Wednesday, June 17, 2009

North Channel Lot: Who's Responsible? by Lisa Fogarty - Queens Chronicle

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Though it isn’t illegal to fish off the coast of the North Channel parking lot, inexperienced fishermen are warned to avoid wading into the waters, which are known to produce strong currents. (photo by Lisa Fogarty)

The changing weather may mean more time spent by the pool or frequent trips to Rockaway Beach, but for many Howard Beach residents bordering the Addabbo Bridge, it also unearths a host of familiar issues.

Each year, it’s the same old story: parking problems along 164th and 165th avenues, illegal garbage dumping both inside and along the perimeters of the community and safety concerns resulting from a lack of park security on the large patch of beach and concrete across the bridge known as the North Channel parking lot, residents said.

“People park across the street from us to go walk through the trails because it shortens their walk to the water,” said Pat Toscano, who lives along 164th Avenue. “They have picnics and leave their garbage all over the place and their vans and cars are sometimes still there at 9 or 10 p.m. We never know who is parked outside our house.”

Though recent accounts have focused on animal sacrifices that had reportedly taken place on the shore, many residents have temporarily looked past the religious practice to search for answers to an even more pressing question: exactly who is going to take responsibility for the area’s problems?

Eight years ago, Toscano and his neighbor asked Gateway National Park Service, which owns the lot, to take measures to curb the number of people loitering in front of their homes after hours. Parks Service responded by erecting gates and “No Entry” signs in front of the Jamaica Bay wildlife refuge, an effort Toscano said helped to an extent, but was in no way an antidote to the problem.

“It’s federal property, but it’s not being patrolled properly,” he said. “I try to look out for it as much as I can, but at this point I’m a little peeved that the federal government has done very little to patrol it.”

Dorothy McCloskey, president of Friends of Charles Park Committee, said Gateway needs to designate a park ranger to the area.

“There are no garbage cans down there and people barbecue and fish all night and day,” she said. “Why is it you can’t step onto Fort Tilden or Breezy Point without a permit, but it’s okay to run rampant in Howard Beach?”

Democratic District Leader Frank Gulluscio, who is running for City Council next fall, said trash build-up and loitering is only part of the problem. Recreational fishing, though not illegal, is unsupervised, he said. Some fishermen wade out into the bay unaware of its reputation for having perilous underwater currents.

“Forget about the legality of fishing for a moment,” he said. “It’s dangerous to go out in the water. Gateway doesn’t have a patrol in the area.”

Pete McCarthy, acting superintendent of Jamaica Bay, said the organization is ramping up its efforts to maintain the North Channel parking lot. A few weeks ago, staff members and a park ranger began patrolling the area on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, picking up garbage and ensuring visitors clean up after themselves, he said. When asked about the fact that, just this past Saturday, the lot’s beach was ridden with litter, McCarthy said he would address the issue.

Parks Service also plans to start closing the lot between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., an experiment McCarthy said improved the conditions at Brooklyn’s Canarsie Pier by 75 percent. On the issue of fishing, although Gateway is ultimately responsible for any injuries incurred while wading out into the water to surf fish, McCarthy said in his 11 years at the department, he has never confronted this problem.

“Most people who wade know what they’re doing and are prepared,” he said. “It’s part of the recreational experience.”