New York City

Unanswered Questions: Really, Why Did RIOC Destroy Southpoint Park?

Why did RIOC destroy Southpoint? Behind that simple question hides a string of others. And they go back years tainted with hidden motives.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island News

Why Did RIOC Destroy Southpoint?

The question lingers unanswered because hermetic RIOC hides information as if it’s forgotten the definition of “public benefit corporation.” It’s a story in itself, but hints about hidden motives in Southpoint are everywhere.

If you want to figure out why RIOC destroyed Southpoint Park, start at the beginning. A Pandora’s box of questions awaits, and the state agency refuses to answer.

It may be because they can’t, or it could be that they just don’t want to. And instead of being governed, they’re emboldened by a drowsy and drifty, ever compliant board of enablers directors failing at oversight.

Board members are the fiduciaries who steer the organization towards a sustainable future by adopting sound, ethical, and legal governance and financial management policies…

National Council of Nonprofit

Before and… After

Southpoint shoreline vegetation before RIOC destroyed Southpoint.
Here’s what Southpoint’s shoreline looked like before RIOC sent a wrecking crew in.
Where trees and grasses, home for countless species, only gravel remains.
Here’s what it looks like today, trees, wild grasses, countless species calling it home, plowed under. And in spite of reassurances, they cannot return because Brooklyn Bridge Park North, formerly Southpoint, won’t be wild enough.

Before Southpoint opened in 2011, RIOC discovered toxic wastes in the soil, and they innovated a solution. Avoiding the expense of digging it all out, they sealed it over with a membrane.

On top of that, they packed a two foot layer of soil as additional protection. Then, they built the stone wall along its perimeter.

Sounds great, right? Innovative. Cost saving….

But these concepts appeal only until you realize that RIOC has no gifts for executing either properly. So, what went wrong?

Plenty, and RIOC today either doesn’t know or won’t say. Either case is bad.

Keep in mind that this took place under the auspices of president/CEO Leslie Torres and vice president Fernando Martinez.

Both were summarily dismissed under a cloud and accused of misusing public funds. Martinez was jailed for taking kickbacks on projects like this one.

Burning Questions Rooted in the Start

Not on the record nor in a FOIL response received by activist Frank Farance is any description of the toxic wastes nor of their location. And no one seems to know the exact location of that critical protective membrane…

Does RIOC know today? If so, they aren’t saying. We asked, and acting president/CEO Shelton Haynes promised answers but never provided them.

Initially, the state agency implied that the membrane protected the whole park, but old growth trees throughout prove that’s not true. The membrane provides partial protection, and anyone visiting Southpoint in the last ten years was exposed to toxins. Some repeatedly.

And that begs a larger question: Why go forward with demolishing so much of Southpoint when you know so little about ?

They don’t know, for example, the source of the toxins, nor do they know if they are still leaching to the shoreline now being plowed under. No tests were done, although toxic contamination is certainly present in numerous locations.

To be clear, RIOC does not even know if the membrane worked. They never checked before ripping up the shoreline.

About Toxic Wastes Found in 2014

Suddenly pulled out of a some drawer in 2019 as justification for destroying Southpoint, tests done by current contractor Langan raise more questions than they answer.

Old growth trees and grass before the destruction of Southpoint.
Here’s where Southpoint meets Four Freedoms Park, photo taken before the wholesale destruction began.

And as RIOC closes in on destroying Southpoint Park…

Everything around it denuded, this old growth beauty falls next.

After RIOC, once far more responsive to questions, slow walked Farance’s FOIL request, taking months, they finally coughed up a toxic waste map from 2014.

It got into Farance’s hands so late, it blunted potential protests and dozens of questions about environmental issues.

What does the map show?

Limited to narrow strips of shoreline, nearly two dozen test bores reveal multiple toxins under the surface at every test location. Chemicals associated with industrial waste blended with multiple pesticides and other contaminants are present.

Because toxins were found from end to end on both Southpoint shorelines, their saturation throughout the rest of the park is certain. After all, toxins don’t migrate inland. It’s the other way around.

