The Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department was “treated to a lesson in double talk and bureaucratic nonsense,” last month after meeting with several city agencies, according to department Chief Dan McIntyre.
Representatives from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office and the departments of Transportation and Design and Construction met with the vollies on Jan. 23 to break the bad news — the city won’t sign off on the department’s relocation project, in the making for three years and just one signature away from completion.
There are two reasons the city declined to sponsor the $5.9 million project — $2 million of which was federally funded in 2005 by then-Sen. Hillary Clinton and Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-Queens and Brooklyn) — the representatives told McIntyre.
The first: “DOT says city doesn’t have funds to cover costs. Period,” McIntyre said. The agency is mandated by federal Highway Administration rules to have complete control of the project from start to finish. That means it would bear the responsibility of attaining the additional $3.9 million needed for the construction and the costs of maintaining and inspecting the structure for the duration of its existence, according to mayoral spokesman Mark LaVorgna.
The second reason: “DDC says they don’t want to be our landlord — the city doesn’t need any more assets and can’t afford to administer them anyway. Period,” McIntyre said.
Because the funding is being channeled through a federal transportation bill, New York City would become the property’s landlord for its entire useful life, which could be 30 to 50 years, LaVorgna noted. It would also have to spend money and resources in order to accept the project.
“It is certainly not the case that this is just free money we are turning away,” LaVorgna said last month. “It is an earmark that comes at a significant expense to the city.”
While disappointed, the BCVFD is attempting to be understanding, but still has some questions. “I don’t know why it took three years for this info to come to light,” McIntyre said.
But, he added, “The mayor’s office made it clear that because of the economic downturn, the mayor can’t possibly back a volunteer FD and ambulance corp as [it is] trying to close FDNY houses and cut ambulance tours.”
Besides, the chief added, “Having New York City as our landlord would not fly with us anyway.” The city intends to reduce the hours of some fire companies, but not close any houses entirely.
Meanwhile, the BCVFD has contacted every congressional representative in New York City, according to McIntyre. It has asked Weiner to look into rerouting the funds through a different process that would not require city involvement.
The chief noted that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies, can award funds directly. The American Firefighter Assistance Grant Act is just one of many avenues available, he added.
The BCVFD has also asked Sen. Charles Schumer to get involved, but, “His staff keeps trying to wiggle out of this responsibility, stating that Clinton sponsored this legislation,” McIntyre said. “I have stressed many times that, as senior senator, this responsibility now falls to his office.”
The fire chief claims that when Weiner presented the BCVFD with a symbolic giant check in the amount of $2 million during the department’s 100th Anniversary dance in 2004, he told the congressman that “if this funding came through NYC, we would not see a dime of it.” McIntyre said Weiner reassured him all would work out.
When first asked for comment about the situation last month, Weiner provided a copy of a letter he sent to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in which he praised the BCVFD, calling it “a terrific organization that serves a lifesaving function,” as it provides emergency response to an isolated part of the borough.
Weiner wrote that he and Clinton fought hard to secure the funds and the only obstacle to getting them is a sign-off by the DOT. “The plans are drafted,” he wrote. “The money is waiting. Only you can cut the last piece of red tape. I encourage you to do so at once.”
Now the ball is back in Weiner’s court, McIntyre said, unwilling to give up the fight for the much-needed funding. “Time to put up or shut up,” the chief said. “Both he and Schumer must work and find a way to make this right. The BCVFD has wasted over 3 years dancing with the city and state.”
Although the continuous back-and-forth has consumed McIntyre and others in the BCVFD, they are continuing to fulfill their duties and even preparing for the 105th anniversary dance on Saturday, Feb. 28.
Still, the problem weighs on McIntyre’s mind. “It’s very frustrating to have money sitting wasting away while we twist in the wind,” he said.