A city plan to install compressed natural gas tanks at Fort Totten Park has nearby residents fuming.
“It’s not safe and it’s a potential target for terrorists,” said Warren Schreiber, who has support from two local groups he heads: the Bay Terrace Alliance and the Bay Terrace Co-op Section 1. Schreiber represents 200 units in his co-op and more than 4,000 families in 19 co-ops and condominiums as alliance president. “We support the tram, but are vehemently opposed to the placement of compressed natural gas on the grounds of Fort Totten Park,” he said.
His building is the closest one to the Bayside park. “I would hate to wake up to loud explosions. It’s a bad idea,” Schreiber said.
The idea for a gas tanks storage area at Fort Totten arose after the park received a $262,4000 tram last July. Funded by Borough President Helen Marshall, its purpose is to move visitors around the 10-acre location. But the tram runs on natural gas, and the closest fueling area is at Flushing Meadows Park, several miles away. Plans called for the lead tram car with seating to be unhitched and driven to Flushing Meadows every two to three days when in use. The remaining tram section is a separate gondola with seating that is pulled by the front car.
The vehicle is open air and will only be used in warm weather. Because of mechanical problems, it was not in operation this year. The manufacturer is expected to address the issues and have it fixed for use in the spring.
Apparently, the Parks Department is rethinking its plan to gas up at Flushing Meadows. Trish Bertuccio, Parks spokeswoman, said last week that it and other city agencies are “currently exploring the possibility” of installing a temporary compressed natural gas fueling station at Fort Totten to facilitate the operation of the tram.
The study is in preliminary design, so no specifics are available yet, the spokeswoman said. “The Parks Department has safely operated two fueling sites for more than 15 years: one in Flushing Meadows and another [opened this year] in Central Park.”
Fort Totten Park is a decommissioned Army base that still includes units from the Army Reserve and special city police and Fire Department squads. The fort is also home to the Bayside Historical Society and future headquarters of the Center for the Women of New York. Geraldine Spinella, president of the historical group, is not so concerned about possible safety issues, but would like the Parks Department to go more green. “I don’t think it’s any more dangerous than a gasoline storage tank and would probably be placed in a secure area, but the ideal would be for the tram to be electric,” Spinella said. She faulted the city for not specifying a more environmentally friendly vehicle when it put out bids for the tram. Her suggestion would be to go green “since it is the wave of the future and it’s more environmentally sound. That would be the best choice,” Spinella added.
Schreiber, however, believes adding tanks to the park is a risky proposition. “I have heard from a very reliable source that the FDNY does not want the tanks at Fort Totten,” he said, adding he could not speak for the Fire Department. Fire officials could not be reached for comment. Schreiber said the tanks in Flushing Meadows are not in a sensitive area as they would be at Fort Totten near the FDNY and Army and closer to a residential area. “The city should not jeopardize the surrounding community of Bayside,” he said.
When Schreiber was informed that the tanks might be installed on a temporary basis, he was even more incensed. “It’s scarier they are calling for temporary usage,” he said.
Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) laughed at the gas tank proposal. “It’s making a bad situation worse,” Avella said. He promised to look into the situation before it becomes a reality.