Last Thursday evening, the United Community Civic Association in Astoria, at its first meeting since summer hiatus, addressed its annual theme, “In What State Is New York State?”
With longtime president Rose Marie Poveromo presiding and State Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) and State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) as guest speakers, the meeting seemed to reach the conclusion that, right now, the answer would be, “Not a very good one.”
As Gianaris put it, “The state of the state is sick but getting better. The new governor is moving the state in the right direction. We’re optimistic.”
Simotas was less positive. “We’re absolutely going to have a short fall next year again,” she predicted.
The focus of the meeting was on four primary issues: the potentially dangerous effects of hydrofracking on drinking water, power plant siting, the closure of area hospitals, and auto insurance fraud.
Gianaris first addressed the question of hydrofracking, or hydraulic fracturing, a process of drilling into rock layers to release natural gas. It raises concerns about environmental and health safety, and has been a contentious topic among environmentalists, energy companies and politicians.
While it is estimated that approving the process in New York State would raise over $1 billion in tax revenue, the fear is that it could result in chemical leaks that would endanger the city’s drinking water.
After attending a hearing on the topic earlier in the day, Gianaris concluded that “we’re moving too quickly” in reaching decisions that might favor the economy but could result in major health issues in the future. He said the process should not be allowed until there is greater certainty about its safety.
Simotas agreed, saying, “We can’t put financial gain in front of our safety. There’s nothing more important than our drinking water. It’s irresponsible to endanger our drinking water in the name of any profit. It’s common sense. Common sense is not so common.”
Another area of environmental concern centered around the Power New York Act of 2011, which Gov. Cuomo signed into law on Aug. 4, reinstating a “one stop” approval process for new power plants, which could lead to an increase in the development of power plants in the state in upcoming years.
It is feared that the law’s passage could have dire effects, most specifically on Astoria, which, Democratic District Leader Costa Constantinides noted, already has “a disproportionate amount of power plants. We’re already overburdened.”
Gianaris addressed the need for an increase in hospital beds in the area, promising to “try as much as we can to support the remaining hospitals.” He is also in support of the expansion of Mt. Sinai Hospital of Queens in Astoria.
Simotas highlighted the urgency of the situation when she said that the borough has an extremely low resident-to-bed ratio and overly long emergency room waiting times.
“Everyone in this community would benefit from a state-of-the-art hospital,” she said.
Auto insurance fraud is running rampant, according to both elected officials, sending premiums through the roof. Gianaris supports two bills designed to combat the problem: one would deliver severe consequences for abusers of the system, while the other would prohibit the use of runners, or people who facilitate fraud. “Hopefully, we’ll see some progress,” he said.
Representing the city Department of Correction, Robert Maruca discussed a $100 million project that would upgrade the energy infrastructure on Rikers Island, including the building of a cogeneration facility, a move he said would lead to more “responsible environmental practice.” He indicated that, in addition to being fiscally responsible, the project would improve energy reliability and reduce emissions.
In a brief report, Deputy Inspector Stephen Cirabisi indicated that crime is down 7 percent in the 114th Precinct, which covers northwestern Queens.