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Bush Terminal Piers Park delayed opening irks residents

The hoped for fall, 2014 opening of Bush Terminal Piers Park has been pushed back at least a couple of months and likely won’t occur until the end of the year at the earliest – a wintry estimated timetable that some residents say is disappointing, but not a surprise.

“My feeling is that it’s awful that [elected officials and community leaders] represent us, but none of them thought to ask the state if the permit [requests] had been received,” said Tony Giordano, a board member of Sunset Park Restoration, a local community advocacy group that began sounding the alarm about the delayed opening as of October 1.

September had been announced as the earliest open date for the park during a July meeting between residents and representatives of the city Economic Development Corporation (EDC).

“So here we were through September waiting for it to open and we didn’t know that the paperwork hadn’t even been sent in,” said Giordano.

The paperwork in question is “final documentation” of all construction and remediation work from the park’s owners – EDC – to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Before the park can open, DEC must affirm that the site’s contaminated soil has been remediated, and is safe for public access.

But according to EDC, the delayed opening is due not to a failure on its part to submit the files, but to a request from the state for more paperwork.

“As is expected with any project as complex and environmentally challenging as turning a former brownfield into a waterfront open space, the NYSDEC has requested additional documentation that must be reviewed before they can affirm that the site is safe to open to the public,” wrote the EDC in an October 7 blog post.

EDC spokesperson Kate Blumm added that “we are doing everything in our power to expedite the [DEC] review and approvals process [and] will continue to actively engage with the community, local elected officials, and other stakeholders to deliver updates on the timeline for opening as it becomes clearer. We very much look forward to welcoming the Sunset Park community to their new park as soon as possible.”

Whatever the delay, residents and community leaders remain frustrated.

“Given the way that the timetables have been set in the past, this doesn’t come as a tremendous surprise, but I think a lot of people were hoping that this last round of updates would stick,” said Ryan Chavez, infrastructure coordinator at local environmental advocacy group UPROSE.

“This park is something that has the community’s fingerprints on it going back over a decade,” he added. “It’s much-needed not only in terms of open space, but also as a community-led effort that folks are still waiting to see the fruits of.”

Chavez noted that he hadn’t heard about the delay before this paper spoke with him and that any issues “should have been communicated openly to us.”

Jeremy Laufer, district manager of Community Board 7, agreed, noting that Sunset Park residents continue to inquire as to when the park will finally open.

“People are eager to have it open, perhaps exasperated when they ask,” Laufer said. “It would be a significant increase in the amount of parkland in our community, which is severely underserved in green space.

“It would also be only the second point of access to the waterfront,” he said. The other access point is the 58thStreet Pier, which is also undergoing some usage changes.

The $37 million Bush Terminal Piers Park project has been in the works for over a decade.

Once complete, the park – located on the Sunset Park waterfront between 43rd and 51st Streets – will feature two ball fields, a bike path, two restored tidal ponds, a naturalized area for exploring, an open lawn and comfort stations.

It will not include children’s play space, water fountains, concessions or fishing and boating, although the EDC and Parks Department stated in July that they are open to adding those amenities at a later date, if more money can be found.

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