But RIOC failed to act. For five years, and counting.

Did RIOC Destroy Southpoint for Some Other Reason?

A question arises: Since RIOC and contractor Langan knew about the toxic wastes in 2014, why didn’t they say anything or act on it for five years?

And why, when they finally made the toxins public was the information used only to justify a multi-million deal for Langan?

That question’s freighted with implications of negligence and liability, from contractor to administration to RIOC’s lackadaisical board.

Wildlife Sanctuary inside contaminated area in Southpoint.
RIOC and Langan knew the area held surface toxins. So, why did they expose this wildlife sanctuary and the people working there for six years without telling them?

Wildlife Freedom Foundation’s sanctuary was moved last month but not before six years of secret toxic waste exposure. And countless others visiting the park since 2011 had the same experience.

Why is RIOC silent about it? Where’s the board? Where are Seawright, Serrano, Kallos, the DEC and Cuomo?

Between the shoreline and wherever the membrane ends, toxic wastes have not been identified or managed. And that work is not taking place now either.

RIOC & Langan: The Plot Thickens

One outrage unexplored is, if RIOC and Langan knew about these wastes in 2014, why wasn’t anyone told, in 2016, when the state dished out a million dollar contract to Fitzgerald & Halliday for organizing a community-based plan for Southpoint?

Arguing in support of the big payout to FHI, RIOC’s then acting president/CEO Susan Rosenthal cited securing the historic Smallpox Hospital as central to a ten-year plan for Southpoint. But although FHI included that demand, nothing happened, not then and not now.

Although RIOC claims its current plan for destroying Southpoint follows up on the FHI plan, it was ditched. Their drifty and drowsy board unanimously — of course — approved it early in 2017.

And then, they buried it. No trace of it is found in the Langan plan where — guess who? — RIOC’s longtime partner collects millions.

But why isn’t anyone asking about Langan’s and RIOC’s withholding the toxic waste findings for five years?

More important, why reward Langan with a huge contract, enacting a plan only a suburban shopping mall developer could love? What’s taking place now goes far beyond shoreline revetment.

It recreates Southpoint as Brooklyn Bridge Park North. Without explanation and defying community wishes.

Why?

Destroying Southpoint, RIOC improves Hudson-Related's view.
Property recently acquired by Hudson-Related in clear view after plowing the east shoreline under.

While no plausible story fitting the facts currently explains why RIOC is destroying Southpoint, some critics point to Hudson-Related’s acquisition of Long Island City property directly across the river.

But that’s not all that plausible either… That is, until you consider how Hudson-Related, lead by point man David Kramer, has taken RIOC wherever it wants it to go for years.

More local news…

From the decade long failure of Shops On Main to the hopelessly dull RI sign outside the Tram, Kramer’s had every wish fulfilled.

David Kramer cuddled by Susan Rosenthal
Critics find this photo of RIOC president/CEO Susan Rosenthal cuddling Hudson-Related’s David Kramer all too symbolic.

The logic, as one resident explained it, finds Hudson-Related, which plans to build luxury housing in Long Island City, benefiting from selling a less wild, unobstructed view of the Manhattan skyline.

Not part of the Langan Project, cleanup of debris behind the Smallpox Hospital is also underway.

Conclusion: Why Did RIOC Destroy Southpoint Park?

Because so much is shrouded in secrecy and possibly lost forever, we can’t answer that question until RIOC opens up the vaults of hidden information.

But what we know is that something is fishy. No logic explains what’s going on today in Southpoint.

Trees uprooted, grasses and wildflowers plowed under, countless species, from tiny insects to small animals, killed or sent scurrying for safety… All that for toxic wastes RIOC and Langan left soaking the soil for five years, without telling anyone?

And where are the politician elected to protect us and our rights? Seawright? Serrano? Kallos? Cuomo? And where’s the state Department of Environmental Conservation? Where are the Attorney General and the Comptroller?

We’d ask, Where is RIOC’s board of enablers directors? But we already know the answer, and it’s not “keeping their eyes on things” as obliged.

Enough said.

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