City Council Testimony on Changes to the Waterfront Management Advisory Board

Below is a DRAFT of testimony that was slated to be offered on Dec. 9, 2015 by HarborLAB Executive Director Erik Baard to the City Council Committee on Waterfronts regarding proposed changes to the Waterfront Management Advisory Board, which has been inactive since 2013. The meeting has been postponed and not yet rescheduled. Please use this time review our draft and email baard@harborlab.org with your suggestions.

 

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53-21 Vernon Blvd.   LIC, NY 11101

info@harborlab.org, 917-697-9221

 

 

Testimony to the New York City Council

Committee on Waterfronts:

Amendments to the Waterfront Management Advisory Board

Wednesday, December 9, 2015 (to be rescheduled)

Good morning. I’m the founder and executive director of HarborLAB, a volunteer group dedicated to environmental education through service learning.

 

One of HarborLAB’s primary missions is to extend classroom curricula onto the water by use of our canoe and kayak fleets (totaling 40 boats). We bring adults out on adventures across the harbor, and children to where water is cleaner and less trafficked. In coordination with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, and other conservation agencies and organizations, we clean shorelines and plant native species for habitat and coastal protection. We also frequently visit classrooms to provide activities and presentations. At our GreenLaunch on the Newtown Creek in Hunters Point, LIC in Queens (District 26) we are growing a unique marine-to-uplands habitat area and orchard for public enjoyment and education. This is a unique asset on the waterway, a US Environmental Protection Agency designated Superfund cleanup site.

We thank City Council Members Kallos, Rose, Koo, Chin, and Vallone for their proposals to revive and improve the Waterfront Management Advisory Board. We thank City Council Members Van Bramer and Constantinides for their ceaseless efforts to improve ecology and access along the western Queens waterfront. We thank Waterfront Alliance for keeping all stakeholders informed about this meeting.

HarborLAB would be grateful for your consideration of the following recommendations:

1) Establish a NYCHA Resident Association seat. 

NY Harbor life and leadership don’t adequately reflect the ethnic, cultural, and economic diversity of New York City. This warrants special efforts toward inclusion.

Because earlier administrations concentrated public housing on waterfronts that were at that time neglected, lower-income New Yorkers in NYCHA developments are more vulnerable to storm surge. The danger of flooding will grow throughout this century. New York City Housing Authority residents are also more likely to have marine transfer stations, ferries, power plants, and other impactful infrastructure near their homes and parks.

NYCHA residents are well-positioned to benefit from STEM (Science Technology and Math) inspiration and healthy recreational opportunities on our estuary. NYCHA residents are also more likely to be non-white than most other harbor stakeholders identified by legislation establishing the Board.

NYCHA resident associations elect leaders for each development, and these leaders form a Citywide Council of Presidents. The Waterfront Management Advisory Board should reserve a seat for a person representing the NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents.

2) Create a standing Environment Committee. 

Environmental concerns uniquely thread through the labor, maritime, transportation, hospitality, and community sectors listed as other harbor stakeholders. An environment committee promises to be effective given the proven professionalism and abilities of academic researchers from NYC’s acclaimed universities, a growing pool of sustainability officers in private industry, and longstanding advocates like Natural Resources Defense Council, Riverkeeper, etc.

A second standing committee (in addition to the existing recreational uses committee) would help ensure that the Board doesn’t fall into dormancy again.

3) Mandate that Board meetings be open to the public. 

The semi-annual meetings should be held in a venue where the public could observe discussions, and then comment for the record after. It was not clear to us in the proposal how open and transparent the Board would be.

4) Mandate that the standing committees (Recreational Uses and proposed Environment) meet at least quarterly. 

These standing committees should meet at least quarterly, and may vote to meet more often. This would invigorate the entire Board, and also allow it to catch up on issues of a growing constituency whose needs hadn’t arisen as often during the 20th century.

We believe these measures will help ensure that the Waterfront Management Advisory Board is more inclusive, dynamic, and just.

Thank you for your consideration.

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