Friday, August 17, 2007

Tornado brings out the best

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Sometimes government can work. That was the rare conclusion of this columnist, whose libertarian politics range somewhere in that tight anti-government space between Frederic Bastiat and Milton Friedman. But after the remarkably quick and efficient response by our local government officials in the wake of last Wednesday’s tornado, even I have to tip my hat.

It wasn’t easy. Yellow Hooker is naturally cynical of people deciding what I should eat, smoke and how to spend my paycheck (damn those never-ending Ratner subsidies!), never mind entrusting the same people who gave us the Department of Motor Vehicles with protecting me in a time of crisis (one word: FEMA).

Still, local officials deserve credit for an organized and well implemented plan in quickly getting Bay Ridge back on its feet and minimizing the effect of the first tornado to touch down in Brooklyn in over a century.

In short, it was an example of government at its best — at a time when the community was most in need. After all, Bay Ridge was hit by a tornado!

The rare twister that ripped through our community came like a thief in the morning.

Residents were awakened between 5:30 and 6 am by the sound of car alarms, thunder, and trees crashing down to the ground as the powerful wind attacked.

Tornadoes have hit New York City before, but not often. The National Weather Service had records of at least five, but none was as strong as Wednesday’s twister, which had winds as high as 135 mph. The last reported tornado sighting in Brooklyn was in ’89 — 1889, that is.

Given that roofs were ripped off houses and trees were flying all over the place, you’d think residents would be in a state of sheer panic. But actually, they weren’t. Most residents could be found calmly waiting for emergency personnel to arrive. Some were going door-to-door to check on their neighbors, while others waited next to their smashed-up cars in their housecoats and robes drinking their coffee.

Perhaps residents knew something about local emergency crews that this columnist did not. It was a thing of beauty.

Fire trucks and police cars immediately arrived at the hardest-hit spots.

Workers were in a state of constant motion, first making sure people were safe, then clearing debris and directing traffic. A full-blown symphony was taking place right before my eyes with the entire community in full harmony.

By 2 pm, almost all the streets were cleared and life in Bay Ridge was beginning to have a feel of normalcy again.

Of course, for residents who no longer have a roof to sleep under, it may take some time before normalcy really takes hold, but Bay Ridge was quickly back in business.

At the risk of losing some of my libertarian street cred, this columnist must admit a newfound confidence in those commissars of local government.

But then again, I didn’t have to use public transportation that morning.

The Kitchen Sink
The Red Cross is now accepting donations for those in need after last Wednesday’s tornado. Stop by Councilman Vince Gentile’s office, located at 8703 Third Ave., for more info. …

Take comfort, women. Rep. Vito Fossella (R–Bay Ridge) called on the Japanese government to apologize to the 200,000 “comfort women” who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army in the 1930s and ’40s. …

Our pal Chiu Tran was just named to the Dean’s List at SUNY Binghamton. …

So, you think you can dance? Check out the guy in the wheelchair. Local legend Carmine Santa Maria may find it hard to walk, but that hasn’t stopped him from his work as a dance instructor. “I can’t walk too well, but I know how to teach it,” said Santa Maria. For more info, call (718) 946-0234. …

The Brooklyn Chapter of the American Institute of Architects is helping homeowners whose properties were damaged in last week’s tornado to find architects to do the repairs. Call (718) 259-0070. But before doing any work, get a permit from the Department of Buildings, which can be reached at (718) 802-4035. …

State Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) hosted a public hearing at Fort Hamilton Army base on Wednesday to discuss local homeland security issues, such as the safety of the Buckeye jet fuel pipeline that runs through the neighborhood. Community Board 10 Chairman Dean Rasinya was also there.

©2007 The Brooklyn Paper

FEMA inspects damage

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Five days after an extremely rare tornado caused millions of dollars of damage in Bay Ridge, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — you remember them from Hurricane Katrina — surveyed the area to determine if some residents are eligible for federal aid.

But the agency made no promises.

