New York City

RIOC’s Reckless Assault On Southpoint Park

RIOC’s reckless assault on Southpoint Park comes on the heels of agency-wide evasion of responsibility. Ethical errors doom this project. And again, elected officials are in hiding. Memorize their names for the coming elections: Seawright, Serrano, Kallos, Brewer and Cuomo. A vote for any of them is a vote against Roosevelt Island.

By David Stone

The Southpoint Project, a firm rejection of community wishes coupled with reckless indifference, proves that no changes at RIOC ever actually change RIOC.

And for added spice, rumor has it that, behind the scenes, Hudson-Related, which controlled much of RIOC for the last decade, ordered the assault on Southpoint.

Wild grasses and flowers in Southpoint Park
Wild grasses and flowers RIOC will bulldoze, while claiming to preserve them. Covering over toxic waste with fabric, not removing it, means replacing this with a mini Brooklyn Bridge Park

For several days, acting president/CEO Shelton Haynes stalled at answering critical questions about toxic wastes. But he found time for green-lighting a plan fraught with negligence and shrouded in the usual secrecy.

With RIOC, it’s the same old, same old, new faces, same incompetence. And the honeymoon is over for Haynes who vowed fixing RIOC but follows instead the well-worn path dictated from Albany.

RIOC’s Reckless Assault On Southpoint

In 2012 Southpoint Park opened, but delayed. Discovered toxic waste forced emergency measures. Rather than remove it, RIOC laid a fabric membrane over some, but not all of it, then topped it with two feet of soil.

But today, RIOC claims that no records exist showing where toxins existed at the time or the extent of masking.

Therein lies the problem. Or problems.

The waste remains, probably throughout Southpoint, and visitors have been exposed for years. Even so, the state plans no testing or remediation for anything but the shoreline.

In fact, RIOC managers openly advocate intentional avoidance of the Dept. of Environmental Conservation.

Trees planted in Southpoint Park at the Start of the Build.
Building Southpoint Park, after a membrane covered some of the toxic waste, RIOC planted new trees. Before, burned out ruins of Metropolitan Hospital filled the space.
Old growth trees inside the containment wall.
One of several groves of old growth trees inside the supposed containment area proves that nothing here prevented surface toxins or leaching.

Problem #1: Nobody knows how much toxic waste saturates Southpoint nor how much hides under the membrane.

Asked a series of direct questions, Haynes dodged answering, and the truth appears unknown, even to RIOC.

At a February Common Council committee meeting, RIOC board member Howard Polivy reportedly failed at answering even the simplest questions. And yet, he’s the primary board member overseeing — and improving — this reckless assault on Southpoint.

Polivy earlier silenced questions at a public board meeting because the board was too busy. Hudson-Related’s boss, David Kramer, sat in the audience and later cranked out a deceptive dance of his own.

How does any responsible public servant push a project of this scope and risk without even basic knowledge about its impact?

And in the face of intense resident protest?

All things local 24/7: Roosevelt Island News

What RIOC doesn’t know can hurt us…

The industrial history of the area now occupied by Southpoint suggests contamination from an era rife with it. Indeed, toxic waste appeared soon after work started on the park.

Southpoint Park
These areas may or may not be protected with membrane. A wall said to mark the membrane’s endpoint is visible.

But RIOC either doesn’t know or refuses reporting about current conditions.

Through winter into spring and summer, the state slow walked a FOIL request. When finally released, it included a map of toxic wastes in dozens of borings along both shores.

The map, prepared by RIOC’s contractor, Langan, in 2014, was kept secret. Even worse, the toxins, which Langan now claims justify tearing up Southpoint, were held back from a 2016 residents committee considering the park’s future.

RIOC’s board approved a plan developed in early 2017…

But they buried it, still without disclosing the toxins, until accepting a wholly different plan in 2019. A false claim that it matched up with the 2017 plan flew by RIOC’s drifty board of directors.

But it was a hoax from start to finish.

Rumors have Hudson-Related behind the scheme. Although unproven, that would be consistent with other instances where RIOC, especially under Rosenthal, took direction from the private company.

David Kramer cuddled by Susan Rosenthal
For many, an all too accurate image shows Rosenthal cuddling Kramer under the much protested sign Hudson-Related forced on the community.

But that’s far from the worst of RIOC’s reckless assault on Southpoint…

Worse and more unethical is RIOC’s not doing any tests anywhere else in park, even as the newly exposed evidence suggests toxins throughout. And ongoing public exposure to it.

Trees, older than the park itself, tell us that huge chunks of Southpoint Park are not protected by membrane or anything else.

It’s simple. If you have toxin leaching into every corner of the shoreline, it’s coming from the heart of the Island. That is, the dead center of Southpoint Park.

Lies Poisoned with Indifference Give RIOC’s Reckless Assault on Southpoint Cover

When assistant vice-president Jonna Carmona Graf told a board committee, last October, that a protective membrane covered roughly 95% of Southpoint, she may not have lied on purpose.

But that’s hard because proof that the claim was false is obvious throughout the area. Old growth trees pepper most of the surface, and installing a membrane would cause their removal.

In a possible tell, Carmona-Graf alluded to a strategy of keeping the state DEC from checking things out. But the board barely stirred.

That’s not only indifferent, it’s unethical, Of the board, RIOC administration and contractor Langan.

Shoreline bordering the Smallpox Hospital and leading into Four Freedoms Park
Fenced off shoreline on the left harbors toxic wastes, and that’s been known to RIOC and Langan since 2014. This busy path into Four Freedoms Park must hold them too. Also, the ground under the Smallpox Hospital. Yet no remediation or even testing is planned.

RIOC, Langan, The Trees and Secrecy

Old growth trees cast valued shade throughout much of the park. Many are inside the supposed toxin containment area, and that’s a problem.

If there’s a membrane, those trees would not be shading visitors. Installing a membrane requires their removal, but that never happened.

In fact, laying down a membrane is the very reason why RIOC’s contractor, Langan, insists they must ravage both shorelines, removing hundreds of trees, destroying habitat and plowing over wild grasses and flowers.

And another dirty little secret about the reckless assault on Southpoint… Membranes don’t protect against leaching. In other words, toxins freely spread in any direction away from the cover.

Sadly, RIOC executives know this. Their board knows it too. And our elected officials know as well.

Conclusion: Why Nothing Stops This Assault

Rumors surfaced recently that Hudson-Related is behind the destruction of Southpoint Park and, especially, its natural habitats.

On Twitter, several posts point to a real estate deal, property recently acquired by Hudson-Related in Long Island City. Southpoint Park’s natural shorelines obstruct Manhattan views coveted by prospective tenants.

While there is no direct evidence for this idea, RIOC’s easy acquiescence to all things Hudson-Related is well-established.

But isn’t this where elected officials step in…?

Entertaining this question is possible only by ignoring Governor Andrew Cuomo’s monopoly over Roosevelt Island interests. Congresswoman Rebecca Seawright, Senator José Serrano, City Council member Ben Kallos and RIOC’s administration all take their orders from Albany.

They represent the governor, who loves real estate companies that pile cash into his campaign war chest, not constituents.

And RIOC’s board? All appointed by and serving at the pleasure of you know who.

The reckless assault on Southpoint Park will not be forgotten and, we hope, not by citizens voting in future elections.

If Roosevelt Island wants a say in its future, it needs caring, responsive government, and that means change.

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