An Unguarded Fort, and Neighbors Who See a Risk

Protesters also chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, we say safety, they say no!”

Protesters also chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, we say safety, they say no!”

New York Times

March 22, 2009
Fort Totten

An Unguarded Fort, and Neighbors Who See a Risk
By JAMES ANGELOS

FORT TOTTEN in Bayside, Queens, sits atop a hilly peninsula near the Throgs Neck Bridge, where the waters of the East River meet Long Island Sound. The fort was built during the Civil War to guard the city against attack from the East River, but it closed in 1995, and since then, much of the land, along with many of its dilapidated Victorian buildings, has been handed over to the city.

A park now covers 50 acres of Fort Totten, and the Fire and Police Departments, as well as the Army Reserve 77th Regional Readiness Command and other groups, use some of the buildings on the remaining 100 or so acres.


Since the fort closed, the Fire Department has been in charge of security there, hiring private guards to patrol the fort and to staff a security booth at its entrance. But in February, the fort’s neighbors learned that the department would eliminate that security detail starting March 1, citing budget cuts.

The move has unleashed local fears that the park and its historic buildings, some of them abandoned, will be vulnerable to vandalism, arson and other crimes. Earlier this month, a few dozen residents held a rally at the fort’s entrance, chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, we say safety, they say no!”

At one point, Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. spoke on a megaphone.

“During the toughest economic times,” Mr. Vallone said, “that’s when you have to keep the community and the people the safest.”

A group of security guards who had worked at the fort watched the protest.

“There will be a lot of chaos,” predicted one guard, Alexander Bolotinskiy, as he watched a car pass the empty security booth, where the sign still read, “Please Stop and Show ID.”

Steve Ritea, a Fire Department spokesman, said the change was part of a wider cut in security expenditures that would save nearly $1.2 million annually.

The Police Department, Mr. Ritea added, will continue to include the fort in its patrols. Fire marshals stationed at the fort will also provide an element of safety, he said.

But some residents are not placated. Among them is Carol Marian, president of the Bayside Historical Society, which is housed in the fort.

“This park is not a normal park,” Ms. Marian said, pointing out the many old buildings. “We have hidden corners where people can lurk.”

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Bayside activists protest lack of security at Fort Totten

Rally organizer Warren Schreiber talks with a fellow Bay Terrace resident Rosemarie Brennan at a rally outside of the gates of Fort Totten in Bayside. Photo by Christina Santucci

Rally organizer Warren Schreiber talks with a fellow Bay Terrace resident Rosemarie Brennan at a rally outside of the gates of Fort Totten in Bayside. Photo by Christina Santucci

Times Ledger

Bayside activists protest lack of security at Fort Totten

By Christina Santucci and Stephen Stirling
Wednesday, March 11, 2009 4:37 PM EDT

Dozens of residents and community leaders descended on the security gates at Fort Totten Saturday morning to protest the recent termination of private security services in the historic park — a move they say could lead to a spike in crime in the area.

For the past two years, the FDNY has spent $650,000 annually to provide a 24−hour security detail for the fort. Due to budget cuts across the city, however, the FDNY recently announced it would not hire a private security firm to guard the area and instead turned over control of the fort to the 109th Precinct March 1. The 109th, which is based in Flushing, covers the adjacent Bay Terrace neighborhood.

The decision has not sat well with a number of residents and civic groups in the area, however, who contend the FDNY gave little notice of the decision and could unintentionally create a hotbed for crime that could spill into the surrounding communities.

“Shame on the FDNY,” said Kim O’Hanion, Parks Committee chairwoman of Community Board 7. “What they’re doing here is totally unacceptable.”

Though several of the buildings at Fort Totten are occupied by law enforcement agencies, some buildings have been long abandoned and fallen into disrepair.

Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance, said without security these abandoned buildings could become havens for vandals and vagrants who could commit serious crimes or start fires in the structures.

About half a dozen guards from PD Security in Bellerose lost their jobs at Fort Totten. Mandouh Elzab of Richmond Hill, who had been working at Fort Totten for about six years said that two to three weeks ago, at about 2 a,m. a man came to the guard station needing medical attention.

“He was in very bad condition. I called the ambulance and stayed with him. If nobody is here, who is going to help this guy?” Elzab asked.

Protesters also said they were miffed by the last−minute warning the FDNY gave before making the decision to halt security at the fort.

