. Assemblymember Frontus and the community expressed their strong concern about the impact that construction and dredging in the polluted waterway is having on the health and safety of nearby residents, including thousands of tenants of Gravesend Houses, a 15-building NYCHA development.
In addition, the residents renewed their objection to the city’s decision to site the new landing in the corner of Kaiser Park along the creek, instead of on the ocean side closer to the amusement area. Kaiser Park is the only green space in the west end of Coney Island, and the new ferry landing will cause major disruptions and quality of life issues for residents who rely on the park for recreation. Moreover, the creek is currently being considered by the federal government for Superfund status in light of decades of pollution and industry. Assemblymember Frontus and residents made it clear that they support the city’s decision to bring a ferry to Coney Island, but object to the proposed location due to the ongoing environmental, health and logistical concerns.
Residents who spoke at yesterday’s event include Ida Sanoff, executive director of the National Resources Protective Association, environmental activist Beth Ritter, whose late husband Gene spent years advocating for environmental protections in Coney Island Creek, Ann Valez, a Coney Island native and resident of Gravesend Houses, plus other residents who wanted the chance to go on the record with their objections to the project as currently conceived by the city and highlight the impact that decades of environmental injustices have had on their health.
“For months, concerned members of our community have come together to express our deep concerns over the city’s plan to land a ferry at Coney Island Creek instead of on the ocean side. This plan doesn’t make any sense. This creek is an estuary full of wildlife and an environmentally-sensitive area, and Kaiser Park is used by countless residents on a daily basis.
And now, on top of all of that, we are now dealing with hazardous effects and pollution, likely caused by dredging and construction. This is like pouring salt in our wounds. The community has a right to know what we are being exposed to as a result of this project and we expect accountability and answers from the city and the agencies charged with monitoring this project and safeguarding public health. We want a ferry, but it should be done the right way, and we should be treated the same way as any other community,” said Assemblymember Frontus.
Residents first noticed the presence of oil slicks in the creek last week. Assemblymember Frontus immediately contacted the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has informed Assemblymember Frontus that a team responded to the site and “currently suspect that the pollution was released by disturbing contaminated sentiment.” In addition, the DEC reported that “multiple potential sources of observable sheens exist at this location including dredging activities, combined sewer overflow discharges, and legacy upland petroleum spills that DEC is actively working to contain.” This has left Assemblymember Frontus and the community seeking clarity on the exact cause of last week’s oil spill, and arguing that any of these causes should disqualify the creek as a location for the ferry landing due to the pollution known to exist there.
“The sentiment that will be dredged here contains some of the worst toxins, including mercury, lead and DDT. I can’t remember any other site in the city of New York where such toxic sentiments were exposed where they know people are swimming and playing in the sand and fishing. And now we have oil sheens right where their construction rig was located. We deserve answers and we deserve better as a community,” said Ida Sanoff, executive director of National Resources Protective Association.
“My husband Gene and so many others worked so hard to improve this creek, its environment and this important estuary. This ferry project will destroy all that, and it’s already happening. Gene was for a ferry, but certainly a ferry at this location is the antithesis of what he or the community wanted. The message is simple: no ferry in the estuary!” said Beth Ritter, whose late husband Gene Ritter was a member of Cultural Research Divers and fought for years for a cleaner, healthier Coney Island Creek.
“I’m born and raised here, and as far as I can remember growing up here, I was told how polluted and dirty the creek was. I was recently informed by doctors that my asthma has progressed, and I fear for our children and the coming generations because nobody should live like this and be exposed to these threats. We love the idea of having a ferry, but the ferry doesn’t belong here. This is outrageous. The ferry belongs on the ocean and not in the middle of our neighborhood park,” said Ann Valdez, community activist and resident of NYCHA’s Gravesend Houses.
“I’ve lived here for over 40 years and my bedroom window faces this landing. Kaiser Park has been like a second home to me, celebrating many birthdays, graduations and much more. We don’t need a ferry so close to our homes due to the pollution. I hope the city hears us and considers moving it to the ocean where it should be located,” said Elizabeth Flores, resident of NYCHA’s Gravesend Houses.
At the event, Lucy Acevedo, chairperson of Community Board 13, informed the crowd that she has instructed the board’s district manager to contact EDC and DEC to attend the board’s monthly meeting later this month to discuss this oil spill and the impacts of the project. “I will continue to push them to publicly give us the findings of what happened here in a complete report,” said Acevedo.
“We worked too hard to make this park what it is and I can’t see us losing it. I’m all for the ferry, but it belongs on the ocean side and not here,” said Joan Weiss, who was born and raised in Coney Island and has lived in the neighborhood for 79 years.
“We know there was an oil spill, we know there was dredging going on, and the question is who is going to hold the city accountable and look out for us?” concluded Assemblymember Frontus.