“They looked at the damage and told us we make a good case for assistance,” said Carole Marlines, who works at the badly damaged Fourth Avenue Presbyterian Church, at 67th Street, which got a visit from FEMA inspectors at around noon on Monday.

The church lost of its historic stained-glass windows, including a 25-foot-tall religious scene installed in 1951, to the tornado’s 136-mile-per-hour gusts, which touched down around the corner of 67th Street and Fourth Avenue last Wednesday at around 5:30 am and damaged 100 cars and 60 homes — half of which suffered serious structural damage, according to state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge).

FEMA spokeswoman Kristina Simpson made it clear that none of the inspectors, who went door-to-door at one point, was toting a checkbook.

“This is the gathering of information,” said Simpson. “When walking up and down the streets and talking to folks here, the thing that became clear is there was all this confusion about whether they should call FEMA. The answer is no. The first step they need to take is call their insurance companies.”

Many cheered the federal officials, but some thought their fact-finding mission needed a bit more, how you say, cash.

“Insurance is only going to give so much,” said John Quaglione, a Golden aide. “We’re hoping the federal government does intervene to give financial assistance to homeowners and car owners.”

Others blasted the federal bureaucracy for moving too slowly.

“This is ridiculous that help is so slow to come,” said Hassan Hakmoun, who was busy moving his relatives out of their house at 339 Bay Ridge Ave. “They’ll be fine staying with me, but there are a lot of families who may not be so fortunate.”

Hakmoun said that his relatives, a family of eight, had received only $120 for food from the American Red Cross. He thinks the problem is red tape.

“We try to call people but we keep getting rerouted and it is hard to find anyone who really knows what is going on,” Hakmoun added. “We all pay our taxes, but the government doesn’t like giving it up.”

New York State’s Insurance Department has set up a disaster hotline. Call (800) 339-1759.

©2007 The Brooklyn Paper

Flotilla with a message: Boaters protest waste-transfer station

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Almost 232 years to the day after the British crossed The Narrows and began “the Battle of Brooklyn,” another flotilla — albeit smaller — declared war on a proposed waste-transfer station in Gravesend.

“We are here to protest by land and by sea,” said Assemblyman William Colton (D–Bensonhurst) at last Saturday’s boat-borne battle. “The flotilla is an innovative protest that has remarkably pulled together all of the concerned parties that will be gravely affected by the construction and operation of a waste dump in Bensonhurst.”

The transfer station would be located at the Marine Basin Marina, on Shore Parkway at the foot of 26th Avenue.

About 40 boaters, many hoisting banners bashing the transfer station, participated in the flotilla, sailing along Gravesend Bay toward the Verrazano Promenade where they were met by elected officials.

“There needs to be a better plan then having it … next to an amusement park for children,” said Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny (D–Coney Island), referring to the former Nellie Bly theme park, which is under new management.

The proposed waste station is one of several included in the mayor’s waste management plan, which was passed by the City Council and now must be approved by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

To construct the marine transfer station, Gravesend Bay would have to be dredged to permit bigger barges. Protesters say such dredging would release lead, PCBs, mercury, toxic ash and other contaminants into the water, spoiling boating and fishing in the bay.

But the Sanitation Department, which would operate the new facility, has said that the construction would be safe and that safeguards are in place to prevent odor.

But the city argument isn’t swaying activists who are determined to hold their ground, even if it means waging their own Battle of Brooklyn.

“There will be no surrender and no retreat,” said Colton. “We are in this for the long haul.”

©2007 The Brooklyn Paper

‘Great’ stench still vexes neighbors

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

This great wall needs more mending.

Last month, Great Wall Supermarket on Fort Hamilton Parkway near 67th Street agreed to remedy community concerns about trash, traffic and noise — but two weeks later, the situation still stinks, according to neighbors.

The grocer did address some of the problems, like silencing the beeping forklifts and getting rid of some of the produce bins, but residents say the issues of traffic and stench still lurk.