“They should have come to us, the parties that are interested and affected, and let us know and have a say,” Schreiber said. “There have to be ways to solve this situation. But they gave us no warning.”

Community Affairs Detective Kevin O’Donnell of the 109th Precinct recently told TimesLedger Newspapers that the precinct would patrol the area, but not provide a constant security detail.

“If [the FDNY] drops security, it would just become part of the regular patrol of that area,” he said. “We don’t do security, we patrol neighborhoods.”

The fort, bounded by the Long Island Sound and Cross Island Parkway, is also home to an Army National Guard unit, an NYPD K−9 unit, an emergency services unit, an EMS academy and the auxiliary Coast Guard.

Schreiber, who has been leading the fight against the cutbacks, said it is unbelievable there are so many law enforcement agencies present at the fort, yet no one manning the front gate on a regular basis.

“We feel they betrayed the community,” Schreiber said. “They made an agreement to provide security here. All we’re asking for is the status quo. We’re not asking for them to reinvent the wheel.”

Fort Totten Park won’t need natural gas station unless Parks Decides Differently?

Park's Department nose grows bigger & bigger & bigger

Park's Department nose grows bigger & bigger & bigger

Despite verification that the compressed natural gas tanks proposal was dead, a statement from Parks said: “The Parks Department has not made any decisions about implementing temporary or mobile fueling stations at this time.” Customers in the Cafe commented that Parks Department seems to have mastered the ability to talk out of both sides of their mouth.

Queens Chronicle

02/05/2009
Fort Totten Park won’t need natural gas station
by Liz Rhoades , Managing Editor

Although Parks Department officials said they have not made any decisions about installing compressed natural gas tanks at Fort Totten Park, the need for them has largely vanished.
In December, the nearby Bay Terrace community learned that the city was considering such a move to fuel its new tram. Otherwise, the vehicle would have to be transported frequently to the nearest city fueling area at Flushing Meadows Park.
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Some community members, led by Warren Schreiber, who heads the Bay Terrace Community Alliance and the Bay Terrace Co-op Section 1, oppose the possible installation of tanks. They fear it might present a safety concern or be a possible target for terrorists. But it appears the city has resolved that problem by having a larger fuel tank installed on the tram.
“They solved the problem in a very creative and intelligent manner,” said state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing). “I’m happy when things work out.”
Stavisky and Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) wrote letters to the Parks Department against installing the gas tanks at the former Bayside military base. They received a reply from Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski in mid-January calling the compressed natural gas tram “a very green alternative.”
Lewandowski indicated her agency made preliminary inquiries regarding permit requirements for a fueling station, but since then, the tram has been retrofitted to triple its fuel capacity, “making the need for an on-site fueling station unnecessary,” she said.
Schreiber is ecstatic the problem has been resolved. “We’re happy it’s over,” he said. “They need to make the park accessible to everyone, but not with a miniature gas station.”
Joe Branzetti, president of Friends of Fort Totten Park, said his group met with the park administrator, Janice Melnick, who explained that the larger fuel tank on the tram will mean fewer trips to refuel.
Branzetti was also told the refueling would be done at a Con Edison facility in College Point, which is a little closer than Flushing Meadows. But Parks Department officials could not verify that.
Despite verification that the compressed natural gas tanks proposal was dead, a statement from Parks said: “The Parks Department has not made any decisions about implementing temporary or mobile fueling stations at this time.”
Last July, Borough President Helen Marshall funded the $262,400 tram to move visitors around the park. The open-air vehicle includes the lead tram car with seating and a separate all-passenger gondola.
Plans call for the lead car to be unhitched for refueling and driven to Flushing Meadows or College Point. Before the fuel tank was enlarged, it was estimated it would have to be refueled every two to three days.
Because of mechanical problems, the vehicle was not used last year. It will only be operated in warm weather.

FDNY: Mayor’s Budget Proposal “Is Not Good” – Fort Totten Security to be Cut

FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta

FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta

FDNY: Mayor’s Budget Proposal “Is Not Good”

From MSNBC

FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta reacted quickly to Friday’s budget announcement by Michael Bloomberg.

The mayor proposed heavy cuts in city jobs, cuts in services and increases in costs for everyday New Yorkers.

Among the agencies that would face heavy losses is the FDNY.

Scoppetta said that included in the cuts would be Security Services for Randall’s Island, Fort Totten and Maspeth, which will be discontinued by March 1, 2009.

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