New York City

Question: Why Did RIOC Really 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

If you want to figure out why RIOC destroyed Southpoint Park, you need to start at the beginning. Doing so, then, opens up a Pandora’s box of questions the state agency refuses to answer.

It may be because they can’t, or maybe, they just don’t want to. And they are emboldened by a drowsy and drifty, ever compliant board of enablers directors failing at oversight.

Southpoint shoreline vegetation before RIOC destroyed Southpoint.
Here’s what Southpoint’s shoreline looked like before RIOC sent a wrecking crew in.

Before and… After

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.

Why Did RIOC Destroy Southpoint?

A question unanswerable because RIOC hides information, a story in itself, but hints are everywhere.

Before Southpoint opened in 2011, RIOC reported discovering toxic wastes in the soil, and they innovated a solution. Avoiding the expense of digging it all out, they sealed it off with a membrane. On top, they packed a two foot layer of soil as additional protection.

Sounds great, right? Innovative. Cost saving. But these ideas appeal only until you recognize that RIOC has no talent for either.

This took place under the auspices of president/CEO Leslie Torres and vice president Fernando Martinez. Both summarily dismissed under a cloud, accused of misusing public funds. And worse.

Burning Questions Rooted in the Start

Not on the record and not in a FOIL response to questions from Frank Farance is any description of the toxic wastes nor the location. And exactly where is that protective membrane?

Does RIOC know the answers today? If so, they aren’t saying. We asked, and acting president/CEO Shelton Haynes promised answers. But he 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 larger question: why go forward with the work of destroying Southpoint Park when RIOC knows so little about it?

They don’t know, for example, the source of the toxins, nor do they know if they leached 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 drawer in 2019 as justification for RIOC 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 produced a toxic waste map from 2014. It came so late, it blunted potential protests and dozens of questions.

What does the map show?

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

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

Did RIOC Destroy Southpoint for Some Other Reason?

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

That question’s freighted with implications of negligence and liability, from contractor to administration to RIOC’s lackadaisical board. That or they didn’t consider the findings serious, but if that’s true, how does RIOC explain destroying Southpoint Park?

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.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because we now know that the membrane installed in 2011 covers an unknown but limited area in Southpoint, we also know that visitors since the opening have to some extent been exposed without notice or warning.

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 when the state dished out a million dollar contract to Fitzgerald & Halliday for organizing a community-based plan for Southpoint in 2016?

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. Neither are part of the plan now being executed.

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 new plan where — guess who? — Langan collects millions.

But why isn’t anyone asking why Langan and RIOC withheld the toxic waste findings? More important, why reward Langan with a huge contract, enacting a plan only a suburban shopping mall developer could love?

Are David Kramer and Hudson-Related Happy with Their View Now?

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, critics point to Hudson-Related’s acquisition of Long Island City property directly across the river.

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

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.

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 Nonprofits

Enough said.

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