“Efforts have been made,” said resident Nina Batiato. “But the garbage maintenance, traffic and smell remain a serious problem.”

The trouble began in June, shortly after the Chinese market opened and began selling fish and produce on the sidewalk. The smell of the seafood, combined with the garbage from the grocer, caused a stench that permeated the surrounding blocks. The noise of the air conditioner and traffic problems caused by deliveries also irked residents.

Locals quickly mobilized a petition drive and took their case to Community Board 10, where they hammered out an agreement with the supermarket, which agreed to change its smelly ways, according to Dana Beecher, who is representing Great Wall.

Despite the neighbors’ ongoing complaints, the market insists it is doing what it can, and at the end of the day believes it will come out smelling like roses, according to Beecher.

“We are not going to fault residents,” said Beecher. “There are still a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up, but this is a work in progress.”

©2007 The Brooklyn Paper

Stabbing haunts Club Shadows

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

A man was stabbed outside of Club Shadows, the embattled Fourth Avenue nightclub, on Aug. 10, police said.

The victim told cops that he was standing alone when two unfamiliar men approached him at 3 am. At some point, an argument began and one of the men pulled a knife and stabbed the 24-year-old in the chest.

The thugs fled, and the wounded club-hopper was treated and released at Maimonides Medical Center in nearby Borough Park.

The violent incident at the doorstep of the controversial club comes after a June 5 fight at the establishment — and both incidents could damage the bar’s chance of retaining its liquor license amid ongoing negotiations with the State Liquor Authority over other charges.

“Any time the police have to be called and there is violence, the board takes it very seriously,” said Bill Crowley, a spokesman for the State Liquor Authority. “A business with a liquor license is expected to maintain control over its property.”

The June 5 fight occurred as Shadows owners were trying to settle earlier SLA charges — including a serious count of not having a proper liquor license.

The latest charges — stemming from the violent incidents — are separate matters, which mean two more trials, Crowley said.

Club Shadows, which is between 90th and 91st streets, got on the community radar screen last November, when a sign featuring the silhouette of a curvy woman was installed. The sign also promised “exotic dancers” at the Nov. 30 opening.

The strippers never materialized, but the troubles were only beginning.

Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) brought SLA inspectors to the opening, and the agency hit Club Shadows with the four original violations.

Shadows lawyer William Spanakos could not be reached for comment.

©2007 The Brooklyn Paper

Golf tournament honors soldier

By Matthew Lysiak
The Brooklyn Paper

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly will be there in the flesh, but the real hero will be in everyone’s memories.

Bay Ridge’s Marine Captain John McKenna, 30, who died in Iraq after being shot while coming to the aid of fallen comrade — and fellow Brooklynite — Lance Cpl. Michael Glover, will be honored with a charity golf tournament on Sept. 24.

McKenna sustained the fatal gunshot wound on Aug. 16 while conducting combat operations in Anbar province — Iraq’s Wild Wild West.

McKenna, the highest ranked Iraq War casualty in Brooklyn, was awarded the Silver Star for “gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.”

He had already served one tour in Iraq, joining the invasion at the very start. After a yearlong stint in the state police, he returned to active duty in Iraq, unable to sit idly by as more and more young men died.

“Without question, John is a true hero,” said Gov. Elliot Spitzer. “He courageously gave his life in service of others.”

All proceeds of the tournament will support the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, the NYS Trooper Foundation and the NYPD/NYFD Widows and Orphans Fund.

“This is a young man who didn’t have to go back to war — it was his choice to honor his country,” said family friend and charity organizer Ed Schloeman. “It was an honor to know a man of such outstanding character as Marine Captain John McKenna.”

The Captain John J. McKenna IV and L/Cpl Michael D. Glover 1st Annual Golf Tournament will be held on Sept. 24 at the Richmond County Country Club (135 Flagg Pl., in Staten Island). For information, call (718) 436-0021.

©2007 The Brooklyn Paper

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Welcome to Lysiak's Resource Guide!
Lysiak exposing the lack of security at the Towers pipeline